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You are here: Home > Rethinking Organizations > Spilling the tea and narratives - business, technology, politics converging

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Published on 2022-02-20 08:30:00 | words: 3989

There is an article that has been sitting on my HD since two weeks ago, i.e. when I shared the latest Thinking about #PNRR / #NextGenerationEU in #Italy - #riding vs. #making #waves, on 2022-02-07.

Reason? I am on stand-by for some evolutions, so it was funny to evolve the initial draft to see if "trend-spotting" worked as often does, i.e. adding a segment talking about where things were heading to, and then see if it was confirmed, to follow-up with a further segment and so on.

More or less the approach (but, in that case, public- as I shared on draugiem.lv each segment as I was writing) that I had followed to post on a daily (or infra-daily) basis what eventually resulted in my first mini-book, written and published in late 2012, as a result of a couple of weeks exploring Berlin- you can read it here.

Well, if you monitor a "tribal" environment for years (as is my case in Italy since I first started working abroad, in the late 1980s, becoming even more "foreigner" than I had already been) using a decent, structured analysis framework, chances are that eventually you can predict with a good degree of approximation more than once how events will influence behavior, as an aggregate.

No, I do not plan to become Asimov's Hari Seldon- but I think that any long-term negotiator that worked across industries and was not just a vertical specialist on a single segment of the activity can actually do the same (and I met others who did).

Anyway, as offers for financial products used to add as a disclaimer... "past performance is not representative of" the future.

This article is a short Saturday/Sunday article to take a break without taking a break- and to suggest few books to read.

As usual, few sections
_connecting the dots and its consequences
_"memories from the cloud"
_from "what ifs" to social history
_telling the story

Connecting the dots and its consequences

My natural attitude to connecting-the-dots, in part due to growing with a library and building a personal one since I was 9 years old, plus access to libraries in town, sometimes since the mid-1980s generated some fallout, as...

...some, in various locations in Europe, assumed that I had access to information that I should not have access to.

Connecting the (public) dots was a little bit more complex pre-Internet, but since mid-1990s, frankly, the issue is "infoglut" (as I called it decades ago, when I created a software to help manage it, tested on some initiatives with partners, then shelved when somebody tried, the usual local style, to convince me that I needed to transfer the material to them, and that anyway either with them or nothing).

Too much information shifts the need toward finding a way to "navigate" it all, and avoid being catched by minutiae.

It was, anyway, an attitude that was useful e.g. when negotiating or working to fix or facilitate.

You need to collect all the signals and differentiate from the noise (there are various books that I could suggest).

Frankly, I always wondered: if I, with no information, no access, no titles, just a blend of studies, working, experiences, collecting of storytelling could see where they were heading, why others were not?

Well, some of course went much further, having access to both information and resources- and simply decided that would have been more useful not to share, and instead use it for themselves.

And others do and pretend not to- akin to casting a new, and playing "hook, line, and sinker" with the gullible.

I know, sounds an unusual start for an article, but we are living times were many of the usual expectations that cocooned us for few decades (since the end of the post-WWII Cold War) turned into a kind of "drifting away".

If you do not set your own aims, you let others do it on your behalf, and this is what Europe did since WWII, as clearly shown during the current crisis in Ukraine.

Often in my current location (Turin, but also feed-back from Rome and Brussels) some stated that I am confused, as I write and talk about both business and politics, and, according to them, do not know which career path I should follow.

Well, I started working officially after toying as a teenager in politics but also on structured politics and "digesting" structured documentation from Brussels and Strasbourg.

Hence, in my business activities, since the beginning, notably in technology and business number crunching, always re-used what I had studied and observed on how organizations work (and kept expanding on that, a kind of knowledge feed-back cycle).

In the end, introducing a new technology, or "blending" different corporate cultures, or trying to convey to a potential customer why your company- all imply.

And I think that I do not need to share again with my readers the famous quip decades ago from the leader of a large corporation about how what was good for his company was useful also for his country- or the more nefarious examples of misuse of corporate influence in the 1970s (but also since centuries before then) to alter access to natural resources.

So, I am not confused- simply, those assuming that there is still a dychotomy belong to another era, but both my approach and their approach have their own merits.

Only: I am one of those who assume that your own personal time is limited, hence I assume you have to waste it wisely.

"memories from the cloud"

This section is actually a reprint from a concept that I registered on WGA on 2009-03-16, in part as I was asked to write a story set in the future (probably as part of one of the gazillion tests I had in Brussels, after once a recruiter over the phone asked me if I consented to "360 degree investigation").

Memories from "The Cloud" - Prologue (WGAW Registered)

memories from The Cloud by Aleph123


As you all learn as soon as you access the central knowledge, it happened by chance.

Simply- everything happened at the right time in the right place.

There is nobody that really needs to read this prologue.

But this has been created as part of the new Outreach initiative, so that a common, shared story can be sent all around beyond where we live, and maybe eventually somebody from some other planet with contact us back.

One hundred years ago, In the last quarter of the XX century, a company was founded, called Google, that tried to allow everybody to find immediately any communication that was distributed as an electron stream.

In less than 25 years, the company became the main connecting point of communication on Earth, and people started using the knowledge in Google and other services, instead of learning themselves.

In 2015, Google created the first artificial island, on the dateline, and transferred all the knowledge in this new territory, that was independent from any local government.

In 2020, the United Nations Security Council passed an unanimous resolution globalizing Google as an international shared resource and creative common.

In 2025, all the United Nations members signed into law the removal of any local computer memory.

Some people complained about the risk of losing independence of thought, but in reality just the opposite happened, as on a volunteer basis people started to add a new self-improving technology, that was linked to their brain and powered by their body.

By 2035, when the last independent computer was disconnected, people where free from spending long years learning minutiae, and also their brains were starting to show changes.

By being able to access all the information anytime anywhere, the human brain adapted, and started soon to focus on filtering information, becoming an individual index.

Moreover, as everybody could access all the knowledge, the most valuable resource became time and the ability to filter, replacing the old system based on exclusive or privileged knowledge.

By 2050, the old system based on investment and its representation, money, ceased to work, as anybody had all the information to make informed decisions, removing the economic value of information.

Instead, time replaced its value, as still each individual person had completely different ways of seeing the shared knowledge.

Also, the choice of language became a personal choice, not linked to being in a specific location, as anybody was finally able to understand any language.

What people feared that would be the end of the individuality, instead, meant the end of travelling, as it was unnecessary.

By 2060 the first external locations (on the Moon and Mars) were set, but the distance was creating some communication issues.

By 2070 a new test was designed to identify automatically which activity was the one most appealing to each individual brain, as the new Google-originated economy is based on individual choice.

At the same time, it was created a joint resolution not to venture outside the Solar System, until such a time when technology would allow to keep connected to the central knowledge.

In the new economy, each person received time-credits, to exchange for the timecredit of somebody else, being therefore able to obtain any product of service, by exchanging its time value, while receiving the basic needs by the community they settled in, and contributing part of their time according to their skills and capabilities.

Most people decided that travelling was, in the end, stressful, and therefore, to avoid the loss of diversity of ideas, some people were tested to verify if they could cope with travel, and compensated for the stress by receiving additional time credits.

The purpose of these travellers was to travel between locations, and to meet other travellers, so that their brain could build different ways of connecting ideas, and share their way of thinking with non-travellers.

Autonomously, people started to find new ways to use the time freed by new social structure, and started meeting both for physical activities and to try new way of communicating, contributing to the central knowledge new ideas that, in turn, increased the speed of creation of new ideas.

By 2080, the evolution created new way of communicating, and the freedom of restructuring around ideas and trading by time-credits simplified communication.

The final improvement of the implant made it completely protein-based and selfadapting, and using nanotechnology any further shared improvement was immediately spread across all the community, including the out-of-Earth locations, by sharing through the central knowledge the information on the innovations.

It was decided in 2085 to inaugurate the "10 minutes focusing", so that all the people in each location will focus for 10 minutes every 24 hours on a specific subject, by using their own different ways to access the central knowledge.

Thanks to the resulting acceleration in the evolution of ideas, from 2085 until 2090 we experimented so many new ideas, that is was decided to change from 10 minutes every 24 hours to 10 minutes every 12 hours.

In honour of the original Google, in 2090 the Earth and the out-of-Earth location have been renamed "The Cloud", upon final completion of the new instantaneous connection between all the locations.

In 2095 the first teams of travellers were sent outside "The Cloud", to locations decided by each time zone by shared agreement.

They were provided with technology that should allow them to represent as we are now, and in hope that their travels eventually will be completed by their return, contributing new ideas to the central knowledge.

From "what ifs" to social history

Well, I know- I missed many of the points (e.g. Google is still an independent company).

But, for others, maybe we still have time...

Once in a while, as I am currently in a "gossipville" (on/off since 2012, but never too far away, except for occasional travels abroad), or, as somebody said where "spilling the tea" is a local sport, I enjoy sharing real information, but slightly distorted- to then see how it is spread: akin to a "social fMRI", or to those who long ago applied epidemiology to the distribution of Euro coins with the European Union (the game is: empty your pocket, and look at the country of origin of each coin; repeat it often, and you will have a chart of the "flows").

The locals? Hook, line, and sinker- never fail, never resist the temptation to spread (and, of course, in the tradition of gossip, to add their own spin- but still retaining enough of the original to be able to trace the source).

If you wonder about the origins: long before Internet and computers, we still needed to have some document kept confidential and yet circulate within a restricted circle, and obviously there would be leaks (search online for the WWII UK poster "loose lips sink ships").

So, the approach was to actually type the same document multiple times, each time adding a wording or punctuation or other variation, to identify then were the leak was from.

Yes, the blockchain of data leaks...

Back to the subject: in my view, projecting the potential future is something worth doing- to refine both your sources, methods, and... targets.

But that requires looking at data as they are, not as they you would like them to be.

Currently, just by chance, I am reading few books about past history.

Actually, if, instead of a leaky Gossipville, when I had been forced to return to Italy and to accept to start to live and work again here in 2012, I had found, either in Rome or Turin (my birthplace) a normal environment...

...I would have, as tried few times, settled.

But, considering reality (akin to the joke for those working in political circles in Washington "if you want a friend, get a dog"), frankly, I see my local presence as just an opportunity to carry out an informal study on the environment.

As I wrote repeatedly- Macondo on the Po River is an apt description, albeit both the available human capital and financial resources could give a better future: it is a matter of prioritization and choices.

Anyway, it is easier to cocoon in old social habits when you have resources enough to serve another generation (meaning: in the new demography, i.e. living potentially well over 100), so that those making choices now can live the self-defeating delusion that they can retain in the XXI century the same level of control that they supposedly had in the XIX century (ignorance of history is a bliss, in these cases- Italy lost control of its own destiny long, long ago "too small to be a first rate power, too large to be a second rate power", to paraphrase an old diplomatic quip).

Well, for the time being, as I consider my presence "rolling" month by month, I decided to split the books from my personal library that I had decided to use in 2022 as bibliography for a book into segments.

So, while I keep reading digital books, I also get every few weeks a segment of those books to be read in parallel to the digital side.

Just by chance, the segment now, beside the books I wrote about in the latest article cited above, covers all books relevant to the current crisis:
_Tuchman's "The Guns of August"
_Billing's "Tales from the Future"
_Adams' "The Dilbert Future - Thriving on Stupidity in the 21st Century"

plus a relatively recent book on Cold War history, Gaddis' "The Cold War" (before re-reading Craig's "Destroying the Village: Eisenhower and Thermonuclear War").

No, I will not re-read also the various books about trends that were quite popular in the 1990s.

My point is actually that some of the lessons of WWI, as well as the Cold War associated with nuclear weapons, are relevant to our times.

In our times, both technology (what in my 2009 tale descrived as the impacts of Google) and reality (e.g. COVID) are altering the degrees of freedom of political (and also business) decision-making.

Yes, I am also reading books for fun- e.g., as I am in Turin
_Telamone and Monticelli "antenati di pietra", on the stone masks on buildings in Turin
_a collective book on Turin 2030 (quite a statement: "Torino 2030 A prova di Futuro", i.e. Turin 2030 - Future proofing)
_last but not least, Barberis "I Savoia - i secoli d'oro di una dinastia europea", about the family that used to rule first Savoy, then Piedmont, and then Italy, before the referendum that turned Italy into a Republic post-WWII (due to both the dynasty's choice to appoint Mussolini, and the behavior in 1943).

Plus other books that are not relevant here (but will share reviews about later).

As it all converges in what I think is critical when you have too much information.

Telling the story

Thinking systemically in times when you are drowned into information requires a guiding light.

It might seem counterintuitive, as in our current obsession with the magic wand of machine learning we assume that everything needed is already within the data.

But, frankly, data are, also in best cases, a selective choice.

And developing some "general understanding" skills requires not just study, but also practice and, in various human activities, transmission of knowledge is more informal than formal, i.e. training-on-the-job fills the gaps and helps to sort out, also on new information, the wheat from the chaff.

The recent selling of an asset based on applied AI as did not deliver what was expected in medical science was such an example

Whenever I was in "learning mode" about subjects, e.g. in my first (at 17) experience with the politics of european integration, those more expert did not just dump on us data, but also used specific story telling to bring home the "guiding light" through data.

Otherwise, it would have been easy to drown into those thousands of pages coming from Brussels and Strasbourg.

I repeatedly saw the same when I was in "learning" mode in activities that were way above my past experience, e.g. in the Army, but also while, at 23, developing decision support models in different industries for senior managers, financial controllers, etc- often people with decades of business experience.

They dropped few hints to see if I had the ABC (hence, continuous learning), and then often to move forward some stories helped to move to the next "plateau", where I had to add more formal reading (or formal number crunching) to make sense, and share it with the customer to help tune.

If you do that often enough, in various contexts, languages, industries, eventually you can also see that having a narrative to "sell" is what helps to create a new entity, motivate, attract, and overcome the hurdles that any plan encounters when meeting reality.

When I was working with start-ups, I asked the founders (usually trying to identify also who, between the founders, was the real "driver") to think about and share with me a narrative, e.g. what he would say to his collaborators in, say, five years time.

In part, was a ploy to force them to think systemically, as I had seen too many presentations with a nice pie chart showing that they assumed to take over a large slice of a huge market without considering the resources and capabilities (e.g. their own ability to scale up) needed.

In part, it was useful to have them show their true colors: in my view, it is fine to be asked by an industrial partner to create a start-up that requires a corporate culture different from their own, and then, after two-three years, phase-out yourself, as it will become part of the portfolio.

Those two-three years "outside the fold" are needed to avoid being overburdened with the procedural constraints of a huge behemoth while you need to be nimble and still find your own way.

There were also other reasons to ask for such storytelling, but it would be too long a digression for the purposes of this article.

But there were way too many start-up proponents who talked about creating something not for somebody else (the "portfolio expansion") or for themselves (what I could call "proper start-up"), but from day one talked about exit strategy... for themselves.

Or: build what often was a Potemkin village of a company, find investors, a couple of years and exit leaving the Potemkin village to the investors.

And I still hear once in a while other "get rich quick" schemes, often presented as... alternatives to the 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.

Well, I liked being involved in the "portfolio" or "proper" cases, but the "Potemkin village", no.

I remember few funny cases of those reading titles of a newspaper, and approaching you "with their own idea", even asking to sign a non disclosure agreement, to "pick your brain" - and experience in business and marketing planning - to build the next facebook, the next google, while having nobody having any clue about what they were talking about, but just focused on developing "their own idea" (i.e. the newspaper title stating that it was a business worth investing in) and selling it in two years after becoming rich.

The curious part? I met some with business savvy who actually got into that trap willingly, also when they had all the knowledge and experience needed to see that it was a fake: but it started when everybody assumed to be cool to be involved in start-ups, and therefore, not being involved into one, was a sign of decay.

As I wrote at the beginning, this article is akin to those 1960s movies "intermezzo", in this case (as I deal with words and not music), an intermezzo made of suggested readings and a couple of ideas and, of course...

...an example of a couple of narratives- as both the "memories of the cloud" and the previous discussion about "Potemkin village" start-ups were actually short examples to generate visual images.

Have a nice Sunday- next week I hope to be able to close and release the article on my hard disk.