Viewed 3544 times | Published on 2022-02-26 12:15:00
...but, first, I would like to "disclose" its sections.
_of humans and organizations
_reading history tea leaves
_resistance to change sometimes is futile
As I wrote in my latest article just few days ago (Spilling the tea and narratives - business, technology, politics converging), I was waiting for some events to mature before releasing this article.
And, yes, a fair warning: this article is actually a kind of bibliography, as the one I shared once in a while in few articles (and also in a book- in Italian, but the bibliography section is here, and the full book can be read online here).
To be precise, I have been waiting two weeks: this article was supposed to be published on February 11th, but then both Italian events and the foreseeable beat of drums of war falling on deafening silence from our side...
...produced unfortunately something akin to past histories.
Yes, I am re-reading few books from Barbara Tuchman, and after re-reading "The Zimmerman Telegram" and finished reading this morning also a book on "Cold War" by Gaddis, while started re-reading "The Guns of August", to be followed by "The March of Folly".
Considering the 100th anniversary of Foreign Affairs, beside the current issue (March-April), probably would be now worthwhile to dig through the articles collection with commentary and essays before and after the conflicts of "The Age of Extremes" (Hobsbawm book that in Italian had a different title "il secolo breve"- i.e. "the short century", verbatim but with other meanings as well).
But I had not expected to find that "March of Folly" would be a more appropriate choice.
A war that could be avoided turned into something akin to "boiling the frog": keep rising temperature slowly, and the frog will get boiled without noticing.
The frog, in this case? I apologize with my French friends who could have assumed I was referring to France ("frog" is the nickname given in UK to French people- a kind of "war of the kitchens")- in reality, it is the whole of European Union that is the boiled frog.
I do not like the "what if" game except as a conceptual exercise: I think that this is a game that we could play, say, half a century later.
For now, we have to cope with the cards that we are dealt with- whatever it takes, but avoiding turning a bad hand into a lost game.
As I shared with friends a couple of days ago, I am still puzzled at the diplomatic posturing of Italy in the days leading to the war, a kind of cognitive dissonance between reality (Italian resources and Italian energy needs) and posturing (as if we were able to dictate terms).
Even more so at the ensuing interventions: puzzling at best.
Well, today in Turin is a sunny day- and, sitting on the riverside with my computer to complete this article, the only "drums" I hear is the moving up and down the river of countless rowers (single and teams), sometimes a little bit too close to turning rowing into a "naumachia".
Nothing further from current news about first recovery from the COVID19 pandemic, then how to blend those plans with the new war at our footsteps.
Anyway, I am not surprised at all about the decision by the Italian President to get the thinking brains together- a war council that is really to consider options and readiness.
We live in complex times, and no country is an island- it is a lesson from Cold War augmented by digital transformation and turning our societies into data-centric: in our complex societies, "planning" has to be more flexible, more dynamic, more multi-centric than it used to be when most of the protocols we used in the XX century (often inherited from the XIX century) were designed.
As an example, I shared as a major european airplane manufacturer, in a workshop during the peak of the COVID19 crisis, explained how they did restart.
They were used to the approach of having a first "layer" of suppliers that then turned to others, and instead had to obtain a level of transparency across the whole supply chain, which implied changing completely the relationship with suppliers, and introducing checks and balances to ensure that also their suppliers would still be able to retain a degree of control and business viability.
In Italy, we have even less control than other countries, considering its current status, critical issues (e.g. the cost of energy that is already affecting companies), and current (after the piling up of pre-existing crises since really the 1990s plus COVID19) socio-economic conditions.
Therefore, the strategic impact of a war in the neighborhood (notably in an area that has some historical meaning for the founding of Italy as a unified country, in the XIX century- the War in Crimea) is of course just natural that results in the activation of what was foreseen by the Costituente while designing the Italian Constitution.
Still, it makes you think about e.g. this series of documentaries.
Albeit I am specifically thinking about a German docudrama about the path to WWI that I have somewhere in my digital library- a series of unintended consequences turned into face-saving missed opportunities, turned into something worse.
In part, my reading of the path toward WWI was that, once the balls started rolling, many decisions were made assuming that others would oblige to do something, shifting and bouncing around hoping that somebody would do something different from what they did.
In Europe, right now we were just celebrating the approaching conversion of the COVID19 epidemic into something more manageable, and the implementation of the Recovery and Resilience initiative part of NextGenerationEU, but now, instead of talking about recovery and digital plus green transition, we will have to consider at least the potential for a while of a Syria-size refugees flow and resettlement akin to the one that experienced Byzantium when the Huns pushed other populations within the boundaries of the remain of the Roman Empire.
But more about Byzantium later in this article, as dealing with immigration due to wars elsewhere is not something that in Europe started with Syria and Libya- it has at least 2,000 years of history.
Let's hope that more will follow what I read yesterday on Linkedin (and shared on Facebook) about some initiatives in Bulgaria (including by the government), and not the pattern set by Hungary.
Albeit: this would imply considering a "package" of aid that, also if it were to be just on the humanitarian side, could reshuffle many a national recovery and resilience plans within European Union Member States- Italy included.
To say nothing about provisioning energy needs- we are luckily approaching the end of a relatively mild Winter, but still our manufacturing and digital transformation initiatives as well as ordinary life in a highly mobile, highly integrated society require more energy resources than many European Union Member States have available (and the shortcut to nuclear power stations still leaves open where to procure the needed material, and what do to after its productive lifecycle ends, without just dumping the "disposal problem" on future generations).
I think that this war will reinforce the message on how small our world is- and how intertwined our economies are.
And the hint of a "SWIFT pulling of the plug" could have more impacts than just the withholding of access to GPS had during the Balkan Wars, in reshuffling financial markets and financial flows.
Personally, I never considered having the European SWIFT turn into something outside our control a wise choice- we are just a short walk from another Jackson-Vanik.
So, let's get back to the title: whatever it takes, but adding this new element and its consequences.
Also if the occupation were to be completed in few weeks, and then turned into a guerrilla fighting akin to what happened in the Baltics up to the 1950s- hence, probably, the push from Russia to get the Ukrainian Army seize power.
Let's assume that it will end in a draw in few days, if the "Blitzkrieg" fails.
It would still take years to sort the political and socio-economical fallout out, also if now there are e.g. proposals to bring Ukraine into the EU on a "fast track" (in part also to avoid that any aid package to rebuild the country would end the usual way- getting Ukraine into the EU fold would also imply applying all the EU checks and balances that e.g. Hungary routinely over the last few years forgets).
And also if the attack were to be successful, it could generate a long-term set of side-effects, ranging from the obvious impacts on the energy supply chains, to other impacts (e.g. a low-intensity, long-range conflict also if it were just to stay local, and the ensuing migrations).
Of humans and organizations
I will start with a digression that includes a personal digression- a matrioska digression.
In the late 2000s, while I was living in Brussels, I learned some basic Mandarin (courtesy of MIT material available online, and few books and audiobooks) while I was also refreshing and updating some business knowledge, along with some basic Russian.
Few years later, after returning full-time to live and work in Italy, I studied a bit more of Mandarin, and, as with any other language, that included studying story (and libraries in Turin have probably a long list of books I took on loan in 2012-2013 about Chinese organizational and social history, not just the language learning variety- albeit, on the latter, will return after my German will reach my target plateau).
Anyway, since 2013, beside occasional phrases uttered here and there...
...the main use for those limited skills was to entice me to try to find other material on the organizational history of China as a state, and landing on a course just on that theme on Coursera, after reading material produced from Westerners looking at China from Westerner's perspectives.
I could not find it now on Coursera, so I will probably eventually refresh it from my backups.
The beauty of Internet-based learning/awareness training? In the 1990s, whenever I attended a workshop, it was a one-off, with maybe just a bit of printed material and my scribbled notes left behind, if I ever needed or wanted to refresh.
Because working across multiple industries and types of activities implies that you never just "learn" and then develop on just that stream, as a "vertical expert" would do.
You learn, use, expand, fix, then set aside and, maybe later, maybe even in a different domain, suddenly you see the need to get back to those patterns.
So, with Internet-based training, most often the option is available to dowload material, not just your own notes- giving you a chance to maybe view again some material after getting deeper into the subject hands-on for a while, discovering usually (if the training material was good) additional layers of understanding (yes, this comes from high school interest in cultural anthropology and reading about "filologia romanza".
A catch: the course on China's organizational history was in Chinese and for Chinese, but I was lucky enough that the subtitles (in Chinese) could survive googletranslate decently, and, with some check on other books about Chinese history, was able to do a complete round of translation that made sense and matched what I read in other book, but as a coherent whole.
The interesting part was how, through all the evolutions of the organizational structure of China as a continental state, there was a gradual development of organizational expertise, courtesy also to the ability of Chinese characters to contextualize information, and, de facto, having few characters in a specific order could actually act as a "mental roadmap" toward adding few layers of understanding derived from where that combination appeared in prior texts.
So, you can have whole books that have just one hundred or little more characters, and require hundred of pages to understand what they mean- not just a simple translation.
Implying: "understanding" can not start by reading just the "icing on the cake" book that all rave about, but would require reading what could have built that cultural framework where those one hundred characters acted as "memory catalysts" to retrieve others.
So, a single, few hundred characters book, instead of a book, could be considered akin to what I had in the Army- a keyring with a collection of keys of office etc- to open other doors that contained other material.
Somebody could say that this is specific of the Chinese culture, that also had its own rounds of both exporting and burning books, hence e.g. as was said even in the XX century the possibility of reading different messages in the same characters.
But, in reality, the cultural narrative of organizations belongs to all the structured cultures (those with a formalized, written or unwritten, transmission of knowledge) I was directly or indirectly (i.e. through others or books or multimedia or even art collections) in contact with.
There is always a beginning that is based on "before the beginning" (i.e. prior events that resulted in the choices to geneate that beginning), and starts with a streamlining of the history as "founding element".
Eventually, time creates its own "constructed organizational history": organizational storytelling is never just reporting, always at least selective reporting (selecting from the past what is consistent with the current desired self-image).
The paradox is that, while this is useful to retain a degree of cohesion of purposes, retaining the ability to evolve efficiently the organization (whatever its size, but the larger the more relevant) implies also retaining a "true" organizational memory.
Yes "true"- as the routine "cleansing for communication purposes" (the "retain a degree of cohesion of purposes" of the previous paragraph) generates some loss of information, notably when the transition scenario includes something akin to Sartre's "mains sales".
Or: what was acceptable is not anymore so, and orthodoxy requires both alignment and dampening the sound of differences, the famous "pas récuperable".
Reading history tea leaves
When we shift from individuals to organizations, notably states, coherence is a relational concept.
Look, to stay within the confines of Western Europe history, to Byzantium (there is an interesting book on the social history of Byzantium that I sampled few years ago, and eventually will read, after completing other readings).
Byzantium evolved across over 2,000 years, since its inception to the fall of Costantinople less than six centuries ago: also just staying to the times since Constantine, what started was not what ended.
And, as I wrote above, experienced the sudden incoming of a whole population trying to resettle somewhere- I will let you research material on that unusual relationship and its geopolitical impacts in Ancient times.
I will spare you a discussion spanning 5,000 years of organizational history, and will jump to something focused on our current and recent history.
I would say- when structured, industrialized logistics shifted from being what helped Napoleon his first wins (and ultimately misusing it generated the failure in Russia against the three Russian generals, as described on a movie about him: famine, cold, distance), to a common ground embedded in our complex, urbanized societies.
I concur that politics is not just about administration of the "commons" (including State's and local authorities' resources), but administration of the commons has a political dimension.
There is an inescapable truth: the more complex your society (e.g. the more services are considered "basic"), the more politics cannot escape from economic realities, notably prioritization of finite resources.
But "prioritization" is a social construct, and, as shown e.g. in the XX century by the countless wars that peppered reality across the world (not just the two "World War" that our Euro-centric perspective on history assumes- the Cold War was not really that cold outside Europe), often demagogues pushed for prioritizations that simply ignored realities, and procrastinated choices.
Shiller's "Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events" is interesting not just for the references to economic history, but also for bits of cultural history intertwined with organizational and social history.
That book uses as test case crises in the XIX and XX century, and adds a perspective on the impact of narratives on economy (and politics) in the early XXI century- interesting how something that nowadays we consider a tale (e.g. the Wizard of Oz) can be read, considering the times when it was written, as a political allegory deeply rooted in its times.
The relationship between humans and organizations is based, in the end, on patterns.
Human patterns, that are linked also to how we evolved across times.
Sometimes, in discussions about political history of organizational structures, it is puzzling to see how a multidisciplinary approach that should consider the socio-economic context is replaced by an almost teleological, even theological, perspective, what I routinely lambast as "manifest destiny".
Recently, reread Tuchman's "Zimmerman Telegram"- always a funny reading akin to a Comedy of Errors.
Read from our own times, i.e. with 20/20 hindsight (and assuming that those living those times did not have 20/20 insight), seems puzzling that a neutral country (USA) allowed one of the parties of the war (that, incidentally, was considered at best worth keeping a watchful eye on to monitor the real aims) to use USA's diplomatic channels as pipelines to deliver both strategical and tactical instructions that were structural to the conduct of the conflict.
If Germany assumed to be too superior for some to crack its codes, USA assumed to be too savvy to duped.
But sometimes choices, again, are clear only when you see them through your own present condition.
And the same applies to "morals"- we present them as absolutes, but are anything but.
Just to stay in my country: we as children were taught in school of monarchs arranging dynastic marriages basically when their children were born, as if the "raison d'État" superseded individuals' rights, and as if being born into the family of a ruler were to imply a balance between the "perks" of the belonging, and surrendering individual rights.
Also, until few decades ago, in Italy uxoricide until 1981 was less than an omicide.
Rightfully, in our times, we denial the legality of marriage contracts (and associated constraints) set by parents for their children before their age of consent, and uxoricide now implies longer, not shorter, terms in prison.
But we still have to balance between statements (or plans), and reality.
I remember reading recently a book from few decades ago written by an Italian politician.
The reason i remember it? Because recently a Member of the Parliament made a huge splash on social media about her overcoat stolen in Parliament, while... eventually was found that had slipped beyond the seat.
Decades ago, instead, a politician discovered that something else had gone missed (for real), and complained about it with his security detail.
This politician was famous for being quite strict about morals, honesty in office etc.
In his memoirs, he himself jokes that he was asked if he wanted to catch the culprit, or recover his stolen property.
When he asked for the latter, it was recovered: so much for contextualization of "proper conduct".
A lesson from history (pick up your favorite slice of time, space, States) is that often the issue is the perception of necessary evil.
What is a necessary evil? What is accepted at the time, but often swept under the carpet after the successful end.
I remembered in past articles that in a long documentary-interview with Robert McNamara, he said that General Curtis LeMay said, about the firebombing of Japan in WWII while knowing that houses were made of flammable materials, that if they were to lose the war, would be all judged as war criminals.
And, while Hollywood showed e.g. in movies about Bastogne in WWII the outcry when prisoners of war where killed by German units, you just need to read e.g. Atkinson's "The Liberation Trilogy" to see how, when resources were scarce, also the Allies did not refrain from the same approach.
To say nothing about bending the Geneva Convention and, instead of keeping prisoners of war near their country, shuttling them back to internment camps in Continental USA on supply ships after the latter had unloaded in Europe their supplies.
With some cultural consequences due to the appointment of colleges and university deans to lead such camps (you can read the interesting story and cultural and political impacts that almost risked de facto supporting rooting out anti-nazis between prisoners of wars, by giving control to nazis of some camps: Robin's "The Barbed-Wire College Reeducating German POWs in the US During WWII".
History is always winners' history- there is no escape from that.
Another lesson from history: it takes time for a reconciliation and identification of a shared memory- and we Europeans are really just beginning, in the XXI century, to deal with our shared history up to 1950.
Because, unfortunately, as I wrote above about uxoricide in Italy (which really dated back to much, much earlier), also the eugenics trends of the early XX century were still strong in the 1970s, or even in our XXI century (e.g. read about Sweden's compulsory sterilization).
We would like to assume that 1930s racial laws were born in Nuremberg under the nazis, but I remember reading a book about a Easter massacre centuries ago based on similar concepts, albeit not wrapped into pseudo-science, and the 1990s Balkan Wars showed that Stevenson's "Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" was not limited to 1930s Germany, Italy, and other satellite countries.
The overall lesson of history is always the same: learn, read, and reconsider before making choices that could actually follow patterns that we already know where they led.
An interesting point is: as I consider history a social construct, not a collection of "facts", as nobody can have universal knowledge of all the details, probably an interesting point should be to keep the flame of histories alive by having more historical societies- as a kind of social service and organizational memory, not to "sanitize history", as often instead is aimed to.
Now, there is a distortion of the use of history, which is picking here and there the "positives", outside of their own context: as of today, I had already 7 articles referring to "frankenlaws", obviously all about Italy.
Probably it is part of the Second Republic (started in the early 1990s), when suddenly somebody assumed that a shortcut to overcome what Bruno Bozzetto described in a funny cartoon was needed.
And what best than copying from USA, UK, Germany, France this and that?
Well, I think that I first talked about frankenlaws while I was living in London in the late 1990s, and kept going on and on since then.
As I shared few articles ago, eventually, to get out of the conundrum, the Italian Parliament made the usual choice- shifting to bureaucrats to "fill the gaps", i.e. instead of law-making, voting laws that are a mere framework, and then let unelected officials do the actual implementation.
In the past instead our law-making used to be akin to micro-management with supposed 20/20 insight (but really 20/20 hindsight) with "slammed shut the barn after the cattle left", i.e. our laws were replete of details to fix past issues, presented as future-oriented legislative initiatives.
So, eventually came the "testo unico", i.e. a kind of "ex-post fixing" to collect all the threads associated to a specific theme.
It did not last long, and frankenlaws became an easier way to produce soundbites.
With a frankenlaw shared by all, and few amendments pushed by each tribe, everybody can claim a win on almost any legislative initiative.
Then, if the implementation requires some tweaking, or creates curious items such as laws that were supposed to reduce paperwork, and created instead more paperwork...
...it is easy to blame "tecnici lunari" (literally: "technicians from the Moon", albeit in Italian "lunatico" means also something less flattering)- as once an Italian President decades ago said about the complexity of the Italian tax return.
Beside frankenlaws, another typical Italian element that is creating now some further issues, considering the constraints embedded within #NextGenerationEU and associated measures, is the intrinsic lack of transparency.
Well, let's say that the currenty European Commission seem focused more on announces than transparency- so, maybe, after mafias, we are exporting that habit, too.
Personally, I think that transparency should be linked to statutes and rules, not a gracious choice left to the incumbents.
Otherwise, as usual, we get only what somebody assumes that we should get, and the risk of "tunnel vision" choices increases.
Frankness in Italy has always been seen as a sign of naiveté- a cultural element that probably worked fine when culture and organizational rules were transmitted from father to son, and a lawyer could rely on centuries of history and practice for an encore whenever tackling with something new.
But, as shared in previous articles, our society by layering "taken for granted" services and "normal" expectations, created something that increasingly embedded "techné" into everyday life.
Let's consider, for the purpose of this discussion, "techné" as structured knowledge with its own internal structure and coherence, that, when connected in society with other equally structured knowledge elements and practices or rituals, generates a need of interconnected and joint evolution that actually reduces the degrees of freedom, unless you want to constantly add "buffers" to compensate for the lack of transparency on evolutions that each part expects to deliver.
To make a practical example: you can quite well assume that buying new equipment for a new hospital is what is needed to expand capacity.
Then, suddenly you "discover" that equipment requires personnel.
Then, while the time to produce the equipment is, say, six months, personnel able to understand the operating limits of that equipment and compensate when needed, say that needs two-three years to be trained and coached (as training delivers the formalized part, but often is on-the-job coaching that add the informal and "Pavlovian" element- ditto for continued "field exercises" to confirm that the operational capabilities are at a satisfactory level).
I will not give the example that most of my readers have now in mind, if they read about the COVID crisis in Europe and the operational activities done to fight the epidemic: but designing a building and its flows, and buying machinery, even by converting existing buildings that currently, due to the pandemic were not used, forgot some constraints on human talent availability.
Not just in Italy, this crisis saw a leadership obsession that then turns everybody into a caudillo, not a leader.
The difference? I think that a leader should be able to extract from those led value that they themselves would not expect to be able to deliver, as individuals and as part of a group.
In Brussels was told (in German, assuming that I would not understand it) on a project that I was shadow-managing the project, as the actual project manager was focusing really on his own expertise (marketing, in that case) and forgetting the overall assignment (to drive the "project orchestra").
Back then, that "shadow project management" was actually considered a blessing in disguise, as at least the publishing project was completed and delivered in time.
What I did not disclose back then, was that, beside working as project/program/portfolio/service/account manager and negotiator, in the past I had had assignments where I was told that I was to be the actual project manager in anything but name.
Why? A specialist was to be the official project manager, but everybody knew that there were some issues in turning a "tunnel vision-oriented" specialist into somebody looking at the whole picture, not just excelling in his/her own "slice".
As I said a couple of days ago to a friend, this is one of the largest political issues in Italy, where routinely we turn to "technical governments" to overcome the inability of the multiple tribes to concur on a roadmap.
Since I published something online, at the beginning of this century, to pave the way for my eventually aborted return to Italy (a publishing programme that lasted few years, until 2005, as any cultural change initiative), repeatedly shared that I consider that concept quixotic.
To summarize those prior analyses, let's say that "technical government" is an oxymoron developed by those who lack the political will to be exposed doing not what pleases the tribes, but what is needed, and therefore... have somebody else execute the programme that they themselves know to be needed.
If successful, they were the "kingmakers" taking a step back to let the experts drive under their supervision.
If unsuccessful, they usually would claim that "tecnici lunari" overstepped the boundaries of the agreed mission.
The issue, shown in recent years e.g. by former President of the Council of Minister Monti (who, as former dean of Bocconi, at least was savvy enough to ask to be appointed "life senator" before taking the helm of the Government, as "parachute"), is that, as even multiple times former President of the Council of Minister Berlusconi said, at a time when he was de facto the richest man in the country, in Italy being the head of the government gives a level of power that no money can buy.
Time to quote an old book, but about USA- Palast's "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy".
There is a saying shared or at least understandable in all the languages where I dared to learn to utter few words: "power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely".
My concept of "corruption" has nothing to do with what some international quangos rank, i.e. mainly bribes.
I think that "corruption" implies also stopping to awe about the power you receive, and starting using it for ends that you self-define with a "tunnel vision".
As "the common good" is often a matter of relational definition, but those uttering that phrase cocoon in most cases into the self-deluding assumption that they are good, and therefore whatever they do is for "the common good", forgetting the side-effects.
So, in Italy, we had routinely laws or attempts to issue laws that "forced the hand" (and I am not referring to government decrees and laws issued during the COVID crisis), as those promoting them could not see beyond themselves.
There is an element of "terraforming" in the way Italian tribes and bureaucracies are operating, i.e. whatever "resource" is inserted from outside (including a "specialist", or, as I called them, a "technician", from techné), it takes often one year or even less to have that resource turned into something acceptable to the internal organizational balance.
To the point that the key reason that resource was added (to bring fresh air into a stale environment and push for change) becomes a little bit akin to the Orwell's animal farm, with the continuous evolution of the initial political platform into something else.
It is something that still eludes most of my fellow Italians, as I wrote in various articles on "leadership".
In a complex organization, continuity implies a set of formal and informal rituals.
In Italy, the informal side is much more developed than in other countries I lived and worked on, for cultural and contextual reasons that described in past publications.
Our national and local organizational culture context developed really by inheritance from the various bureaucracies that pre-dated the post-WWII Italian Republic, and even the post-unification 1861 Italian Kingdom, in some cases going back to Ancient Rome.
Most of the "disruptors" that were taken from a "specialist" background eventually cocooned into what they knew better whenever met with resistance, and in some cases just added a layer that was easier for them to communicate about, and built a team of "loyalists" around (including some "bridging" from the existing organizational structure).
But such a layering takes probably a generation to filter down the organization and be really transformative.
Proof: since I first was on the political side of Italy (early 1980s), even before being within the business side (mid-1980s), I saw many "transformers" announcing, pushing, proposing, implementing, but... as soon as they left, it did not take that long to see old habits resurface.
Skin-deep reforms are not what Italy needs now.
Resistance to change sometimes is futile
Yes, the reference is to the Borg phrase from Star Trek.
For those who do not know what I am referring to: imagine a kind of shared cybernetic mind that absorbs all the other cultures it gets in touch with (yes, the concept was also part of an old Cold War sci-fi movie- I will let you imagine who that movie referred to).
In Italy, we still are under the spell of "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose"- change as an appearance, not as reality.
So, whenever there is an attempt to organizational or social changes, the reaction is how I explained to foreign friends and contacts, prior early 2000s, why we did have some of the most draconian laws against smoking in no smoking areas.
My concept was: in Italy, as a kid, whenever there was a law whose intent was to alter a specific behavior of us Italians, it took let's say three years to be considered a real law.
The reason? In times when laws used still to be micro-managgement-oriented, everybody expected some negotiations between tribes to "amend and repent", i.e. alter according to external pressure applied.
So, as I had been in Italy on purpose to see the "Euro New Year Eve", I did the same when an anti-smoke law with some claws was implemented.
The claws? It was not anymore just the customer to be fined- it was also the owner of the e.g. café, restaurant, movie theatre, etc, plus eventually in other laws additional penalties (like few days of closure, or revoking the license).
The same approach has been followed ever since, e.g. also on COVID Green Pass, a failure to carry one where required would imply a fine not just for the customer, but also for e.g. the shop (and many were so fined).
In the context of this article, the "change" I am referring to has nothing to do with COVID, or anti-smoke laws, or prior laws requiring, to fight some diseases, that glasses, dishes, cups, and cutlery are sterilized by cafés and pubs in Italy, something that often puzzled in the past my foreign friends visiting.
There are other changes that in Italy we tried to introduce for decades, such (but on this we have a shared narrative with plenty of other countries) the fabled "meritocracy".
Well, that as well as other changes all share one point in common: we are trying since decades to got past that Bruno Bozzetto cartoon I linked above, and turn into an "ordinary country" ("un paese normale" was the title of a book I read long long ago).
With a catch: so far, the task eluded us because we were in "frankenlaws mode": pick what you see positive, avoid the context, and, more important, avoid introducing changes that cannot be reversed if and when the balance of tribes decides a different course of actions.
As I wrote above, unfortunately this could have worked in a pre-industrial, pre-post-industrial, and pre-digital society.
In our society, some changes alter the landscape beyond recovery.
There is no way back.
Yes, you can roll-back some of the delocalization and globalization of supply chains, but those pushing for a past that never was.
In that past we never had e.g. the welfare state that we have now in some countries, with an advanced health care (in some countries affordable to all, in others to few), and with access to goods and food with a 24/7 365 days a year availability that was not possible even for the richest in pre-industrial times.
Once we started to depend on easy access to electricity, and the associated distribution network that balances it all to ensure continuity, and then transferred critical processes to digitally transformed processes, gradually we also removed the human capabilities, on at least two levels.
First, by removing those who had the organizational history, i.e. who could actually have a "fall-back" without all our technology, the old pre-digital times.
Second, by introducing a minimal level of resources and capabilities needed to make our complex urbanized societies operational that exceeded our pre-digital (or even pre-industrial) times, we simply went for the point of no return.
Hence, we can keep tinkering as we routinely do in Italy, but increasingly our tinkering is not aligned with what in our society is the "minimally acceptable satisfaction of expectations".
Furthermore, all this tinkering requires an expensive balancing off between what I could call "tribal prioritization" and "placebo for the excluded".
The cost of the latter unfortunately creates a fertile ground for expanding waste, as seen recently on Italian newspapers (see e.g. here).
Change is never easy, and having to implement change to align to purposes whose definition you are not leading makes it even harder.
This in normal conditions- but when you have also to obtain a consensus from multiple tribes, it is even harder.
So, implementing change requires in Italy at least the following:
_balancing multiple constituencies, both internal and external
_resistance to both flattering and abuse during the journey
_continued creative negotiation to keep balancing while moving forward
_last but not least, continuous monitoring, and... plenty of stamina and "mermaids resistance".
The latter is the obviously derived from Homer and Ulysses, also if, as e.g. former President of the Council of Ministers Monti discovered when he was voiced as a potential future President of the Italian Republic, in Italian politics (and society) mermaids can have multiple shapes and forms.
Flattery is generally the most common form.
There were a couple of other sections of this article (on the autodafé of personalities and trench warfare mentality), but both would be inappropriate right now that we have both ongoing- maybe at a later stage, when cooler heads will prevail, and a new steady state will have developed.
Hopefully without turning into another Cold War.
Meanwhile, this war in Ukraine will quite certainly be used for internal debate and to "push" toward specific patterns of both digital and green transformation within the European Union.