Viewed 5173 times | Published on 2022-07-24 12:00:00 | words: 4625
A couple of days ago posted an article that had been on the back-burner for a while.
Actually, the latest four articles before this one were all about converging themes:
_Going practical: contextualizing the #Quirinale #Treaty and sketching a way forward during a government crisis #Italy #France #NextGenerationEU #PNRR #SDG
_Planning a business, planning a society - #sharing #knowledge #infrastructure and #innovation #swarming #NextGenerationEU
_Let's be serious about European Union integration and its future #NextGenerationEU
_A #Monnet moment? Different times require different tools #NextGenerationEU #crises #war #energy #democracy.
As I just finished a mission on July 18th, decided that will still be for few months more in Gossipville (copyright of a local business connection), a.k.a. Macondo am Po (my copyright), a.k.a. "so much of everything" (the new official motto, an epitome of the "understatement sabaudo" often celebrated here in almost every event I attended in Turin since the 2012), a.k.a. Turin, Italy, the town with three rivers and a penchant for exoterism.
Anyway, there are now plenty of restaurant, and the town (my birthplace) has a nice architecture (beside cultures, brain, transmission of knowledge, I have been interested in architecture as an expression of the "genius loci" since I was a kid- as a teenager toying with black&white photography and printing, I was often told that my pictures were just about buildings).
So, despite all the recent wheeled dangers I reported about (anybody who has any kind of wheels seems to like zigzagging between pedestrians, in Turin), I think that Turin as a quality I looked for in every other town I worked or lived in around Europe, i.e. it is "eminently walkable".
Now, after this tourist attraction spot for my birthplace, let's talk about business.
While I was completing my latest mission, I started the path toward improving my German by following a string of data-oriented courses... in German.
At the same time, courtesy of COVID and my 1990s membership to various US-based mailing lists, including at DoD, since 2020 was able to at last attend meetings and workshops I was routinely invited to, but that, in pre-COVID times, required "in-person" attendance... in Washington and surrounding areas.
Let's just say that I am a routine consumer of reports and analysis from the US Government and Academia: the EU context is somewhat different, but some ideas are worth reusing or integrating into analyses contextualized for EU (and, in my case, also Italy).
Notably when it comes to social inclusion- we in Europe, despite the appearance, have still way too often a "neo-colonialist" attitude, i.e. instead of listening, we assume that we can think and design what is best for everybody else, and then "push" our brilliant solutions onto others, as if making them look-alike (socially speaking) of ourselves were to be always a positive value.
This short article contains pointers more than fully developed ideas or solutions, as currently I am working on closing a book, and, in late July and most of the month of August, plan to work on updating some skills and reading (at last!) some research material that has been lingering on my disk for weeks or months.
_my personal context- what I am adding
_the future of work concept
_the twin transitions
The twin digital and green transitions have been "kicking tires" for a while in Europe.
As I shared on Kaggle almost two years ago within the datasetEU 27 Energy sources - consumption 1990-2018, while the RepowerEU initiative is presented mainly as a side-effect of the invasion of Ukraine, along with the "son of COVID" NextGenerationEU and associated packages is actually more a "monnet moment".
Or: something that has been lingering for a while (try having 27 countries to agree on anything more than a minimal set of changes), suddenly gets a pair of wings (and treasury) due to a crisis that allow the usual "us vs. them" or similar "see the big picture, ignore the small collateral impacts".
It is interesting how also the recent relaunch about the twin transitions (meaning digital and green, JRC report on 2022-06-29 and communication 2022-06-30), in the communication did not really discuss the context of both transitions.
Within 18 pages, just few references to demand linked to population growth and urbanization, but no reference to the third transition: in all developed countries, we are growing older.
In some countries, like Italy and Japan, this started long ago, and what is discussed now as a potential issue (having less than two working inhabitants for each retiree) has been a reality for a while.
As stated in a 2021 document from the National Statistics Bureau ISTAT:
"L'impegno dello Stato per garantire le pensioni è ingente, si tratta di 301 miliardi di Euro nel 2019 (per avere un'idea, quasi il 50% in più rispetto al Recovery Fund). La spesa pensionistica rappresenta infatti il 16,8% del nostro Prodotto interno lordo e, in Europa, siamo fra i Paesi con la più alta incidenza di spesa sul Pil.
In Italia, Paese che invecchia più velocemente di altri, ci sono 602 pensionati da lavoro ogni 1000 lavoratori. Questo rapporto è migliorato rispetto a vent'anni fa, quando i pensionati erano 757. Non stupisce che il tema della sostenibilità del sistema complessivo sia ricorrente per i policy maker. Nel 2019 in Italia quasi una famiglia su due ha fra i suoi componenti un pensionato.
Dal 2012, data di entrata in vigore dell'ultima riforma, aumenta però il peso di chi paga i contributi rispetto a chi percepisce la pensione. Inoltre, nel 2019 sono 420mila i percettori di pensione che continuano a lavorare. L'identikit di chi, pur pensionato, lavora ancora è: uomo, settentrionale, lavoratore indipendente, almeno 65 anni d'età.
While personally I do not think that I will ever retire, and plan to just switch my "working model", the twin transition digital and green will mutually reinforce (e.g. digitalization helps in managing energy and resources demand and allocation, while the green transition will help to make ubiquitous computing sustainable, and not just in "smart cities").
Anyway, to make them both sustainable, cyberpunk scenarios of a dystopian future, which actually owe a lot to "Leviathan" and "Utopia", to name just a couple, should be offset by a model of inclusion that goes beyond the "panem et circenses", i.e. the old approach to provide something to keep going, but without the risk of losing control.
At least, this is my view: inclusion should mean integration within what is "ordinary society", not just a form of social parking lot, as often some announces about "social inclusion initiatives" make me feel.
Therefore, I think that there are three transitions that we should see as part and parcel of a sustainable future:
_digital as an enabler
_green as a structural choice
_continuous society redesign according to demographic trends.
Somebody would say that the latter is what actually is (should be) ordinary politics- but, frankly, paying lip service as an addendum to the first two is not enough.
If we are going to live (as some born in the 2000s will probably be able to) over 100-120 years, we cannot de facto be set aside by society when we are 70 or even less.
Not just because it would be waste, but also because since the 1980s I met many well into their 80s or even 90s who still had the will and capabilities to be active members of society.
For now, probably, our medical science practice is not yet advanced enough to build up since birth the potential, if you were to live 100 or more, to have the same opportunities and strength at, say, 30 as at 90, but who knows?
Meanwhile, the twin digital and green transition can actually help in restructuring society so that it becomes really inclusive- or so they say, also if, as you will see below, I have my own doubt about the potential of the current model.
Now, a digression of the "learning Lego(tm) blocs" I am adding to complement my business skills and experience with something having more depth than just my lifelong curiosity about what "ordinary" and "sustainable" (socially and environmentally) meant for different societies at different times.
My personal context- what I am adding
Before the UN SDGs, there were the Millennium Development Goals.
As I wrote in almost every recent article, my business number crunching skills actually were improved by political activities when I was still a teenager, getting used to see numbers from Brussels etc.
Then, few decades of business experience added something more: I am fine with the analysis, but I really enjoy seeing the impacts of actions, not just actions per se, or thinking per se.
Therefore, in between missions, while looking for a new mission, or a potential relocation abroad to settle (at last! but I know that will keep spanning at least virtually few continents), decided to add to few more courses to those that I had followed on SAP and sustainability over the last few years, some more specifically on the impact and integration in ordinary business activities of sustainability concepts.
Again courtesy of COVID "remote only" workshops and conferences, I was able to follow the evolution of the international reporting standards (e.g. IFRS), including expanding ordinary business ones to add environmental, social, governance impacts- including the "materiality" of sustainability initiatives (e.g. see SDG Impact by UNDP.
Decades ago, to prepare for my first freelance activities on change in the 1990s, read also material from ILO and UNIDO, and eventually used material from OECD while working on organizational redesign activities: why reinventing the wheel, if a decent one exists?
I promised a short article, and therefore I will immediately shift to a couple of courses I followed recently (both free):
_Helping Business Thrive in a Circular Economy
_Impact Measurement & Management for the SDGsImpact Measurement & Management for the SDGs
What's next? Well, if you look at my CV, you see that I worked on cultural and organizational change mainly from 1990, but business number crunching with CFOs, Financial Controllers, etc started in the late 1980s.
The latter did benefit both from my prior political experience trying to make sense of those numbers from Brussels (with plenty of help- as many of the "seniors" in that political advocacy for European integration actually were working at or around the faculty of Political Science in Turin), and the willingness of senior managers at multinational customers to share with a 20-something kid who was willing to learn more than what was strictly needed to design a report or decision support model.
Storytelling from real experts was something really appealing to me, considering my political background and, as son of an actor, attitude to dissecting stories and scripts.
Hence, as it can be expected, I am interested on the overall UN SDGs initiative, but in operational terms I am focusing on "materiality" (e.g. see the pages from Canon about their approach to materiality and SDGs)
Reason? As I wrote above, the three transitions will require (I resisted until now to use it in this article) a "systemic perspective".
Actually, if you want to have an example of what digital, green, inclusion might look like in the (near) future, look at a book that I originally read just because automotive, along with banking (and then few others to a lesser extent) was part and parcel of my activities since the 1980s.
So,initially it was to read an update on Womack's book "The machine that changed the world" (read few articles where I referenced the book).
Then, I found that the book from Mitchell "Reinventing the Automobile" wasn't just about automotive- it talked about smart cities, smart grids, energy, urbanization and service-orientation, etc, and hinted at points that actually focused on the overall redesign of society.
So, a simple and highly visual book would probably give you more ideas about how the different building blocks could integrate.
But "inclusion" implies an attitude to conveying information to your audience, so that the audience can "internalize" whatever you say, not just parrot your messages.
The aim, in my view, should be that then they involve others in their circles, but adapting before adopting.
In my case, started before my first official work- I have always had an inclination toward converting a pile of information into "appetizers" to help introduce.
It began probably by chance when, at 9 and something, had to keep my younger brother busy while studying (then 2 years old)- so, I used toy soldiers that at the time had received, reproducing Ancient Egyptians, Greek, Romans, and creating "events"/"stories" such as marriages, elections, etc while playing with my brother, so that I reviewed history.
Around the same age, I was used to type away on a mechanical typewriter- hammering down, I should say, something that would require some re-conditioning when, years later, friends of my parents offered to pay for my piano tuition (but I wrote about that before).
Creating and writing stories obviously was eased by my parents' and my personal library, as well as helping my father learn his lines as an actor.
My memory developed in a funny way- decades later, a former girlfriend of mine who was acting asked to help repeating her lines, and, after the second time, she was surprised that I did not need to read the script anymore: my brain had already digested into short-term memory all the lines before and after her lines, as well as her lines.
While in the Army, out of boredom, as my work into the office as a "furiere" helping also to prepare the travel plans for field exercises and taking care of the daily schedule of services and roll-call, R&R and other absentees checking, did create and propose something else.
As I was studying at the Turin university Information Technology, where actually I had enjoyed developing tools to support others in the university lab, designed and proposed an introductory information technology course.
It was funny to design a course as I assumed would be needed, using the tools I had been provided, not those that I had at the university, and for a diverse audience (both conscription soldiers dragging their feet across 12 months of compulsory service, and "perm" from NCOs to Lt Col, in both cases including people with university degrees as well as those with basic studies).
My choice? To teach introductory programming as a way to demistify computers by explaining computing logic to those who did not have necessarily the "right" educational backgroun.
My main success? I identified within the conscription soldiers two who were the best, one coming actually from first programming experiences for the Italian branch of an American computer company, and the other a quick learner who had just three years of elementary school and little more, but had a mind designed for something else.
So, my main success was not to keep them and all the others engaged (I used visual examples a lot, before getting them to the keyboards, e.g. to explain "context" and "routines" and "functions" using a multi-story house and its subdivision in apartments, rooms, windows to allow visibility or modify information between rooms, etc).
And was not having both of them actually be able to write some (basic) software while understanding the logic of software design.
No, it was a "team work": the Colonel of the divisional training office (CAD-OATIO) I reported to just for that course accepted the concept that not just "perm" should get a recognition from the Ministry of Defense for attending the course, but also at least the best of the conscription soldiers- so, both my "best" got an official "certification" about the course, something that apparently was useful to the one without prior experience to enter into an information technology job also without academic titles.
In my view, "inclusion" is not about "granting" something to those that are not involved, connected, coopted- it is about giving opportunities to develop to full potential.
Meaning: you provide the door opening not to invite to "a seat at the table", but to let them access the resources to decide which table to join, or even build.
Too many "inclusion" initiatives in my view smell of a kind of "social neo-colonialist" approach, as if demi-gods were granting to mere humans a limited access to a different plane of reality, ready to pull the plug (i.e. retaining control) whenever they see fit.
In a data-centric society, where everybody and everything will interact and jointly continuously generate a new plane of reality, you have to release control to a higher degree than usual, if you want to let opportunities to "emerge".
There is another theme that I think is foundational, and that I discussed across few articles since the COVID crisis started in early 2020- how work will evolve.
The future of work concept
Disclosure: I was used to work remotely and with limited onsite presence well before mobile phones and Internet made that ordinary and within reach for everybody.
Admittedly, travel costs in the late 1980s and early 1990s were quite steep, and welcomed when I could at last have a Compuserve email account in Italy (back then, most of my customer still did not have, in Italy, an email address- and in cases where it was available to senior managers, actually reading and writing was one of the PA roles, as it had been with "snail mail" in the past).
In other countries is different, but in Italy it is ordinary to have offices in the centre of major towns, surrounded by cafés, restaurants, shops that lived thanks to those commuting each day to and from offices.
Working remotely? Not just in the 1990s I was one of the few consultants working remotely most of the time, also late into 2010s in Italy working from home was limited for office employees (the only exception being call centers and the like) and, in many cases, working remotely was considered a kind of extension to paid vacations (i.e. there was little trust that employees really worked, whenever they worked remotely).
With COVID, of course nobody was going around, and this had an immediate impact on countless activities- ranging from the obvious, down to the unexpected.
While in Italy people used to care about their business attire, and also "casual business clothing" often was expensive as the old tie-and-suit version, with remote working full-time I started to recognize when calling an office and suddenly employees could work in their... pajamas.
And many Italians told me that actually both their time, money spent to work, and also choices of clothing had changed dramatically as a result.
I know that I am old fashioned, but when I work from home, I am used to dress casual but as if I were to get into the office, just to avoid... sliding into "dressed with pajamas" mode.
Jokes aside, for many small businesses (not just the shops, also their suppliers) COVID was a death knoll.
It was frankly quixotical to see then shopkeepers protesting around Italy to ask... companies to force employees to get back shuttling to and from office.
So, we are used now to something different from the "9-to-5 office work".
Actually, beside small companies, Italy also has many small towns, that could barely support a fraction of an employee with the right skills to deliver "digital transformation".
Probably, the future of both the private and national/local bureaucracies will include a quote of "shared" employees, having a full-time job, but actually spread across multiple employers.
In Italy, with its social structure, this could create some issues, e.g. corporate office politics will have to evolve,.
The ordinary social linking approaches would make no sense, if you delivery e.g. just 20% of your time to each one of 5 unrelated employers: what would a promotion in one of them mean, if 80% of your time were to stay at the old activities and old salary?
Unless you were to authorize "employers' cartels", converting these "fractional multi-employer jobs" into de facto a kind of indentured servitude.
Also, traditional "hire to retire" would not necessarily work: if, having five employers, an employee were to get progression with one, could actually have the leverage to replace the other four with those asking the same (improved) services.
And this would have a long list of consequences.
Now, if companies were to start having employees working spread across, i.e. closer to service providers than employee, companies would also lose leverage, and have to redesign plenty of other processes and organizational structures.
The flip side of the coin would be that also the German concept of mini-jobs will have to evolve- if everybody has the potential to work as a "marginal", structuring time allocation at will, then also ordinary jobs could be redesigned.
Creating, of course, potential new business opportunities for those providing "time allocation services" to these "multi-employer" employees.
Personally, just for the sake of avoiding being pestered by recruiters at all times, since following a training on podcasting from a UK connection, joined Calendly, where I have my availability agenda. Yes, it is a live link- but, routinely, I delete inviations that are not relevant.
If you google for "Future of Work" you will find plenty of reports, workshops, seminars, courses, etc- I followed a number of them, and read probably hundreds of pages around the concept, and sometimes I wondered: if I were now to redesign the organization of or processes for customers as I did in the 1990s and 2000s, for each of those customers, how would look the "target operating model"?
So, I can switch to a different definition of "twin transitions".
The twin transitions
In this closing section, I would like to "bridge" toward further material that will find its way into my next few books and next few datasets.
The concept is simple.
If you read previous sections in this article, you know that, in reality, in my view the two transitions everybody is talking about, i.e. digital and green, need a third one, about inclusion (linked to demographic but also as a general concept).
I think that the "twin" transitions are not "digital" and "green", but "inside" and "outside".
Too many current initiatives are focused on "outside" changes: digital, green, as if social changes were an "externality", a side-effect.
A collection of components is not a system- it is a pile-up, what we are currently doing since the start of the COVID crisis.
Instead, I think that what we really need is more a matter of, you guessed it, yin and yang.
The external layer is digital and green, but it will really work only if supported by an internal layer that redefines the "new normal"- contextualize technology to social aims, otherwise you end up accepting a Mengele approach to medical science and research.
Our increasingly complex society will become so complex that everyday everyone, also "rocket scientists" (i.e. "vertical" specialist in a single field), should feel inadequate or ignorant.
Whenever I see an expert who claims to have an answer for everything in any domain, it reminds me of those "idiot savants" who read one book on a subject at a time (or study for an exam at the time) and then, in any conversation, move onto that one single subject as if it were the only one worth talking about, obviously in their own terms.
Yes, the usual "technology so advanced that looks like magic"- but in all the domains.
I am not a new age fanatic, invoking a new degree of collective conscience, and all the paraphernalia that is usually associated with that.
Therefore, I consider a fallacy also trying to evolve the inside first, as I find a blatant mistake to keep focusing just on technicalities (the outside) that are so reassuring to bureaucrats (as they can cross all the Ts and dot all the Is to their satisfaction) and politicians (who can so push for social changes without building up consensus, as they couuld defer to some apparently objective framework).
It is a matter of process: the dialogue between the "inside" and the "outside" should be continuous and, while there will be Zealots on both sides, political leaders' role should be to keep in line both sides of Zealots toward a shared goal.
And I am afraid that this too would require choices, i.e. a selective approach.
As you know if you read my previous articles, I have never been a fan of either the Club of Rome and other Malthusian approaches, including what in Italy is called "decrescita felice", i.e. shrinking down our economies.
I would rather focus on a systemic view that tries to remodulate and redistribute while finding different ways to "serve" a larger population: not just a "give and take", but also a massive "rethinking exercise".
Which should be based on a long-term shared systemic view, not on a "first past the post" approach.
Yes, going "technical" would be easier, and since the 1990s routinely read "political" proposals that were actually social engineering designed by incumbents.
But would it really be a sustainable solution, long-term?