The Jago Principle: the social side

when I posted on twitter

The #Jago Principle #leadership #communication #gatekeeping #networking

I had already outlined what I would write within the half of the article devoted to the applications of the Jago principle within business.

well, let’s say that news, as usual, gave me the opportunity to keep the focus, but use current events as a litmus test.

therefore, both the “business side” (posted yesterday) and the “social side” will acquire a wider perspective.

and now, the social side.

Our culture

I will not repeat what I wrote few days ago about the concept of citizenship (see #Citizenship #Italy), as I saw it applied in Italy since my birth.

I could summarize it this way: Italy and its citizens have the potential to be a normal country, but personal relationships and “windows of opportunity” opportunism are considered more important than the common good.

if you want to introduce change- you have to seize the moment when the existing web of relationships is out-of-balance, i.e. nobody knows who will be at the helm next.

then, only then, you will see the overextended Italian bureaucracy working- instead of working for somebody (the incumbent, or their perceived successors), as well as building safeguards for themselves.

it could seem too harsh, but just consider a small historical example: after WWII, most of the top echelon of the internal security was left in place, despite the fall of Mussolini’s regime (1922-1943: allow me to choose those two years).

somebody would say: isn’t what a bureaucrat is supposed to do, serve equanimously whoever is elected? yes, if you have elections; but I think that nobody would say that he stayed in power democratically, and, therefore, as shown by the splitting of the armed forces and other security elements from 1943 until 1945, during the civil war, supporting him was a choice.

but the day after his death… it seemed as if the crowds that had filled squares wherever he went had moved to Mars: the Italian Republic is still waiting a “reconciliation commission”; meanwhile, sweep under the rug (see “The Dark Heart of Italy” for a readable and mildly entertaining English perspective on the Italian history post-WWII, closing with a love song for this crazy but highly entertaining country; albeit I disagree on few points with the author and his Italian friends…).

Elections as a catalyst

since the last round of the administrative elections, few weeks ago, and further more after the referendum round, few days ago, both producing results that weren’t those desired by the incumbent, Italy is in a state of flux.

close to that last seen after the “Clean Hands” investigation in the early 1990s (massive corruption- about 1/3 of the members of the Parliament were, at the time, notified that they were under investigation).

incidentally: Mr. Berlusconi came to power riding the wave of “Clean Hands”, promising a change.

now as then, each day brings announces of new arrests and indictments, with the usual volley of accusations across the aisle.

but this time it is slightly different, as, beside the usual communication channels, used to self-censorship, Italians are using the Internet (notably, Facebook) with gusto.

no, I am not one of those over-hyping the impact of the Internet, also because Italy is way behind the top “connected” countries.

but Italians usually get informed via TV newscasts: and journalists are using extensively the Internet (you can watch State TV news shows on

therefore… the tiny minority of vocal, Internet-savvy path-beaters acted as a catalyst, and the choice of Facebook is just a natural evolution: it is easy, does not require any technical skills, and enables anybody with a keyboard and a brain (connected or not) to share online what is passing through his/her mind (a 10sec waiting time could be an interesting addition).

and moving Facebook on mobile phone (another technology quite successful in Italy, for the same reason- enables to communicate 24/7 with those you would like to be).

in a relationship-based society, this implies that the “tell 3000” effect (i.e. (disappoint one customer, and 3000 will know), described few years ago by an online marketeer, is further enhanced, as the few online cross-connect and reinforce each other, and anybody who has an expertise is glad to contribute to the general discussion.

yes, you get plenty of knee-jerk reactions (shifting from the cafes’ to the Internet increased the level of acrimony): but, overall, the quality of those online contributions often exceeds what you can read within “official” newspapers, and this is creating an interesting short-circuit.

I saw online few rounds going like this: somebody reports, others add the usual insults etc, followed by more nuanced but informed contributions, and then the traditional journalists are “free” from the usual constraints, and can “report” what is happening online, sometimes reporting news that would not go on TV otherwise, often picked up also by the traditional media (from newspapers to weekly magazines).

this, in turn, enhances the attractiveness of a presence on the Internet, and also those who are non-technical jump on, as otherwise they would feel “cut off” from the Italian equivalent of the water cooler- usually landing on Facebook (it happened with TV before).

privacy concerns, you said? well, in a country where hundreds of thousands of phone lines were intercepted, and a small “market” was set up by “entrepreneurial” operators to sell those intercepts, while recently banking employees seemingly provided financial details from the central risk databank to support local political action…

…privacy is dead, and any information that is collected by anybody anywhere for whatever purpose will potentially end up being used for different purposes- if you are lucky, without distortion.

as I said above: a window of opportunity- pre-Internet, usually after few months it all faded away, and everybody went back to “business as usual”.

including the bureaucracy: piling up data, but sitting on it until called to action.

Managing the window of opportunity

this time, the window of opportunity could actually remain open, as while traditionally newspapers would traditionally get back in the fold, their integration with the online communication could create something that Italy lacked for a long time (even before Mr. Berlusconi): a press reporting what is worth reading, and it is not just “leaking for” or “leaking against”.

part of the leverage on the press is anyway represented by the reported over 700 million EUR/year given by the State through various forms of subsidies- also to the newspaper belonging to the… industrialists’ association.

some Italians may be asking themselves why our 500,000-strong police forces (under various denominations) only after the elections seem to be announcing each day some news of arrests- from the usual street-level criminals, to organized crime, and extending up to the political connections between organized crime and elected officials.

some could say that it is due to the announced 45bln EUR in cuts: as in any bureaucracy, when “budget cuts” start being announced, everybody is rushing to show what they are worth.

some could say that it is to clean up the Italian economy from corruption and the influence of organized crime, right after Italy received a negative long-term assessment from a rating agency

some could say that it is because Italy needs to become a “normal country”, at a time when the Governor of the Bank of Italy is about to become the next head of the European Central Bank.

but I put it simply to the “window of opportunity” effect.

Fighting corruption and organized crime

Italy is still composed by many small villages- and, also in large towns, village-style gossip is still widespread- from the top to the bottom of society (again: privacy? you are joking).

therefore, when I hear something such as “nobody knew”- I ask myself: in another country, maybe; but in a country where everyone is seemingly connected to everybody else, how could people do business with somebody coming out of nowhere, with no legitimate sources to support his/her lifestyle?

from news reports, organized crime sometimes did not even bother to use “muppets”, as an English acquaintance in Brussels called them, and instead went directly into business with local politicians and businessmen.

most recently the ‘Ndrangheta, from Calabria, the richest and most pernicious, as it is “cleaning up” since the 1980s- and not in Southern Italy, but in Piedmont and Lombardy.

but it is well known also outside Italy- as I wrote in the past, while I was frequently in Germany in the early 1990s, it was reported on newspapers that a single investor working on their behalf had tried to buy from the Treuhandanstalt former DDR companies that nobody else wanted- with 2000 billion liras (over 1 bln EUR) cash (so, you can imagine which resources they could have now).

this time, more than in 1992, it is a “free-for-all”: as finger-pointing started right before the elections, and of course the “Jago Principle” works here too.

some of the investigations had been reportedly started barely few months ago, while others had been brewing for years, but all had to wait for a “window of opportunity”.

Changing a culture through the tax code

a window of opportunity: with dozen of innovative ideas (sometimes a little bit quixotic, but still better than the usual deafening silence).

an example? today, Italian newspapers announced one of the ideas proposed: to provide incentives to publish (online, on business cards, and within email messages), on a voluntary basis, how much each Italian company or citizen paid in taxes.

as usual, some voices asked to cut down the salaries of politician: a popular idea (populist, in my view), but that ignores the real issue, in a typical “Jago Principle” application- i.e. the advisor suggesting something that is not necessarily in the best interest of those receiving the advice.

in my humble perspective from business experience, the issue is not “how much” they are paid, but “what for”.

if you are a full-time member of a regional Government, how can you also be a full-time member of the Parliament in Rome?

unless you consider that one or the other are akin to being a Board member for private companies, meeting only once in a while.

another issue is the political opportunity: if I am a free-lance professional, I can work outside business hours on my own private practice- provided that my activities are not conflicting with my employers’ business

and I walked the talk long ago, e.g. in 1990, first by refusing customers for one year after leaving my previous employer, then asking my then current employer if they wanted to add a business line; in both cases, I had no formal constraints- it was my choice)

the current state of affairs (with people who hold two or more offices, while also keeping their old business activities) transforms, potentially, each member of the Government (both at the national and local level) and Parliament (ditto) into a Jago, with multiple, overlapping interests- and probably the same applies to other members of the bureaucracy.

we Italians are famous for creating convoluted laws- so convoluted, that a recent “hit parade” said that the real taxation is 68%- the highest within the EU: or, a typical small company works from January to September for the State…

maybe a simpler way would be to simply say that, if you are elected to a legislative position, you are required by law to sign a blind trust and, while in office, you cannot continue to exercise your profession or business.

I remember reading in 1979 or 1980 the booklet provided by the French consulate to journalists to explain how the election system worked in France- including one on the incompatibilities: reading with envy…

yet another issue would be managing the conflicts of interest after your mandate ends: but, as a citizen and observer, probably this first step would be a good start.

or: we can continue to complain about the corruption of the politicians across the aisle… while justifying our own.


as this is the last article on the “Jago Principle” series, I wanted to add few lines with a couple of history books that could actually be beneficial in spotting the signs around you of a drift from “advisory” to “Jago” role:

“Policing and Punishment in London, 1660-1750”, notably the part on detection and prosecution, and the use of “thief-takers”.

“The Barbed-Wire College”, on how US-based prison camps for war prisoners became a recruiting and breeding ground for nazis, by allowing closed communities to police themselves.

in both cases, the advisors had their own, obvious, agenda: the former, to keep in business, the latter… to get back in business.

in both cases, as I described in the article on the “Jago Principle”- a lack of supervision.


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