Viewed 274 times | Published on 2020-05-28 19:01:43
I will start by sharing the traditional tag cloud to summarize the article (the top 100 words).
Part of this article has been actually been released in "morcels" between May 25th and May 28th.
So, it is in a twisted way in and by itself an application of the concepts that will be discussed in this article: time is scarce, but timing is what makes it relevant.
Hence, sometimes, you can have a roadmap(i.e. where you would like to be after some time)- but have to release it before you have a blueprint (i.e. the guidelines to get there, to be then used as a framework for the actual journey).
What is critical is to acknowledge the difference.
Moreover, not to mistake a roadmap (i.e. a future status starting from today and maybe the past) for a postcard of reality (i.e. a "frozen" status).
In Italy, since re-registering in 2012, and at least since the 1990s, I have been routinely approached by those who want to involve me in some half-botched initiative.
The common point? Metaphorically, they cannot even read a map when it is shown them (i.e. cannot pick "signals" from reality), so confuse the two, reminding somebody who, long ago, complained that I did not see a "project-oriented mindset" locally.
Back then, my reply was: there is a difference between "capacità progettuale" (ability to design), and "capacità di fare progetti" (ability to deliver).
A digression on the Italian "spoils system"
If I look just at the political history as I saw it since, say the early 1970s after returning to Turin after few years back in Southern Italy, I can see that what I criticized since 2012 was actually already there.
In Italy, we do not have "civil servants": our "spoils systems" stretches from the top (as in any other country, the "policy"/"political" level), down to the "policy"/"continuity" level, and down, down, down to the lowest operational level.
If the winner has enough people, "takes it all", as the Abba song goes.
And if he doesn't... there are plenty of volunteers willingly switching sides.
If you are a new team in "political tinseltown", there will be a few (or more- depends on your perceived "staying power") who will either go neutral or enact a trench warfare, hoping to bring back the old team, by showing that the new one is out of its depth.
Something that is quite funny when you are my age (mid-50s) and see some playing that role, forgetting how they were when they started: same ignorant arrogance and inability to involve anybody who didn't present herself/himself as a "true believer".
Under these conditions, there is never really an "independent" review based on "common good" (or even just common sense).
If you look at, say, between 2012 and 2019, you can see as a routine the bestowing of recognition for "excellence" in this, that.
Often with an hilarious mutually bestowing of such honors: a kind of "internecine reciprocity".
In Italy, this is not just about politics- as also social and business life are routinely intertwined with electoral politics.
As I said to some friends in USA in the 1990s and then colleagues in London, Brussels, Paris, in Italy, we do not really need a "lobbying" law (albeit eventually got our fair share of regulations, guilds, etc).
Why? Because traditionally we had lobbies within the Parliament- as elected Members (both on the left and on the right, many are elected for the interests they represent, not the ideas they propose).
Most Italians do not know their own country history, imagine the political history.
When I read people complaining of the appointments to the Senate by the President, I remember times when the Senate was stuffed by loyal bureaucrats around the early XX century, to ensure having a majority.
When I read people sharing newspapers clips from another era, stating that there should be no salary for Members of Parliament as it is an honor to be a Member, I remember that the article is from times when few thousands (and no women) were entitled to vote.
Package all that, and you can see why there are famous cartoons that depict the detachment from reality of anybody who is elected, after a while: it is a closed-circuit system, where, as I often repeat, many of those who are "on loan from society" to elective politics never return to society.
Also when they leave, usually they get a "sinecure" or end up in boards etc of a gazillion of commissions, quangos, non-profits, etc.
Unfortunately, such a "closed circuit" system reacts to crises by tightening its ranks and losing even more an understanding of reality.
In a "tribal country", this also implies a continuous re-balancing: not really what would be needed now to innovate, "reinvent society", and introduced the usual assorted bag of trendy changes (digital transformation, green economy, digitalization of the State, new way of working, etc).
Change and political reality in Italy
"Capacità progettuale" considered as ability to deliver plays second fiddle to micro-political realities that impact each and every action- no matter how small or routine.
How does change happen? It is almost a routine of "cycles": rise, expand, lose steam, become focused on tenure more than on impact, expand mutual loyalties to ensure continuity, and then... change is done usually by selective release of information that results in judiciary activities.
Do you really think that nobody saw corruption in the 1980s, before "Mani Pulite"?
The same applies now: if your fortunes or career depend on at list benign (legislative and normative) neglect from those in power, in our feudal/tribal economy everybody turns a blind eye until the choice is made to replace one team with another, and a consensus emerges that it is time to pull the plug.
Often, my concept of "design" is stricter than the one routinely accepted here.
In my view, a project requires capacity planning, i.e. understanding constraints- and a design has to be something that can become operational, not just a pipedream to evangelize on.
Many says that in Italy we do not have anymore the old political parties based on ideology: but, frankly, we never had anything "purely ideological" (except on the fringes).
As I wrote long ago, it was one of the reasons why already in 1983 decided that my way of trying to have an impact wasn't within Italian politics: too much opportunism and careerism and next to zilch sense of the common good.
I was bipartisan by choice- which doesn't imply being "neutral"- I too have and had my own political agenda, but being bipartisan implied empathy: listening to others does not imply that you have to agree with them, but might affect your arguments.
More boringly: nobody had the guts to say that what they proposed was "for" their side and "against" others- always had to wrap it into some grand-standing.
So, better to stick being as I did since 1983- bipartisan (also if I make no mystery of my centre-left leaning, I had no qualms to work on activities for Government Agencies, as part-time project manager and business analyst for a partner, over a decade ago, when the government was led by Mr. Berlusconi).
Now, having (again) done my "disclaimer", I can continue with the purpose of this article.
The first real social media pandemic
As I wrote yesterday via WhatsApp to some friends, after sharing on Facebook and Linkedin "inspiring news" derived from my lockdown morning routine of reading online few Italian newspapers, I think that the Leit-Motiv of yesterday was from... Goya:
Well, it would be something about time- yesterday, today, tomorrow: but I neither have a famous painting in mind, nor... have the drawing abilities to convert into a picture what I am thinking about- so, stay tuned for the future...
Therefore, I am afraid that, for the time being, I will have to keep painting with words.
If you live in a country affected by COVID-19 (i.e. if you are on this planet), and moreover if you have or have had to live with either a lockdown or a reduction in freedom of movement (ditto) or both, you probably noticed something.
This is the first real pandemic with a global impact that has been unfolding during the "social media era", i.e. when traditional media became for many a "secondary source" to whatever they extracted from social media and online websites (media websites included).
SARS? No, it did not really spread this wide and this fast, and neither did Ebola- also because of their more "reasonable mechanics" (e.g. warning before turning infective).
Actually, this was one of the errors of analogy that impacted at the beginning on how many (both as individuals, organizations, and countries) reacted: we expected COVID-19 be as prior coronaviruses, and the perception in many, as late as March, was that it was yet another seasonal influenza.
Moreover, as in any "new" pandemic across history, COVID-19 showed how much our social structure is really built around repetition more than innovation.
Or: we have those glorified rituals called "bureaucracy", where something is done not because you understand it, but because is a "cost of staying in business"- in this case, "business" means "being alive in a complex society".
Make no mistake: in my past political activities, I was part of and interacting with bureaucracies, ditto while in the Army.
Then, as an employee first and a senior project manager later (early 1990s), I was both part, interacting, designing, and restructuring officially bureaucracies.
From a single form, up to a process, an office, a whole organization- and the culture that came along with that.
Therefore, I am no alien to the need and working of bureaucracies: as I will explain later, I often found laughable some Pollyanna-style remarks about streamlining bureaucracies that are so popular in Italy.
Not that I am necessarily negative about "Pollyanna-esque" remarks per se: in change, you have often to find unexpected positive sides to any situation, if you want to keep the change train moving on (but that does not imply hiding the negatives).
A pandemic on a new disease has a characteristic: you "learn as you go", by re-using past experience as an initial framework, and then expand.
In our social media era, we are actually lowering our expectations on the timespan that we keep knowledge for.
And this has a side-effect: almost on a daily basis, on both Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin (the three main "word-oriented" social networks I have a profile on), over the last couple of months I read commentary and complaints discussing the current status and lambasting leaders and experts for the decisions made before the pandemic was officially declared in late January 2020, and up to yesterday.
Personally, to understand better how COVID-19 worked, I did not just say "oh, yes, it is a coronavirus"- instead, followed few webinars and training sessions.
Then, complemented that also with a small certification, as I think that either this, or future ones, will linger on with us for a while.
So, for once, we better get prepared- and studying was useful to be able to see what is the current status of "routine in these cases", as the last time I had time to study about these subjects in a semi-structured way was a while ago.
Albeit I always liked to study the history of crisis management in the past, including epidemics.
If you have time (it is free), I suggest that you visit a series of "updates" released between early February and early April 2020 as part of another course organized with the collaboration of the Imperial College.
As you will see, our knowledge evolved- if you do not have time, let's just say that COVID-19 can be compared to recent cases since the early 2000s, but has some peculiar characteristics that weren't considered my many at the beginning.
And, from news over the last few days from Italy, it is probably evolving to co-exist with the temporary host (us), so maybe will be here to stay.
It will take at least months to say "storm ended" (hopefully less than took to complete something else after a famous aircraft carrier landing with a "mission accomplished" almost two decades ago).
Probably, it will take years to recover (unless it is confirmed what now is just a doubt, i.e. that COVID-19 might have long-term health effects on those who get infected, take it not mildly, and then recover).
Personally, I already shared in past articles how I see that this could be, at least in Italy, an opportunity to do something that our pre-COVID-19 daily routine did not give chance many to do: think.
What I will not discuss in this post
First, I will not talk about industrial policy: I wrote enough about that in the past, and, if e.g. I look at Italy, COVID-19 accelerated and highlighted social and systemic weaknesses, but the (negative, nefarious) trends were already in place.
Supply chains weaknesses, need to reshore, etc?
Well, shifting from wars fought with weapons to economic and cyber conflicts already showed a need to rethink globalization, also due to it social impacts.
In Italy, talks of the "shrinking middle class" is something I heard from those seeing the customer behavior already well before the 2008 crisis.
As for reshoring: already in the late 1990s proposed to some foreign partners to do what the likes of IBM and Microsoft are doing now, i.e. use the high-quality of local educational institutions, low propensity to move abroad of local talent, and ensuing acceptance of lower salaries to set in Italy.
So, please do not do as those who had zombie businesses surviving just thank to low interest rates, and now are claiming that their business is failing due to COVID-19.
No, this might have been the latest drop for them, but their business models did not work even before.
At the same time, certainly closing down for a quarter without warning is something that affected also "ordinary businesses".
Also, I will leave others to discuss the "risk society" or "anxiety society" concepts, as represented by fake and inflated news, as, frankly, propaganda always used it.
As I routinely like to remember, also in the Ancient Rome it was part of electoral campaigns to spread fake or inflated rumors about your opponents.
And I will also leave others to discuss how COVID-19 let us undestand that we mismanaged the Critical National Infrastructure and its supply chain.
For all the futurologists and philosophers discovering it now, please have a look at a funny 1997 TV Movie The Second Civil War.
There too was already a joke that the leading great power was unable to supply some spare parts, as the production had been moved abroad to another country, and then sanctions applied to that country, with obvious reciprocity (sounds familiar?)
Anyway, anybody in business learned that lesson already over a decade ago with something that did not affect citizens worldwide, but impacted businesses worldwide: the Tsunami and its side-effects on the electronic components industry.
As for social structure weaknesses: the first, initial side-effects of WTO-led globalization brought about lower consumer prices, and everybody was happy.
Then... I already wrote extensively about it in the past.
So, what I will write about? Time.
But first, a digression.
Sovereign Investment Funds and Citizens' Capitalism
I wrote in the past about the idea of creating an Italian Sovereign Investment Fund.
Yesterday, I heard a proposal at the end of a webinar discussing a book and talking about life in times after COVID-19 and automation.
Background: in Italy, there is a debate between those supporting the "reddito di cittadinanza" (a basic salary for those who are below a certain level of income), and those calling it a "subsidy that removes incentives to work".
I disagree with both, as you would expect: in my view, should be an element of "flexible security" to cover gaps but linked to self-defined objectives to get back into the workforce: the Italian approach to a "nanny state" that thinks on your behalf is frankly ludicrous, as our State organization is still firmly set in XIX century customs and routines.
Many of those opposing these measures forget the contraction of salaries in Italy that is shifting the country toward a different model- somebody, a while ago, said closer to Mexico than other European countries.
A restructuring that has been called the equivalent of "creating a social glass ceiling" (in Italian "blocco dell'ascensore sociale").
The proposal (that I will read eventually within the book that was discussed yesterday, to see how it is explained) was outlined as resulting from a series of logical steps:
- in the future, more automation will imply a different way of working
- this will create more, not less income, but spread in a different way
- more people will have a non-continuous work career
- society will need continuous learning (and retraining: I think that few will have just one career)
- educational access for those that have the intellectual abilities to go further is the key to the removal of the social glass ceiling
The proposal therefore contains few key elements:
- education for everybody fully paid until they are 18
- for those who have the ability to learn, (potentially free) access to higher education
- at birth, each citizen should receive a quota from a Sovereign Investment Fund that will invest in all the companies, to ensure that redistribution of the increased value generated via automation will not be just through taxation and subsidies, but also through a tool that could deliver supplemental revenue to everybody
Personally, on the educational side, as far as I was reminded often by foreign friends, free education for all is already available in other countries in various forms.
Actually, I remembered that my friends in former-USSR said that they too had access to education- the only blocking point could be if you weren't "politically aligned" with the status quo.
Of course, many considering Sovereign Investment Funds in Europe are looking at the experience in Norway- but forgetting that the "seed" (and more) really came from natural resources (oil).
Italy has no current resources to allocate to that end (albeit attempts have been done in the past to generate revenue from anything ranging from waters, power-generation waters, or even selling buildings belonging to the State, as well as licensing rights for radiowaves, water and beach-side access, etc).
When I was still living in Brussels, I remember reading statistics I then wrote about: back then within Europe (not just the EU) the only sustainable retirement system was the one from Norway- thanks to the re-investment of the proceeds from its oil revenues.
As for the "citizens' capitalism": well, I saw that (not) working in the first phase of privatizations after the Baltic States left USSR.
They, as well as other contries, transferred ownership of State-owned assets into the form of "vouchers".
The idea was the same- and then some told me why it did not work.
What happened? Having vouchers when you have needs does not make you think about the future revenue, but about turning them into cash.
So, unless you have a large volume of vouchers, and can do something as what did e.g. David Bowie (converting the future revenue stream from his songs into a security and obtaining cash now in exchange for future streams), you have something that might well be worth a lot across your lifetime.
In former COMECON and USSR, many instead sold vouchers at a (relatively modest) premium to others who had cash- helping to create small, medium, large tycoons (a funny Russian movie about those times is Oligarkh).
The same applied to companies in USSR (read The Sale of the Century: the inside story of the second Russian revolution).
There is a difference between seeding a capitalist mindset and somebody who needs cash to survive, so it might take few generations.
It might be made workable: but I am confident that those that had the idea will be able to identify how to make it work.
So, back to time.
Time and timing
How could I define time and timing?
Probably, as I shared few days ago on Facebook, a short video that is much older than me, but shows the relationship between time, power, and audience can be useful: Petrolini as Nero.
I would like to start by sharing verbatim what I wrote yesterday morning on Linkedin:
midway through the working week, worth sharing some news from #Italy that actually confirm and support a debate about the #phase2 of #COVID19
for practical purposes (as I keep receiving more comments from English-speakers than Italian-speakers), yesterday my "cover is in English
there is a #technical" dimension that has also business, social, and political impacts https://www.facebook.com/robertolofaro/posts/10156874140787016
but obviously a #restart requires thinking #how https://www.facebook.com/robertolofaro/posts/10156874154947016
as I discussed often in the past, #digital #transformation is about the concept of #time and #timing - and COVID-19 changed their perception in many https://www.facebook.com/robertolofaro/posts/10156874160042016
but in any #cultural #change the issue is also #thinking #before #acting - as a #Goya painting remembers... https://www.facebook.com/robertolofaro/posts/10156874177732016
Incidentally: why Linkedin but with links to posts on Facebook?
Because in its usual "we are business" "we are social media" dualism, Linkedin does not allow to see posts unless you have an account on Linkedin, while Facebook and others, instead, if you select "public", do let anybody with the link read it.
Also, this way I can summarize the themes, and if somebody is interested in reading specific items, can go deeper, otherwise the "view" (and possibility to see the attached pictures) is enough.
Now, back to this morning and "time and timing"...
In a time of crisis there are expectations, notably in a country that still retains this affection for "leaders" seen as if they were demi-gods, a cultural inclination that I criticized in the past (e.g. see a meta-article of early April 2020).
In a crisis, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy: and our leaders comply.
How? Trying to act as resolute, clear-minded leaders that have instantaneous answers to each and every question or doubt.
And the longer the crisis, the more visible is this loop: acting resolute, listening to doubts, acting more resolute, generate doubts as resolute without information implies continuous adjustments, act as even more resolute to assuage doubts, and generating new ones, and so on and so forth.
Luckily, until now, whenever we had crises since after WWII it was possible to get by with just one-two iterations.
In this COVID-19 crisis, in Italy (as well as in UK, USA, and elsewhere), most of our leaders seem to be spinning the audience wheel continuously.
And the more they spin, the shorter the "trust pause" lasts (i.e. how long the audience suspends judgement).
It is not a matter of leaders- it is a matter of leadership (and followership) culture.
The collateral damage is that piling up "resolutive" messages at such high frequency undermines their communication impact.
Actually, become a kind of "crying wolf": many stop listening.
Now, you can imagine what could be the side-effects in a country where, as I routinely wrote, we are partitioned into a gazillion of tribes, and winning an elections or signing a contract settles nothing.
I know that other countries apparently are heading into the same direction, but in Italy, at least since the early 1990s, this has been a constant.
Even when (mistakenly) many talk about 172bln EUR from EU as a "fait accompli", each tribe cannot express bipartisanship: each one has to claim a stake in a perceived victory, while taking the chance to attribute weaknesses within the solution to the other tribes interventions.
This is about time: but what about timing?
Well, this "continuous spinning and adjusting to audiences" is actually about mis-management of timing.
In a time of crisis, even in business, the point is making it (feel) as if you have an idea or at least a general concept of where you are heading to- it is based on trust.
Playing the blaming game during a crisis is doubly dangerous when it is a not an "off-the-shelf" crisis, i.e. when you are in case of too many unknowns, as it distracts resources toward point-counterpoint, instead of joining forces between the tribes toward managing the crisis.
By the way, with "off-the-shelf" crisis I consider something that you know how to manage- basically, a known risk you are prepared to contain, but would be too much expensive to embed this "preparation" into everyday activities, so you retrieve the "how to" from a shelf, and so some training exercises once in a while to keep that preparedness level.
If you are interested, on the "communication" side, few years ago published a book that discusses at length various releated subjects (You can read it for free following the link here in this website, but you are welcome to purchase a copy, of course; it is the only book I published in Italian).
The partisan "settling scores" that is traditionally done in Italy over the last couple of months spawned (and keeps spawning) new committees, think tanks, task forces.
As you would expect in a tribal economy, some are joining more than one tribe (it is a kind of "us vs. them" mindset), temporary coalitions at best, some are the brainchild of just one tribe, but there is only one constant.
They overlap. They proposed solution overlap. And all of them, in the end, deliver a piece of incompatible puzzles that have to be put together by those closer to the operational side.
So, the issue with "timing" I hinted at (by sharing newspaper articles) in that linkedin post quoted above, as well as in previous articles and posts is, in the end, quite simple.
A committee or a task force that isn't operational have a concept of timing that is based on a "tunnel vision"- act as if they were the only ones issuing suggestions, regulations, procedures, etc.
Unfortunately, each one of them isn't unique, and their "releases" touted as immediately operational often forget two dimensions of timing at the operational level.
First, the operational resources, if they are really operational, have to devote additional resources to do what is an additional task- otherwise, they would cease to be operational.
Second, being on the receiving end of many "procedural innovation" (with and without budget, "carrot&stick", etc), their own organizational timing implies assessing the impacts, phasing-in the "new", and maybe phasing-out and adapting somethign that is already existing: all things that absorb resources.
A case worth a digression was the proposal few days ago (but de facto started and stopped on Monday) was the release of 60,000 new "civil assistants" to support local authorities.
Which is a case of both time, timing, and... the difference between "capacità progettuale" (Italian style) and "capacità di fare progetti" (your usual, waterfall or agile doesn't matter, project approach).
Capacity planning and crisis management
As I posted few days ago no Facebook (so that you can see also the newspaper clips):
NOTAM for my foreign friends, I waited first to see the reactions during the day
meanwhile, since early this morning (when it was announced and discussed) I shared my feed-back via Whatsapp with few
the key point, to summarize, is:
1. somebody had this idea to kill two birds with a stone:
a) cover for the missing volunteers that now resumed working, who, during the quarantine, were supporting tasks such as distributing food to those quarantined and the elderly
b) release security forces by giving the task of reminding to keep distances by going around
flies in the ointment:
a. 60,000 volunteers to be recruited between those receiving subsidies from the State- criteria for eligibility presented up to now concern only the payment (no salary, just an insurance) and population (those receiving subsidies for unemployment or partial employment)
b. apparently, nobody bothered to consider that, being in reality a role on the territory, the Ministero dell'Interno (Home Secretary) should be contacted about rules of engagement, organization, coordination, potential overlapping and liaising with security forces
my comments: beside deploing and coordinating 60,000 people (which could be done, if really is to "fill the gap" of those that resumed working, could be done by assigning them to the local organization of the Protezione Civile), there are few "details"
I) any organization "vets" volunteers- moreover with tasks that would involve either the weakest parts of society, or a policing-without-policing-but-then-involving-when-needed-security-forces
II) replacing somebody you know with an unknown actually absorbs resources for a while, notably if you dump a busload of people on those already stretched- it takes time
well, apparently there was no time to do any of the above, but there was time to design the apron that will be donned by those recruited
next: a negotiation to identify who, when, how to deploy... to turn a nice idea into an operational one...
I do not think that there is that much more to add to this digression...
...so it is time to discuss another element of "timing", its interaction with politics.
Timing and technocracy in a democracy
Normally, in a democracy, there is a time associated with political decision-making and its interaction with "experts".
As I wrote above, due to the peculiar social structure and trust dissemination (by tribal boundaries) in Italy, in this crisis the routine approach wasn't performing well.
Reason? There were too many cycles of "decision-release" with too short a timeframe for the usual "decision-adjustment by inter-tribal and intra-tribal negotiations".
Also, it was unknown ground: so, at all levels (national, regional, local), often choices presented as "technical" generated overlapping confusing messages.
It doesn't help that much the audience, if different experts linked to different committees conflict openly on newspapers (now even in tribunals) on who was right or who was wrong, or who was the best.
The more complex the crisis, the more unknowns, the simpler the messages and guidelines should be in order to become actionable by all the audience.
Notably as it is something where each individual citizen, no matter the social, economic, educational level should be "involved and operational".
COVID-19 has few "technical" dimensions: number of cases etc, but also other elements that are more "cultural".
A knowlege element, that is continuously evolving and that is often broadcasted for what it isn't.
I lost count of how many times I had to explain how "cures" or "vaccines" announced weren't what the journalist misunderstood to be, as often, willingly or not, newspaper and TV journalists interviewed experts that were actually "interested parties" in presenting the specific option- up to announcing cures and vaccines that were far, far away from even the first real phase of what I could nickname "human testing" (I know, it is not the right lingo- go on my Facebook profile to see some slides with "technicalities" that I published between late February and late May 2020, if interested).
A human capital element, as we are already forgetting the health personnel- protests were reported in Italy, Belgium, Russia, etc.
Beware: if now that it seems that we are in phase 2, we adopt what in Italian is called "passata la festa, gabbato lo santo" (i.e. crisis solved, thank to the heroes and goodbye), there are at least two risks.
First, as we are restructuring health and welfare systems, calling somebody "a hero or heroine" for fighting without the appropriate materiel, and then treating them as "pariah and potential carriers" without any economic and social support would ensure that the next crisis will be harder to fight.
Second, because there will be future crisis that will require a different dialectic within society, including a different approach to interactions with experts and, yes, health personnel: do not think just about a potential second wave, as it happened in 1918, think also about preventing or preparing for other crises (e.g. to reduce the number of annual deaths from other diseases).
A political dimension, as, at least in Italy, even a choice by the Governor of Liguria (centre-right) to accept his territory to become a "beta tester" for the new Italian Government "tracing" smartphone app ("immuni") elicited negative reactions from members of his coalition.
Reactions that weren't based really on privacy issues (personally, I still have my doubts, and I shared my doubts on both Facebook and Linkedin a while ago).
Reactions that were more on the line of "it would be a favour to the Government".
As I like to paraphrase once in a while somebody else, I think that science and technology are too important (politically) to be left to scientists and technologists.
Decision-making patterns in Italy
Since few months ago, started a daily routine that includes reading few newspapers online (courtesy of a library) each morning before 9am, and start sharing few highlights around generally one to four themes a day, both on my profiles on Facebook and Linkedin (of course, Linkedin is mainly about the business impacts).
In Italy, the discussion on what to do now is at last shifting to what I shared for a while: before change, you need an assessment.
Seeing change as a redistribution of power between tribes (you do not need to explicitly name them to see that as a cultural framework) is a Pavlovian reflex in Italy.
In Latin it was "cui prodest" (who will gain/benefit/etc).
Frankly, during a decision-making routine, it is normal to ask that question, at least to see its negative side (what are called "negative externalities": negative impacts on those you did not even involve), but not at the level routinely seen in Italy for anything.
As I wrote about the choice of Governor Toti on Immuni, the first question I think that could be a conservative: do we benefit from this choice? Yes? Then, if other benefit, also if they benefit more than we do... we all have our reason to make a choice.
Adopting choices only when your benefits exceed those of others is akin to shooting yourself in a foot so that your team cannot win a relay race as you feel that you have been slighted by a coach choice...
When I supported startups from the business&marketing plan on, my request usually was for deferred income (i.e. get paid my fees after few years if the company was still alive) and a small quota of the shares (5%), also if my role at the beginning was sometimes critical.
My purpose was actually to do that as a sideline to my cultural/organizational change and business number crunching for corporate customers, while probably generating more impact that I could have generated all by myself.
I learned the hard way that in Italy that does not work (e.g. I saw an asset transfer and a new company to avoid paying my fees, and the routine "sue me").
So, whenever I was called by an Italian startup or a small company to cover similar roles, I always first check where and how they were: and, I must be honest, in the last decade I kept turning down requests from Italy (the latest ones in 2018 and 2019).
Still, I think that the approach made sense: if your tribe (in my case, myself and if needed my contact) has experience or skills that could be marginally allocated to another tribe, to generate a small result for your tribe, and be a catalyst for a much larger result for another tribe... it is a matter of negotiation, not tribal rivalry...
In Italy unfortunately I saw often that that isn't the attitude, also because there is a lack of trust that the other tribe will keep to the agreement, as in such cases way too many think that there will never a need to either reciprocate, or collaborate with another tribe.
It is part of the short-termism that is still too pervasive in Italian politics, society, and even business.
In my posts since 2012, routinely I invited to structural bipartisanship, e.g. by finally creating a real civil service that isn't part of the spoils system.
Except, of course, at the "policy"/"political" level: otherwise, what is the point about winning elections?
But on this kind of "cultural reforms" shared marginally more structured ideas in a mini-book published a couple of years ago, Just another book on innovation (in Italy), that you can read online.
Instead, in our tribal politics, as I hinted above even the EU recovery fund initiative (still to be confirmed) is again a tool for settling scores.
Officially, our next Parliamentary elections are due in few years, but this year and next year there will be other local elections, as well as the selection of a new Presidente della Repubblica (or a confirmation of the existing one, as was done with President Napolitano).
So, as also the government and its coalition are exploring both opportunities to compete against each other, and to co-operated here and there (including by tabling shared candidates in some local elections), the game in town is: politics.
A game were attracting voters is more important than attracting investors.
So, we are yet at another chaotic call from centre, left, right, unaligned to...
...cut taxes and cut bureaucracy.
Cut and Trust
I know, it is the title of a 1920s book that I purchased in Rome while working there (subtitle: "The subtlety of the Sabre").
Italian politics often looks like fencing.
I like fencing, but admittedly the average match has less moves and lasts less than a game of Go/Weiqi/Baduk - each game has a different dimension.
Italian politics is apparently strategic, but often in reality is tactical.
As President Napolitano once said "di tatticismi, si muore" (i.e. tactical move after tactical move, you lose).
I like to blend both, if and when needed.
Cutting taxes and cutting bureaucracy are both part of the "panem et circenses" of Italian politics, a simple way to attract voters.
As I keep repeating, bureaucracy is a need in any complex society.
It is a matter of organization that does not rely on individual, unstructured, unrepeatable efforts.
Most processes that are purely repeatable will (and are already in part) become the domain of software and, if physical element is involved, either robots or co-bots (i.e. robots "sharing the job" with humans), or even other devices (e.g. think about many roles that are taken by humans but could be covered by a sensor plus some software, such as opening doors, controlling the status of a patient, or adapting the environment to a new guest).
There will still be processes that could involve humans to sortout the "unstructured" decision-adjustment, and others that will remain purely human.
Nonetheless, even the latter should leave behind a kind of "audit trail" that enables to repeat, reconsider, of course audit, and maybe train other human agents that are less experienced.
If you do not consider "bureaucracy" all of the above, then invent your own name- this is what I consider bureaucracy: mainly, repeatable, auditable, and not (too much) relying on difference in skills of individuals.
Because, and this is another characteristic that often is missing, a bureaucracy should be "scalable": within some constraints (such as physical space, availability of resources, meaningfulness), once you define a process, you should be able to expand its audience and output (e.g. process 100 requests for funding as well as 1,000).
Of course, as I wrote above, "scalability" depends on the specific context: beyond a certain level, all processes that are "scalable" if expanded too much become either unpractical, unsustainable, or require additional "connecting" bureaucracy that might add further processes, costs, and, of course, constraints.
To be practical: just consider what I wrote above about all the commissions, think-tanks, task forces spawned in Italy during the COVID-19 crisis.
If you had just one such entity, it could deliver "advice" to those who need it.
But if you have just one pool of recipients of such an advice, and four or five different committees etc with different "timing", and partially overlapping advice...
...you would either need to add a new "filter", a "meta-committee" that collects from the others and uses the only "communication channel" with the recipient in a way that hides this complexity, or the recipient has to add a "compensation chamber" that coordinates, integrates, and balances compliance with all with... operational reality.
Beside what I wrote above about bureaucracy and my bureaucratic experience: in the Army, as I was restructuring the filing system of my office to be able to find documents faster, I was called "a perfect bureaucrat"- until I started fighting for change on other issues.
The point in that case wasn't to decide which documents to dump or not, or restructure the document: my office was exactly in the same position of one of those recipients of advice on COVID-19, with a difference: being within a hierarchical structure, usually what we received was "filtered" at the Divisional level, or anyway "synchronized" before it reached us.
What matters is relevance of bureaucracy.
Almost three decades ago, during the business analysis phase on a Business Process Re-engineering on a "pilot-showcase" project, doing the right interviews and right documents collection and assessment allowed to identify how just 1/5 of the pages printed for each customer dossier was needed.
Most of the others? Phantom offices and phantom processes from a long forgotten past, in some cases the electronic version of paper-based processes that probably were inheriting centuries old approaches (as Italy, along with China, has probably one of the longest-living bureaucracies- we have some "mores" that go back to Ancient Rome, that we understand it or not).
Whenever I hear about "tax cuts" or "cutting bureaucracy" I reply: streamlining, yes; making it aligned ("bang for bucks", for my American friends), yes.
But cutting for the cutting sake?
As I wrote above, we are at yet another round of "cut cut cut".
I find quixotic to assume that the EU recovery fund could be used to cut taxes.
Indirectly, through incentives e.g. for transitions toward different business approaches, or associated training costs, or other operational costs that are to be incurred to move toward a greener, more energy-efficient, more "circular" or anyway sustainable economy, yes.
But outright direct or local taxation cuts? Doubtful, also if I do understand its political value.
Moving back to cutting bureaucracy, or at least streamlining processes, there are two dimensions (to keep it simpler).
Technical, i.e. before streamlining a process, notably when the outputs (physical and not) of the existing process are not completely structured (think about a conversation that is more or less routine but not structured), an assesment on the status quo is needed, to confirm that all the existing elements work, and "traceability" is not a dream but reality; also because, of course, human processes can involve human error- what matters, beside minimizing its occurence, is being able to track down the source of the error so that a "recovery" can be applied.
Political, i.e. any process is the side-effect of choices, and choices are side-effects of decision-making processes, and usually processes are associated to a mix of power/people/skills - notably in a country such as Italy.
So, as discussed in the case of the new "civil assistants", also streamlining a process implies a technical and political assessment, and identifying impacts on both sides.
Imagine that you streamline a process that is not really traceable, by removing some "steps".
Currently, each step is a cost, but each step is a "gate" that replaces with human intervention this lack of traceability (e.g. in each step, the following step involves somebody reporting to structure different to the one people working on the previous step report to).
If you streamline such a process by removing or merging steps, you are actually transforming a controlled human agent into a self-controlled human agent.
In Italian, we say "se la fa, se la suona, se la canta" (writes the score, plays it, and sings it, too).
There is another element that I willingly ignored: even in a country where there is a concept of "civil service", the formal organizational structure and formal processes are only part of reality.
In a country were even laws aren't based on "principles and guidelines" but on detailed lists of cases trying to regulate each and every detail, any organizational structure and formal process end up generating "parallel" hierarchies and "process shortcuts".
Add to that the "tribal" element, and you will see how to any rule there is an exception: could be for or against you, but it is there.
Incidentally: this is also one of the issues of our law- or regulation-making: in Italy, often new decrees aren't immediately operational, as a kind of "implementation" covering all the cases and their interconnections with existing operational details has to be prepared.
As an example, look online at the occurrences of "sviluppo" (development) within the Decreto Rilancio (the 55bln/150bln Italian Government decree to fund the phase 2 of post-COVID-2 re-opening; I count 55bln as I consider only the new resources).
This of courses reduces flexibility, to a point.
Because highly detailed laws that are excessively complex to implement and "pile up" on others create a "wonderful" space for flexibility, in the form of corruption.
In my view, streamlining laws and regulations implies keeping the safeguards I wrote above, plus a streamlining of the law-making approach upstream.
Which, in turn, requires a different judiciary approach: if you remove details and live in place principles, you are moving toward a "prior case" culture, something already embedded e.g in regulations that Italy is not "inheriting" from the EU (e.g. GDPR has more than some elements of it).
In business, this could be feasible for internal approaches e.g. to compliance, to avoid shuttling around hundred of pages of details that would absorb too many resouces just to comply with: but, in any case, requires a cultural paradigm shift.
So, is it possible to streamline bureaucracy (or "cut" as many say in Italy) without changing the whole "legal supply chain"?
If you go for specific measures, and consider both the "technical" and "political" side (e.g. what to do with people now not needed anymore), on case-by-case basis, yes.
But if you want to act systemically, you have to think systemically.
Many say that speed is important in this phase, to recover and relaunch the economy (and society).
Instead of thinking about "cutting" processes, I think that a first useful step could be to leave processes as they are (so zilch impact on regulations etc).
Then, instead of flattening hierarchies and cutting steps or procedures, a first "reasonable streamlining" step could be to consider the "inputs" and "outputs" of each norm and regulation, and consider which one could be "inherited" or automatically produced from existing information (the Italian State is a prodigious collector of data on businesses and individuals).
Then, the "system" could proactively reduce the costs associated with compliance by extending activities such as pre-filling forms, automatically reminding of expiration dates, and, of course, automatically associating information that is already available, without asking (a common complaint) businesses and individuals to keep presenting to each office the same information sliced in a different way on a different form.
All the "slicing and dicing" that is feasible could be done automatically, releasing resources while keeping traceability.
Then, as I wrote above, on a case by case basis, according to a prioritization, specific laws and regulations could be instead the target of "cutting"/"streamlining" (but re-reouting the associated human and physical resources: it is a routine in Italy that each "semplificazione" actually generates new forms, and doesn't reduce headcount).
As I posted only few days ago: more than flattening hierarchies, to restart during the "living with COVID-19" times, we would need a streamlining of communication.
To ensure that communication reaches where is actionable, and that those who identify signals worth processing have them reach where a decision is made
As speed of change is an element that can differentiate being able to jump on the "restart" train vs. just tagging along
Do not forget the context: simplification is often "delayering", with and unbalancing potential on workflows that generates entropy.
And, as everybody knows, most certainly we do not need more organizational entropy in Italy...