Panta Rei – everything changes (just to evolve and stay alive) :)

Yes, it is a quote (more or less) from somebody else that passed away at least 2000 years ago.

But that’s not the reason why I am using that as my title for today’s post- the second half (the “illiterate translation”) is more of a hint of the real reason…

Let’s step back a while, to 18 years ago, when I at least was able to register an Internet domain at a decent cost (before that, either the price was too steep for foreigners, or it wasn’t possible to at all- I am talking about 1997), specifically a .com domain.

In my case, as I had officially started working on organizational change and development in 1990 (first customer: a small company, before becoming Head of Training and Methodologies for the Italian branch of a foreign company, and then a free-lance by request, not by choice, simply because there were reasons that made impossible to hire me in one week, in 1993).

Therefore, PR stands for both “Public Relations” and “Panta Rei”, as I do not think that change (cultural and organizational, but also technological- i.e. with a culture and organizational set of “desiderata” embedded) possible without communication.

Evolve or dwindle and eventually die- that should be the mantra of any organization.

Even the apparently less “evolutionary” bits of an economy (e.g. mom and pop shops) have to adapt to market demand: would you sell today products that were considered grocery staples when your ancestors opened the shop, in, say, 1870?

No- unless your business is “catering for your 1870s nostalgia” πŸ™‚

But also in that case… there has been a change, from when “1870s” was current, to when it became “nostalgia”, and probably your ancestors had to move on.

Ditto if there is no reason to change your product: would you still have it delivered by horseback? Probably not (again, unless that is part of the “customer experience” that you want to deliver).

This morning an Italian contact reposted something that is just an update on something that we discussed often since we connected: the increase of “functional illiteracy” in Italy- i.e. the inability with cope with current everyday life: from reading a bill, to checking online prices or alternatives, to just understanding why Italy has to do something as a collateral side-effect of an international agreement.

Disclosure: I am now working on an automotive project (again- along with banking, since the late 1980s I worked in both quite often), also when working on multiple activities in various industries (it is funny to “cross-feed” knowledge between industries- a form of “thinking outside the box” that actually speeds-up any change activity, as it looks at the “core” and ignores the “minutiae” until when they become relevant) that I am returning to after a while.

Therefore, let’s share an example from a book that I am reading and thinking over now: in the 1960s the Italian and Japanese made an agreement to mutually protect their manufacturing industry- so that there was a “cap” on Japanese cars, and a “cap” on Italian white goods available for purchase in the other country; and this (along with other similar agrements worldwide) started to change due to the increased market integration in Europe, to say nothing about WTO etc.

The three key abilities missing in an alarmingly large part of the Italian population, according to the statistics, are related to the ability to understand, to communicate, but (more critical, from my perspective) also to benefit from somebody else’s experience.

To stick to the automotive example, a phrase from an interview with Sergio Marchionne in 2005, reported in a small footnote within a book on the turnaround of the Italian carmaker FIAT (now FCA): “The design of our products should look Italian. The entire management that faces the market – the sales and marketing team, or the soft factors- is primarily Italian. Everything behind the product – engineering, manufacturing and quality- is managed by leaders who have been trained for the most part by our German competitors.”

If you lived in Italy, you would see that statement as quite at odds with what you hear everyday also while talking about typical Italian products and produce- as if we Italians had the exclusive birtright to the best ideas in the world.

Obviously, that was a decade ago: and there have been plenty of further changes.

Frankly, I worked decades ago in Italy also with customers from other industries: and I saw already in the early 1990s around Italy as what you hear around is not what is done, as (beside companies sold to foreigners) most did not care where knowledge embedded in machinery, software, business processes was coming from- they used it.

I am not talking about the “excellences”, or “eccellenze”- it seems that communication consultants working for our politicians stopped reading after “In Search of Excellence” and other similar were published in the 1980s and early 1990s, but probably is really because we routinely look for just one hero to follow, as this saves us from using our brain and making choices.

And in Italy the are plenty of small unsung heroes who help the trade balance stay positive- albeit, due to some vagaries of our “social network” structure (you never sell to or join forces with locals linked to another “tribe” as this could increase their relative weight), we tend to be unable to grow: most Italian companies (even State companies) became foreign-owned.

In the end, as I wrote in the past repeatedly, that isn’t such a bad thing, as the only way to cathalize change seems to be a crisis- and having foreign companies not used to our quixotic laws could eventually push to alter more than laws.

“everything changes (just to evolve and stay alive)”

Yes, it takes a village (i.e. a joint effort) to do something new- but it takes a willingness to shake the village to turn everybody (or at least those that others look at) in motion.

You will never remove fencesitters from any society, but if you let fencesitters take over… you get the permanent tinkering that we had in Italy over the last couple of decades (in a country that is structurally multi-party, you get usually something similar to what is described in this article http://www.vox.com/2015/8/28/9222535/bernie-sanders-hitler-election on what Bernie Sanders in the USA said about the elections in Germany in the 1930s- you need just a plurality to take over, not an absolute majority).

Rhetoric is useful, but it cannot be the only tool: and I agree with our former Prime Minister Letta (now at Sciences Po) when he says that leaders should look beyond what is relevant today, and pave the way for the future.

Obviously, there is a whiff of personal acrimony between him and Prime Minister Renzi, pretty much as the former Prime Minister (and former President of the European Commission) Romano Prodi criticism of Prime Minister Renzi for getting into agreement with former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi sounded a little bit too much connected to the latter “scouting” for Members of the Parliament to switch side and kick out of office the former a decade ago.

Politicians are humans- and in Italy it is acceptable for a political leader to be a little bit “more human”: melodrama was an Italian cultural product, wasn’t it?

So, I simply ignore the volleys of insults, and look at what means what they say, and what matters in terms of impacts and motivation from both sides: and this is also what you do in change (which, by definition, is a permanent negotiation on a continuously restricting field of discussion- you start far apart, and then get close, up to the point that sometimes minimal differences are ignored).

I wrote in previous posts that I had other books I was working on, but that only those on “Robots&Humans”, “Expo2015” will appear over the next few months, while it will take a little bit longer for the one on China (as I would prefer first to draft it completely, while I improve my language skills, and then revise it after getting through some material in Chinese to understand what are historically the “critical issues” on my subject of interest- organizational development history- from a Chinese perspective, not through an English or American filter).

But within the domain of change I have other books that I outlined (for my entertainment industry friends: it is the “treatment” level on a script concept) or drafted (akin to a first draft covering the table of contents A-Z but without details except where there are “critical points”, to set up the “links in the chain” in the argumentation that will be deployed within the book from the front to the back cover).

I will set them aside for a while (probably a year or so), and I would like to share just a couple of ideas based upon my experience across multiple countries and multiple industries for a quarter of century.

Frankly, I see everything converging toward a “flow”- yes, the “panta rei” (usually translated as “everything flow”) which implies that e.g. the water of the river is never the same, also if you stand still on the same point on the side of the river.

From automotive to banking to outsourcing to retail to… think about a business starting with Z (zoning? that’s a business in politics, a.k.a. “Gerrymandering” :D).

Almost everything that is seen or received by customers (business or not) is in reality a collection of elements whose delivery is orchestrated to produce the “symphony” that is your product or service.

Take apart your washing machine, car, computer (ok- rather not!) or just look inside something that you bought: look just at the parts, or in a service look at the number of people involved in different roles, and now think: usually, under each bit, there is a specialized team or company doing just one small set of tasks with high efficiency, all converging into delivering that product or service that you buy under the brand name X, but probably that brand doesn’t even add the label.

Example: decades ago, some Italian clothing was famously produced by legions of women and families working in their own homes, receving cloth or “components” (buttons, zip fasteners, etc) to assemble and then send to somebody else who added the label, and finally to the company that would keep the clothing in warehouses until shops asked those items in a specific color- then, and only then, coloring was added (not necessarily by the “brand” company), and everything was wrapped to be delivered in shops; as far as I remember, that was what Benetton did in the 1980s-1990s.

A while ago (2013) I published a book (free on robertolofaro.com/BFM2013) where I discussed some elements of what can be called a “virtual company”- as I saw it evolve in the 1980s and 1990s (the book itself was actually a restructured and updated edition of material that I had posted on an online e-zine that I published between 2003 and 2005, in preparation of my return to Italy- halted when I decided to move to Brussels).

More recently, after few more books, I extended that concept to mixing-and-matching skills (“management of virtual human resources”, if you want- see robertolofaro.com/SYNSPEC), as what you really need sometimes is “that” skill- but you want it as a package, and really do not care if the “mianzi”, the face as the Chinese would put it, is the one really having all the “component” skills delivering that result- you want what you need, and if your “skills provider” is really a person that then involves others when in doubt or when there are specific details, who cares- you just need to ensure that each one of the component skills is the best of the best.

In our complex world, this might really bring about “experts” that are really “connectors of experts acting as if they were the ‘collective knowledgebase'” of those that “contribute” to their ability to deliver what you want.

I used in the past some people in my activities in this way, as an evolution of “consulting”.

I did not need “man days”- I just needed to ensure that they understood what I was talking about, and to be able to access their skills when needed for how long it was needed; I also sold for others services based on that “slot-by-slot” approach, e.g. to make life simple by 15 minutes, based on my personal experience doing that to be able to support more projects at the same time since the late 1980s, but sounding as if I were always “in synchronization” with those that were instead working day-by-day on each project.

As a further step, in late July I completed a publication on project and programme management present and future that contained a minibook and a series of booklets discussing a realistic business case (overall approx. 250 pages- see robertolofaro.com/QUPLAN).

All that actually is based on a simple element: look at yourself- if you live in a developed country, chances are that everyday you will use more information than that available a couple of centuries ago to few people, and you “know” how to do activities that were delivered by cohorts of people barely a century ago (e.g. consider making a phone call: how did you achieve the same result when phone lines were few and expensive?).

I will spare you the discussion on how much data we are “producing” and “processing” everyday; “Big Data” is probably about to be replaced by another concept, as it is so widespread that it lost its appeal (have a look at robertolofaro.com/relevantdata, published few weeks ago).

What really matters is that now everybody (and not just company) can potentially assemble activities and products as “data”, using skills provided by others (e.g. today an Italian newspaper reported on the worries about DNA experiments carried out by hobbyists), and I see online an increasing number of business that try to support those activities.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s it was done on software and consulting in a primitive way, soon it will probably be also for any ordinary activity in your life: imagine having a scheduled, structured delivery of a “virtual cook”, “virtual nanny”, “virtual gardener”, all managed by your own “virtual house manager”/butler in time-sharing with others in your neighborhood.

Obviously, this all depends on a shared trust and shared ability to “synchronize” those services, and spotless, perfectly timed transportation services (and maybe also public transport- not just roads), to remove delays etc.

Somebody could say that this is a little bit “Big Brother-esque”, but a savvy use of platforms such as those described in SYNSPEC might actually make affordable a lifestyle that a century ago was affordable for a few to a much larger slice of the population (moreover if you add in robots and automated services for many activities).

Today I received a mention on Twitter- it is the traditional way to “spam” and attract to online services, but in this case, as I wrote on Linkedin and Facebook+Twitter, it was interesting to see the “business model” on their website, as it is an evolution of something that I saw since the late 1990s, with something that a colleague in London set up almost a decade ago (time flies), and some elements that I advocated in SYNSPEC- so, I will try it.

No, I am not sharing the link: look on @robertolofaro if you are really interested in selling your services online or buying services; it works on a pre-paid and “escrow” concept to ensure that you get paid (as a supplier) or get what you paid for (as a customer).

I would just add one element that my business network knows I developed after past experiences: if the customer declines to pay by stating that it is not what they wanted, it should give the option to gave it away to anybody who wants it (but it makes more sense for what I would like to sell- my kind of services- than, say, a designer producing a new logo for a company).

For the time being I will just have a look, as I will have to see if and what I can do, and at least until mid-2016 I think that I will be way too busy to do an experiment- still, I registered the /robertolofaro, just in case I will decide to use it πŸ˜‰

closing down

Now, after over 2500 words written in my week-end style (i.e. no reread, just idea sharing), what could be the appropriate closing section for this post?

Simple: think about your own activities that you do in your private life, and think about the kind of skills that you use, those that you use less frequently, and what you would do if you could “delegate” those tasks to others, and concentrate on what you like to do or have a higher expertise one, if money weren’t an issue.

Then, redo the experiment thinking at how many companies and people were involved in what you do in your life (e.g. taking a bus), and think if there is something that can be “pooled” with e.g. your neighbours (not just the cars- also other activities).

In the past, this was the “village” or “neighborhood” or “club” mentality, but nowadays you can think (and you do, if you are under 30 and living in a city in a developed country) in terms of “connecting distant dots”, i.e. the people involved in making your life simpler (and in turn having somebody else making their life simpler) might be linked by interest, schooling, routine availability of resources (e.g. if in my gardening I produce 300kg of tomatoes, probably they will all be ripe within a short timeframe, and therefore there are limited chances that I will consume all of them).

It is not just the “sharing” (or “scraping”) economy that I discussed in a previous post, but something else- a restructuring of your everyday activities.

In the past, it was a semi-permanent restructuring (village, club, etc.), nowadays it will gradually become feasible also just for one event: we just need to develop more entrepreneurship already in schools πŸ™‚

Have a nice week-end!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s