Strategic innovation

“He gets three minutes,” said Carlo de Benedetti, and he really didn’t know what the hippie from the Western United States who showed up at his office wanted from him. The American’s wooden model of a PC didn’t seem convincing, and it didn’t take much longer than tre minuti to figure out that this was another crackpot fantasizing about some kind of technical revolution.

L´ingegnere, the engineer, De Benedetti, was someone who knew his technical field. That’s what it was called at the time by the man who was also leading Olivetti — which was back in the day one of the most important office machine manufacturers. At that time, any professional, whether a journalist, or an advertiser, had an Olivetti typewriter in his office. Maybe if Steve Jobs, the hippie from California, wasn’t a good salesman back then, the situation might have been difficult, but in any case, it’s an archetypal situation we can learn something from it. The young dropout tried to teach an established engineer about the future of technology. The boy taught the old man. The new idea met old structures.

We are dealing with one of humanity’s oldest problems. Twelve-year-old Jesus taught scribes in the temple and it took almost 20 years until he found followers and triggered a movement, and another 300 years until his idea became a state religion. More often than not, revolutions are slow because revolutions are built on evolutionary processes. 

But let’s resolve the archetypal situation by replacing the terms. We call the old engineer ‘industry,’ ‘corporation,’ ‘committee,’ or ‘boss.’ We replace the young ‘Jesus Jobs’ with innovators, founders, or  just weirdos. Let’s briefly put ourselves in the shoes of the past. We are all very good at something, we know how it works and we are annoyed by things that interfere with it. We all are L´ingegnere. Those who are familiar with 12-cylinder sports engines are annoyed by inferior gasoline and perhaps also by electric motors, which don’t need gasoline at all, but develop as much power as the twelve-headed goddess. If it bothers you that only the dishwasher is wrongly positioned, what provocation must it be if an innovation endangers your own economic existence?

And the old are usually right: never change a winning team. The young Steve Jobs was no disruptive genius. Well, he stole Douglas Engelbart’s idea during a visit to Querox Park to control complex programs with a simple, so-called graphical user interface. But Bill Gates had seen and understood this solution at about the same time. The first digital revolution was via Gates, Dell, and their friends at Intel. Apple, the computer company that Jobs founded, was as good as broke in the mid-1990s and it was the reinvention of ubiquitous computing in the form of mobile devices in 2007 that made Apple what it is today.

Individual ignorance creates collective failure. This applies to a company the same way that it applies to a state. We must ask ourselves how to prevent failure and what success can be. My thesis is that it is about learning and is dispositive. That sounds difficult, but in reality, it is simple.

Ignorance is the absence of knowledge, not information. Young Steve probably gave the engineer all of the information that he needed to make his decision. However, he obviously failed in translating this information into his context in such a way that it could become his own knowledge. Our assumption that the “three minutes” were not enough to transform information into knowledge is obvious. On the other hand, we often must deal with the same effect on information that has been available for a long time. We collectively know that the carbon age is finite. Only recently, however, have collectives addressed how we will replace these energy sources.

Not surprisingly, it seems that the eschatologically-influenced end-of-time mood emanates from the Western World. The combination of CO2 emissions and blaming it for climate change, and mankind’s survival, is a construction that is exclusively possible in an occidental moral context. The realization that these are now factual connections, and not ideology or religion, is not suitable as a counterargument. After all, even in religious or ideological contexts these are nothing less than facts. In functioning religions, God-willing law is a fact, and the existence of God is the greatest existing fact. Since we have added logic to our magical technologies, the world has changed, but not our truth systems.

Universities are places of learning and therefore places of innovation: in brief, they are institutions that produce new knowledge from information. This is only to a lesser extent since young people learn about the latest scientific findings. It is true that at universities lay people become engineers. But that is also true of academies. Universities are characterized by the fact that engineers become learners again. Engineers become doctors and this is essential for the university, because this time the professors learn from their doctoral students. If we sometimes talk scornfully about the fact that young scientists are responsible for most innovations at universities, this is a truth which can hardly be refuted. However, this is precisely the strength of the system. While in the Confucian educational system students had to be just as knowledgeable and clever as their teachers, the occidental system is almost the opposite.

In Western universities, the concept of innovation — a new idea that goes beyond familiar doctrine — is a constitutive component of education. A student must be as smart as their professor and he or she must go beyond this knowledge in their dissertation. This is the inner constitution of a doctoral thesis in the occidental academic world. The boy teaches the old man. The old professor provides the framework. He provides the methodical tools, names the range of topics, and assigns preliminary work. The new does not emerge without this context and without this knowledge. There is no contract for this, their cooperation is pure ethos.

What manifests in the academic world is at the core of Western technical dominance in global competition. The internal structures of our so-called world market leaders are therefore, coincidentally, similar to the concept of the university. The fact that those involved are not doctoral students or professors is irrelevant. Successful companies often describe themselves as knowledge-driven, fascinated by topics, curious, and guided by an ethos of knowledge exchange that is constitutive for Western universities. You don’t often find repetition among such companies. To repeat oneself means boredom, to make what’s new, better, again and again, is misunderstood by outsiders as an attachment to the old, for the members of these expert systems know that it’s instead more about competition and satisfaction.

In societies where this kind of ethos is not yet corrupted, it is considered scandalous for people to join this kind of ethos community. Quacks who have not contributed to the acquisition of knowledge in society, who have not contributed to the multiplication of knowledge, are —and still aresocially outlawed. Politicians are losing their offices based on this kind of fraud. Let them be the ones who form the framework within which professors provide the framework. How should politics do this if they have excluded themselves from this kind of knowledge production, or are not contributing to this system?

For a company in a global or local market, it is of central importance to maintain the innovation cycle. New ideas must find their way into the system, or remain in our diction, so that the old can learn from the young. There are many indications that our old tools are no longer working, that states are no longer in a position to comprehend technological developments and create instructive narratives.

But first; politics must form the framework and that means two things. The first is to guarantee internal freedom. Thematic orientation goes hand-in-hand with the independence of implementation. Deadlines are an incentive for craftsmanship, in the production of knowledge they are lines of dead meaning. From the outside, frames provide a place for our activities. They indicate meaning and direction, divide concepts that organize and establish connections they bundle these individual efforts and only in this way do they create a dynamic momentum for a collective investment in the future. Secondly, therefore, forming a framework means guaranteeing freedom to the outside world.

In the past, collective goals were often murderous and yet supported by broad strata. Two successful attempts by Germany to bring collective misfortune over its neighbors have driven out our will and ambition to speak out against collective mobilizations. Meanwhile, we have discovered that community projects do not have to lead exclusively to murder and manslaughter. Rather, we should look at how the collective ambition of a young society could be guided into a future that is worth living. We see in Germany, and this seems transferable to the whole continent: there are no collective objectives.

The objection that preventing global climate change is a collective goal is only partially true. There are numerous indications that the political goal of reducing CO2 emissions and preventing global warming seems to be a broadly shared desire, but not a collective goal. After all, only 12 percent of the German population say that they would be prepared to forego air travel to save the environment. Yet, this fundamental commitment does not mean that they will do it. Helpless commitments to electromobility do not mean much more than the replacement of a two-ton city SUV with an electrically-powered SUV that weighs 20 percent more and releases as much CO2 as 200,000 kilometers of diesel-powered travel during the production of its lithium-ion battery. Moreover, it would be negligent to believe that images of landscapes devastated by degraded lithium-ion batteries have not entered our collective memory.

Europe has a 70-year history of taking over technological narratives from the US echo chamber. The replacement of humans by mechanical workers which we still call robots is one of them, the replacement of natural intelligence by artificial intelligence is another. These two disruptive technological developments are usually presented as a kind of Aristotelian future, according to which work has never been humane. What is usually not explicitly mentioned is the expectation that the operating systems of these new technologies will again be US-American. Control over work in this non-working world would lie among the authors of the electronic DNA of these systems, as was the case with the first four generations of digitization. Sci-Fi narratives about our future should encourage even stubborn lovers of this kind of literature to critically appreciate them. This should be done bearing in mind the comparable explosive power of autonomy movements in digital and fiscal worlds.

When it comes to discussing the automobile, which is like a robot, it would be obvious to think that this would be a catch-up, which in Europe has proved to be a fixed factor in its infrastructure. In the United States, where its railway infrastructure was consistently deconstructed from the 1930s onwards, cars are an important pillar of mobility, as in Europe even after the Second World War. And while we speculate as to when an autonomous automobile will navigate a snowy and dark Alpine road, we might consider whether semi-autonomous driving has long since been invented. If 300 passengers in a regional train already need only one driver, then driving with a three-hundredth of a driver on the road is still a complete utopia. On the Rails, semi-autonomous driving Is a Reality.

 If we are looking for a task that supports our society as a whole, we should not only rely on our guilty consciences. What the Catholic Church masterfully orchestrated for centuries, is proving to be insufficient and uninspiring motivation in our reality. From a moral construct I get power relations, but I do not create a vision that carries into the future.

Independence from criminal states and corrupt power elites, and security from drying up our energy — which makes our luxurious life possible in the first place — are narratives to which we could collectively dedicate ourselves. A plan to save our rich lives can at the same time, as a side effect, rescue us from climate catastrophe.

Takeaways from WonderLEARN

In the opening chapter of Lewis Carroll’s famous novel published in 1865, a young girl named Alice started a dreamlike, phantasmagoric journey into a fantasy world after feeling bored and annoyed by the book that her sister was reading which “had no pictures or conversations in it.” What was indeed the use of a book, said Alice `without pictures or conversation? Alice’s adventure began with a book that didn’t know how to do its duty to make the mind travel, and so it took a rabbit hole to escape boredom in search of discovery and learning.

The concept of corporate learning often has the same effect on employees: rather than hours of tedious training and the feeling of wasting time and money, a jump into the void of a dark hole seems an attractive option. But, like maize.LIVE’s moderator and wise Caterpillar —do you remember the Hookah-Smoking Caterpillar? — Robert C. Wolcott said the true mission of learning is becoming to connect people to themselves and stretch the edges of human potential. 

So what is corporate learning really about? How do we learn? What is the role of technology? How is this field (or how should it be) changing? Starting from unlearning what we know about learning, we followed the paths of people who have gone the way of Alice and followed the white rabbit.

Split across two days of individual stories and parables that we can glean lessons from, these are 9 takeaways that we gained from this edition of maize.LIVE WonderLEARN.

Parable: Learning and Cognitive Models in the Animal World, Roberto Marchesini 

Takeaway: Learning by nature is all about involving emotional, moral, intellectual, and spiritual development

Learning is not just a human activity: all animals can learn, even those with less than a thousand neurons. So what’s the difference between the “evolutionary learning” that allows animals to succeed in their environment and the more complex learning attitude that is connected with curiosity, proactivity, stubbornness, and creativity? Ethologist, epistemologist and post-humanist, Roberto Marchesini, shed a light on the inner drivers that motivate animals, children, and adults to learn. 

And what can you find out by examining the learning behaviors and attitudes of different species? The answer is what we could define as the “secret sauce” of a positive and engaging learning model.

Here’s a discovery that can arise from the observation of what is closest to us: “During the ’90s, a period of examining my kids’ behaviors, I used to wonder why they could not remember the seven kings of Rome but succeeded to remember hundreds of Pokémon characters, whose names were much more difficult than Tullo Ostilio. It was evident that the Pokémon didactic was working much more efficiently than the didactic adopted in school,” said Marchesini.

The key to the “Pokemon” model is to base the learning activity on the stronger motivation of a species, in this case, the human one: learning is not a price, but the outcome of the activity itself. “Therefore, the answer is not “having fun,” that would lead to the following question “why are children having fun?” but involvement. When we are involved, we have fun, but fun is not the point. Involvement makes the subject fully participate, focused on what she/he is doing, wanting to learn, and willing to ask questions and obtain more and more information.

When there is involvement, learning is desired, it is not a chore, and the effort becomes pleasant.

Talk: A new generation of learners, Nasos Papadopoulos

Takeaway: In the tech era, learning is a matter of emotional, moral, intellectual, and spiritual development

Millennials are going to be more or less 50% of the workforce in 2020. Who are they? What do they want? For Nasos Papadopoulos, Podcast Host at Metalearn & Associate and Lecturer at Goldsmiths University of London, getting learning and development (L&D) right is “the challenge,” but why? His answer started with a quote from Alvin Toffler: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

In Papadopoulos’ view of formal education, schools do not prepare people for the 21st century. Automation is coming, and society is constantly transformed by technology, which means getting learning and development right is more important than ever. But where to start? Organizations must first be clear about the context in which they are immersed and be aware of the key phenomena that will affect their future: Globalization: the increasingly interconnected global economy. Demographics: as new generations of workers with specific needs and values are emerging Technology: industries being continuously transformed by new innovations.

These three elements will directly influence the profile of the worker of the 21st century, who in addition to possessing “knowledge and skills,” must be able to develop the often neglected element of ”character,” or “how we behave and engage in the world.” In fact, even if it may seem a paradox in the era of technological revolution, authoritative sources like the World Economic Forum or Center for Curriculum Redesign (CCR) affirm that the development of character traits such as mindfulness, curiosity, resilience, and ethics are strategically more important than technical knowledge.

New generations are looking for organizations that know how to express these “character” elements because their real differentiating element rather than being “technoholics” is to be “work idealists”: “They spend more and more time thinking of what they love, more than what they need. They want purpose. This is something abstract that might seem unimportant, but it actually matters to them.

So what should an organization have in mind when thinking about its L&D solutions? For Papadopoulos, there is no doubt: “We need more than tools and techniques to be an effective learning organization. It’s not about taking in more information than you can: it is about emotional, moral, intellectual and spiritual development. When you invest in learning as an organization, you invest in your people.”

Talk: Homo Adaptus: What Does 21st Century Talent Look Like? Lior Frenkel

Takeaway: We don’t know the jobs of the future, but we can learn how to learn them

Lior Frenkel, serial startupper, founder of Tel Aviv’s NuSchool, and partner at Jolt — a company that promises to revolutionize upskilling by creating micro-campuses all over the world that give people access to high-quality education — started his speech with a story that many of us can relate to:

My mom taught me that I should learn to do one thing, do it, and earn my pension. But that didn’t work for me: when I was 30, after 10 years as an electrical engineer I realized that I was not happy in that job anymore. I did not feel like I had a purpose and wanted to have one.” What happened to Frenkel? Society has changed so fast today that what is learned in school is not enough and people feel that they do not have to define themselves by a job. Instead, they find value from gaining a set of skills and characteristics that they want to use, through activities that give them meaning and purpose.

But what activities, what jobs, can we imagine for ourselves? The Future of Jobs Report (2018) from the World Economic Forum says that we must prepare to see 75 million jobs disappear by 2022, while 133 million new roles may emerge that have adapted to the division of labor between humans, machines, and algorithms. The report also added that 54% of all employees will require significant re- and up-skilling and, no surprise, the skills on which one should invest one’s own skills are the same as those highlighted by Papadopoulos in his speech: creativity, empathy (to understand and work across cultures), communication (human communication will still be key but people might not be as used to it), and intrapreneurship. 

From this list, it is clear that being able to learn is key: in the future, people will be doing jobs that do not exist yet, so they can’t be learned now, but it is possible to learn how to learn them,” was Frenkel’s conclusion. 

This concept led Lior to formulate the idea of Homo Adaptus, who works with a “startup operation system”: companies have to be adaptable, which means think like startups. “At Jolt, we teach the secrets behind the world’s most coveted businesses. That means you’ll now gain access to the methodologies, culture, behavior, and tools that are used to build the startups, scale-ups, and tech companies the world looks up to.

Talk: A new learning culture: Empathy as a tool for organizational learning, Elena Pattini

Takeaway: Technology is only a means through which we mediate among our relationships

Our brain is not a machine that processes data like a computer, it is a machine with a body that establishes relationships with others,” once said Professor Giacomo Rizzolatti, the neuroscientist behind the groundbreaking discovery of mirror neurons, to whom Elena Pattini is a close collaborator. Pattini has consolidated experiences in the field of psychosocial stress and she is also part of the Stress Control Lab research group for which she analyzes nonverbal behavior and psychometric data.

With a resume like this, what could Elena talk about? She discusses one of the World Economic Forum’s key skills of the future: empathy. 

Often empathy is perceived as something abstract and emotional related to the personality of the individual, often as a weakness, but that is not the case. It is an ability, a competency that we also need in our technological times. Let’s remember, technology is only a means through which we mediate our relationships.” 

Empathy is also a tool, which is useful to obtain good results. Empathy becomes a tool when it becomes business culture: Workers have to be put in the condition to use it, and this allows them to feel good and work better. An empathic mindset must be introduced and embraced by everyone in the company. Corporate learning conveys the company message, it tells employees what is important for that company. introducing empathy in the company allows for the improvement of other abilities, like leadership, and cooperative behavior.

Concretizing empathy means a paradigm shift in corporate culture” and it is necessary to take companies into the Third Millennium. “If every time I use empathy in my company I receive good feedback, I am going to use it more often. This reinforcement has to go beyond formal training moments.”In conclusion, people who are in their best psychophysical condition can express their best qualities.” 

Parable: Of Straight Lines and Spirals. Cultural Patterns in Thinking, Learning, and Language, Paolo Balboni

Takeaway: Diversity is not only reflected in our language, but in our unique ways of thinking

“A lot of what we do is routine: we have an “expectancy grammar” that we rely on to decipher what happens to us and react to it.” In his experience as a linguist and professor at the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Pietro Balboni has learned to understand that every culture thinks that its culture is “The Culture.” At the same time, the syntactic structures of different languages (English paratactic, straight to the point; Italian hypotactic, with long sentences; Arab spiral, going towards the main point progressively and going there together —going straight to the point is rude) create different ways of thinking.

But in a society that is becoming more and more multicultural, what do these elements contribute to the workplace? Diversity is not only reflected in our language, but in our unique ways of thinking, solving problems, and even learning. By observing the cultural differences that exist in the gestures that accompany words, in the ways of agreeing/disagreeing, in the ways in which concepts such as respect or the passing of time are expressed, it is possible to understand how language is a concrete expression of behaviors, values, and ways of thinking.

Each of us, whether we are aware of it or not, has three types of “communicative software,” explained Balboni, “Language, that brings very few problems — you can make grammar mistakes without great consequences; Non-verbal codes (proximity, objects like gifts, gestures, etc) that can lead to dramatic misunderstandings; and Socio-pragma-cultural codes, where errors are unacceptable.” So what is the message for organizations that really want to be intercultural and make their messages clear and embraced by everybody?” You need to create a model that you can use to collect what you learn and create your own intercultural communication “grammar” or dictionary.” For example, using tools like the Map of intercultural communication based on the model crafted by Balboni.

Talk: The Reskilling Imperative: Transitioning to a New Learning Paradigm, Kelly Palmer

Takeaway: Companies can lead the way to show what is possible for the future of education

Kelly Palmer, the former Chief Learning Officer at LinkedIn and current Chief Learning Officer of the education technology company, Degreed, has wide experience with the evolution of professional skills and the processes to hire and retain the best talent. While automation, digitization, artificial intelligence, and the accelerated pace of innovation have caused a seismic shift in the skillsets required to stay current and succeed in the workplace, Palmer’s mission is to shift how employees learn, refocusing organizational thinking toward leveraging people’s unique abilities rather than following the status quo of job titles and pre-packaged descriptions.

That’s because data suggest that the status quo is ready to crumble and change sooner than we can imagine: “Over the next ten years 50% of current S&P 500 companies will be replaced” explained Palmer.“Most CEOs think that they will need to re-skill a quarter of their workforce to be future-ready. It’s imperative that we look at this from a company perspective and empower workers to think about what’s next and not wait for an opportunity to land at their feet.”  

Among CEOs, the lack of key skills is perceived as a threat to growth and innovation, but what skills are we talking about? In Palmer’s view, basic digital skills, as well as technical skills, will be relevant, but the “power skills” will form the basis of the success of future work. In her new book, The Expertise Economy, Palmer, and co-author, David Blake, affirm that it’s actually our distinct expertise (our skill-sets) and the capacity of creating not only value but meaning, that are the great assets for the workforce of the future.

Palmer spoke in particular about one concept: “Learning agility is when a person is curious and motivated to continuously learn and build new skills. The message to employees should be, we want you to keep learning: you need to retool yourself and you should not expect to stop.” Learning must, therefore, be part of the company’s strategy and part of its culture, as stated by one quote of Unilever’s former CEO, Paul Polman: “Unilever reshapes its people with its portfolio. In any position in the company, including mine, you need to work very hard on learning new skills every day.

Talk: Redesigning Educational Organizations, Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin

Takeaway: The future of education is about creativity and critical thinking

What’s wrong with our current schooling system? What if we had a chance to redesign it from scratch? What methodologies and approaches could we use? For Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin, Senior Analyst at the OECD Center for Educational Research and Innovation, these are not just hypothetical questions but a starting point to revolutionize our educational system and, in cascade, create future-ready curricula for a new generation of workers.

Professional knowledge — mathematics, English, science for example — are the traditional subjects of today’s education system. However, more and more schools are adding soft skills — a concept that is gaining enormous importance, comprising creative and critical thinking and behavioral and social talents. 

Technical knowledge is surely important, but for Vincent-Lancrin “You cannot be a critical thinker if you do not know anything. But let’s not forget that if you know a lot about a thing it does not mean that you are very good at it or communicating at it. Also, to pursue a career an in-depth knowledge of a specific domain is not enough, especially when you decide to work abroad or in a progressive working environment. What you need to do is integrate the three areas of abilities.

But how can we foster and assess students’ creativity and critical thinking? How can we make it work in different contexts? OECD has been working on these questions for over two years in 11 countries, with about 17,000 students, 650 teachers, and 330 K-12 schools. Through the project, Vincent-Lancrin and his team have tried to build a professional representation, an artifact of the pedagogical resources, based on eight teaching/learning principles like engagement, co-design with students, and feedback The project has another connection to Wonderlearn’s spirit: Leaving room for the unexpected.

Talk: Measuring Learning: Rethinking Assessment through AI, Nigel Guenole

Takeaway: To overcome AI HR’s bias, we’ve got to win what we own

When it comes to organizational learning, Nigel Guenole, Executive Consultant with IBM’s Smarter Workforce Institute & Director of Research for the Institute of Management at Goldsmiths, said that strategies and activities are too often focused on the individual, including ability, motivation, task demands, and learning transfer. But learning can also examine how organizations gain knowledge, which has been shown to impact unit performance and firm productivity. This includes matters like recruiting new workers, developing existing workers, and enhancing processes — all tasks in which Artificial Intelligence could help.

So, what is AI in the context of creating a learning organization? “There are two main areas of application for Artificial Intelligence inside our organizations” explained Guenole, “One is computer systems that augment human intelligence, using techniques like machine learning and natural language processing. The other is the “AI HR system,” which improves processes by learning from data sets and summarizing outcomes of past decisions.” 

Data analysis and machine learning have demonstrated strong capabilities in many areas of HR, creating quicker, better candidate matching solutions; helping to develop learning tools based on relevant recommendations; and augmenting efficiency in screening and hiring time. But as we know, all that glitters is not gold, and even artificial intelligence has its weak point: when an algorithm produces results that are systematically prejudiced, due to erroneous assumptions in the machine learning process, AI can become a recruitment threat.

What’s interesting is that the concept of bias is much more complex than it may appear, and behind a “technical defect” lies a form of social judgment that is reflected in the algorithms. An example? Amazon created a recruiting AI to automatically return the best candidates out of a pool of applicant resumes. It discovered that the algorithm would down-rank resumes when they included the word “women’s,” a pattern that appeared because the algorithm was based on past candidates’ resumes submitted over the previous 10 years.

But Guenole has a positive message: “This does not have to stop us: we have a lot of established methods to address the bias that psychologists have been developing, and these biases are not different from the ones we’ve seen before, so we can address them as we used to.

Talk: Learning Personalization & Future Jobs: The Vodafone Case, Catalina Schveninger

Takeaway: Personalization means understanding how individuals learn

Vodafone’s Global Chief Officer, Catalina Schveninger, led us through the final steps of our journey through Wonderlearn, exploring the facts (and myths) of AI-powered learning personalization. What more can be said about the buzzword personalization? Schveninger has a clear vision: “There’s a lot of hype around the personalization of learning, but the level of personalization right now is pretty superficial. Sometimes it is useless or even creepy. And there’s another personalization, which is more around social filtering, “Netflix-style,” which is based on the idea that if I am watching this, maybe I might like to also watch this. These systems never ask what people don’t like and do not create a conversation —That would be real personalization.”  

In this way, how can personalization be helpful for learners? Fortunately, there are some positive examples in the learning tech industry, like Filtered, which offers a continually updated best-estimate of the skills that learners can most valuably develop; or Edmodo, the education app, which in partnership with IBM Watson, is developing individualized tools for educators to address each learners’ needs.

Speaking about IBM, Vodafone has been working closely with the company to put together a cross-functional squad of the brightest minds from both companies who ideated on the future of work in a lab-like experience, called Innovation Lab. Another experience created inside Vodafone is the Future Jobs Finder: “There is a massive gap between the world of work and people who don’t know how to apply their skills in that world. Can we fix that gap somehow? And in a digital way, because that’s the only way we can have a global reach. The answer they gave is creating the Future Jobs Finder which was launched in March 2018.” 

The result is a set of psychological tests that analyze how Vodafone can use people’s “powers” and make them productive members of the organization. Launched via a collaboration with Sony on the theme of Spiderman, the solution uses hundreds of digital job families and several models, to create its tool. “It combines personal characteristics and preferences with digital abilities. It matches you with available training, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and offline courses in your area that are relevant to your skills. All of this is delivered in a few minutes. It is magic, cool and, above all, focused on understanding how individuals learn.” 

Notes on humanism and tech to jumpstart Italy

In less than four months, we will be in 2020. That is something incredible for my generation to think about. We from Generation X (1960 – 1980) grew up with many expectations about the new millennium. Growing up in a world that was full of inequalities, trivialities, and yet free of most ethical dilemmas, we anticipated the future with intensity, romanticism, and maybe a little anxiety. Technology was making its way from labs to our desks, and films helped us dream of exploring galaxies, time travel, and cars invented by people in white coats. 

“Blade Runner” paints a horrific picture of a 2019 and Planet Earth that has become unlivable and completely shrouded in fog due to pollution and overcrowding. Reality is, thankfully, a bit better. Our planet is still here but we have to pay serious consequences for our actions — and we will count on the genius of the next generation to save us. Our children and our grandchildren will have to somehow erase the damage that we have done. It’s a huge responsibility for the next generation, as Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben said in “Spiderman”: With great power comes great responsibility. Our country will reach 2020 with very little awareness of what’s coming next, thanks to a state and commercial television that is stuck in the 1980s. Immersed in discussions, we struggle to understand how we have gone from analog to digital. And while on the one hand, like most of Europe, we have abandoned our cultural leadership, on the other hand we are guilty of not only polluting the world but also of not investing in our children’s future to save it. 

Investing in the next generation means two things — shaping their minds and investing in their ideas. Although Italy has given the world the educational models of Montessori and the lesser-known, Reggio Children Model, these are not enough. Especially in recent years, with some exceptions, our educational system has survived thanks to the many gifted teachers who, for their own sake and passion for what they do, have kept pace with students who think profoundly differently than students of 20 years ago — extremely differently, as least from what I understand of the European and American educational systems. Suffice it to say that in 2020, the children of the Millennials — Generation Z (1997 – 2010) will begin to graduate, while the Alpha or iGenerations (born after 2010) will be in elementary school. 

Z and Alpha represent two generations which are our bridge to the future — generations that never knew analog: they are completely digital and faster than us, reasoning with a global and nuanced perception of borders and the world. The last generation, the Alphas, will probably not consider it necessary, interesting, or even useful to follow the milestones and behaviors of previous generations. They might not buy a house or car. They will see waste as a crime against humanity and they will likely have less of a hunger for success, wealth, and luxury. 

Luxury will take on a new meaning. Luxury might mean living in harmony with nature, becoming spiritual, and worrying more about sharing than owning everything. But more than their ethics, the next generation’s sensitivity to environmental issues will make us look like we were living in the 19th century — Like Greta, who has decided that she won’t go to school unless we listen to what she has to say about the environment. The other way we are doing too little, too late, is by not believing in and investing in their ideas. Instead of investing money, we need to believe in their ideas. We need to stop saying that in our country certain things cannot be done. We have to forget about concepts that have no place in the contemporary world, we need to instead promote models of success that can reassure and motivate them. 

Ours is the best country in the world for innovation. Our language gives us infinite possibilities to create meaning — subject, verb, and object in English and German can have at most two or three meanings, but in Italian, they are unlimited, which gives us a unique mental openness. We live in a wonderful and varied landscape, we exude humanism, our quality of life is among the best in the world, and our varied culinary traditions are unmatched. These attributes might seem irrelevant to doing business, but this is not the case. Over the years, I have discovered that innovation only comes from merging technology with humanity. Innovation, as Steve Jobs used to say, was born at a crossroads of technological arts and humanities — I would add Human, and our symbolic H to that, because more than ever, everything must rotate around our sustainability, needs, quality, and ethics. Innovation means improving something and adding a benefit to the community. 

Man is always at the center, because man is the end user, and the “journey” of progress always responds to a human need. If you add culture, beauty, art, and ethics, that changes innovation’s depth and impact. And behind any of these, there is always an enabling technology, be it fire, the wheel, electric current, automobiles, the telephone, or the internet. But humanism is the key that gives meaning to everything. And education is a crucial theme. And in Italy there is a lot to do, because we are living in a different world. Family is the main role model in our country, which at best succeeds in compensating for the weakness of our school system, which tends to repress creativity for various reasons. 

Someone who has an innate need to create has to find their own way to present their work. But we also need to look at the work of previous generations, at their experiments and limitations and where they fell short. It’s impossible to contain a young person’s desire for progress, at some point it will have to come to the surface, especially with innovative tools that have no limits. New generations are more reactive, they relate to people in different ways and it’s impossible to think that what worked for us will work for them, or to think that the education that we had will work for them. If we think this way we will delay their progress. We have to open ourselves up to new educational models and this education must be immersed in innovation, to match the needs of today’s jobs. This is why we created a campus, where we can have a cohesive ecosystem that shatters the typical ideas of time and roles. 

Italy, which this year celebrates the 500th anniversary of the death of the world’s greatest genius — Leonardo da Vinci — has a great advantage in this game of innovation. It is a safe country focused on people while still being rooted in a rich history as you can see from conversations in homes, piazzas, at bars, and in our historical centers. If we give children the opportunity to activate their minds and to let their imaginations run wild they might even look to positive role models from the past. It’s all possible. We can do it. We have already done it many times. As Gene Wilder said in “Young Frankenstein” movie. We can do it every day. But we have to believe that we can do it.

But we are not believing it, or worse, we are not worrying about those who have resigned themselves to having children who will study abroad, already anticipating a brain. Most don’t care. Somehow we still find our way to access information but clearer guidelines are needed. Our country needs to support these models by sharing them and raising the bar. Italian thinkers are contributing to the world’s knowledge economy, like U.C., Berkeley Economics professor, Enrico Moretti, in his book “The New Geography of Jobs.” Moretti examines the 21st century as largely driven by human capital and its output of innovation and knowledge and says the future of the economy is built around talent. The book was even on Barack Obama’s list of must reads for 2018. 

Our future success will be based on our capacity to focus our talent around a vision. We have already seen how difficult it is to attract the best talent to Italian companies, and if these companies collapse, our system will collapse. And the frustrating thing is that we are the country that has all of the aces in hand to win the game, because we can invest in our children and also their children. But the problem is that we are always looking outside and we believe others are always better and do not appreciate what we have. We are trying, thanks to the support of people who share this vision, and many others who are trying, but they are small victories, and another problem is raising awareness because otherwise these ideas will run out of steam. Milan, in recent years, has kept pace with the rest of the world, by joining the excellence of its fashion, design, and finance districts and its world class universities. But Milan alone cannot carry Italy, or even try to surpass France in terms of food and culture (however we do have them beat with our number of cheeses: 487 vs 247). Milan, however, is guilty of being unaware of the rest of Italy and the numbers show that it is lagging behind the rest of the most innovative cities in Europe. Milan certainly has more talent than anywhere else in Italy, but invests in ideas 20 times less than London, and does not even rank among the top 10 European tech hubs, coming in at 11th, after Dublin, Copenhagen, and Munich. 

That’s not great, especially in a Europe that is slowly changing its character, as industries that have traditionally driven the economy have suffered a decline over the last 10 years as a new economy is taking over, with the tech sector growing five times faster than any other industry. In 2018 the number of workers in the tech sector increased by 4 percent, and the number of computer developers in Europe surpassed that of the United States: 5.7 million vs. 4.4 million. Predictions show that this could increase even more, with the hope that the Z and Alpha generations can give Europe the cultural leadership that is needed to drive global evolution. 

So we must believe, support, and invest in the ideas of our young people. We must also attract, train, and collect the best talent possible by creating the most optimal conditions in the world for a new innovation economy that is not necessarily digital but might also integrate manufacturing technology. A perfect example is when Mr. Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, visited Luxottica recently. An incredible achievement of our country is that we have the courage and extraordinary vision to guarantee that we will have a place in the field of innovation, even if we must start from scratch, relying on the talents of our young people.