Riga, Latvia

Masterclass on Digital Transformation


Really no idea why I looked so angry in that picture: I was listening to Christophe doing his Masterclass and he came to me afterwards asking why I was so mad.

God knows what I was thinking about, but the pic is so funny I decided to post it anyway.

I am not sure I should keep the references to Heisemberg and Gödel in the presentation: I love the concept of the world being already less “certain” than most people think, but I can tell most of the audience is a bit lost when I speak about the Uncertainty Principle or the Theorem of Incompleteness….

People do not expect Mozart or quantum mechanics in a lecture about Marketing….

Kiyv, Ukraine

Adventurous trip, marred by the fact I missed the outgoing flight due to an overrunning meeting to finish off with a renewed, scary acquaintance with aerosinusitis (if you don’t know what it is, call yourself fortunate and move on).

So all the trouble was in the trips, because – contrary to gloom-and-doom media reports of “Ukraine on the edge of the abyss” – absolutely nothing out of the ordinary happened during my stay.

The Russia / Ukraine conundrum

To a foreigner eye the Russo-Ukrainian situation has settled into an uneasy balance. After all, the Crimea annexation happened in March, 2014, a time when the Russian economy, despite the global recession, was still growing at a 1.4% clip thanks to $100+/barrel oil.

Eighteen months later, the combo blow of sweeping sanctions and sub-$50 oil (entirely driven by the american shale sledgehammer) have Russia in a -1.5% GDP tailspin.

Eighteen months ago, Putin had the world believe that nothing could stop Russia if it set its mind to. Today Ukrainians are probably more in a positive mood than Russians.

However, much still is to be done in Ukraine: the first time it tried to break free of the Soviet Union, in 1941, it chose the wrong ally in Nazi Germany, a mistake which still haunts the reputation of the Ukrainian people more than they realise, but this time (1991) it firmly turned to the EU as a role model: never heard so many times people speak about “upholding European values” as in these two days in Kyiv.

The politicians I met here seem to have what it takes (business background, global perspective and experience) to reform a state organization probably still firmly rooted in Soviet-era bureaucratic practices, bring about a system of check and balances which to this date does not exist, while fighting the pressure of oligarchs. A tough job, if I ever saw one!

My presentation…

..went technically bad. Not just a minor glitch: the remote did not work well (too far) and the technicians were not prepared to manually advance the slides when I asked them to; and when they finally did, they would not stop and had to go back. Worse than it ever happened to me in many years of public speaking.

At the root of the problem is the still far-from-universal acceptance of Macs by the people who organise the technical side of conferences.

Everything is boned down to the lowest common denominator of boring text slides shown on Powerpoint, the single biggest crime against humanity ever performed by Microsoft, but I refuse to show a presentation that looks like something put together in the 80’s.

I usually solve this by asking them to use my computer, even though it often means giving up HD (unbelievable how many projectors still exist that do not have HDMI connectors). This time however I didn’t, trusting the fact that the presentation consisted mainly of videos.

This was a mistake, even though in the end the videos saved the day, because they allowed the audience to generously follow my remarks even while I was fighting with the capricious remote.

To be true, however, I rarely received so many compliments after a presentation so, to partly make up for the lousy performance, I decided to make a movie of it (as it was supposed to be) and post it here: who knows, some in the audience may still enjoy it in retrospect.

Vienna, Austria

Very honored to participate in my capacity as Co-Chairman of the World Communication Forum as a Keynote Speaker at the Second Arab PR Conference organized in Vienna on november 3rd.

I am honored to be in such a distinguished company, but also a great opportunity to developfor Friends, not for Brands links with another very interesting part of the world; wisely, the organizers asked me stick to my guns: my topic will be the Digital Transformation Governance and will be one of the first public appearances of my second book “For friends, not for Brands!” (soon to appear in an e-bookstore close to you! – sorry, couldn’t resist the plug :-D)

As I said many times, I have always marveled at how close the level of professionalism of colleagues coming from remote parts of the world is when compared to western Europe, demolishing the bias of a wide gap between different geographical areas: definitely, Digital is a great chasm-filler!

Microsoft Symposium

Had the privilege of moderating the 2014 Microsoft CMO Summit: the proof is in the pudding, and you should really ask the audience whether they liked it or not, but judging by the intensity of engagement and discussion during the event, the evaluation from the stage is a strong “Yes”.

We decided to skate on thin ice, do away with PowerPoints and I.T.-speak and focus instead on telling a story, but building it along the way with the collaboration of the audience.

In the [slightly abridged] words of MS Italy GM Carlo Purassanta,“You better digitally disrupt your business, before someone else does it for you”.

I took the audience through the route of a Customer Journey, following an imaginary Consumer as she draws closer to a Brand, includes it in her consideration set, purchases the product and finally becomes its Ambassador, focusing mainly on the measurement side of things, traditionally a weak point for CMOs, not helped by their CIOs who vomit on them reams of data that carry little or no information.

Our message was that, once you understand the underlying mechanics, the governance of such projects is really not that difficult along the lines of my sensemaking tenet;  did we drive the message home? Perhaps, only time can tell.

For me it was certainly a project that perfectly fitted my mission of “Only consulting on fun stuff with great people!”

Moscow, Russia

What did I learn in this last trip to Moscow?

Well for one, the Moscow Metro is now my bitch, thanks to the super app by Yandex: it knows where you are (yes, Milan, New York, London, Paris: there is free open wifi (almost) everywhere in the Moscow Metro, shame on you !!!), you touch where you want to go and it will show you the route.

On a translittered map you can actually read out should you need to ask for directions.

Secondly, weather. This is my first time in early spring, the weather was quite nice, but still hovering not enough far from 0°C to leave the coat at home; however, russians need a good oil shock to teach them to be a tad thrifty with their heating: any close environment is at least 5 °C too hot. If you will spend your day in a conference room, dress lightly to avoid overheating.

Thirdly, timing. Russians put italians to shame. You set an appointment for 11AM which effectively means “sometimes during the late part of the morning”. Or later. Pack a book: since you’ll be waiting you might as well use the time productively.

Then language. No, they don’t. Speak english, I mean. Hotel receptionists, store clerks, policemen, metro employees, restaurant waiters, taxi drivers none of them does – and this is an international metropolis that’s bursting at the seams with international business transactions; yet, unless you climb the corporate ladder quite a bit, do not expect english literacy.

Which does not mean you can’t get by. I bought metro tickets, coffee, food, a SIM for my phone (to avoid being ripped off by Voda) and I topped it up after a couple of days. All without speaking a word of Russian (except “Spasiba”) with people who did not speak a word of English (except “You’re welcome!”)

And while we are on language, the alphabet is not as hard to fathom as it initially seemed: I can read the greek alphabet and there are quite a few commonalities so I bet in another week I would be able to read with decent fluency. Which obviously does not mean understanding, but a surprising number of Russian words are actually simply translittered from other languages (French, English, even Italian) so you will be surprised at the number of signs you can actually figure out

St. Petersburg, Russia

A truly interesting event, this was – and in more than one level. For me, it was the first public appearance of “The Digital Self Manifesto” and I am very happy about how it went: despite being at the very end of the event, I had a full house and a lively debate – and I have met at least one person (my good friend Valery) who bought the book right there and then!

That aside, the experience for me was amazing.

The big theme everyone was debating was one of “Russia in search of the story” it wants to tell the world; there were quite a bit of complaints about the poor image associated to russian politicians. On day 1, there was an unbelievably heated debate featuring ultra-nationalist Duma member mr. Milonov who proposed a so-called “Law to protect children from filth” of openly homophobic content, which the Duma promptly passed.

(NOTE: Andrey pointed out to me that mr. Milonov is not a member of the Duma but a member of St.Petersburg’ local parliament)

While I do not share ANY of mr. Milonov’ views, I recognize he did not take the easy way out of shifting the responsibility to the whole Duma, but instead  bravely argued his case against a more or less unanimously unfriendly audience: you see above in one of the pics two ladies making sort of a statement from the audience while he was speaking.

Hyper-conservative politicians are nothing new and there are quite a few in every country, but they tend to speak from their owned, protected channels instead of exposing themselves to the prodding the moderating journalist submitted mr. Milonov to, challenging him at almost every statement he made. In all it was a very interesting debate which I don’t think you would easily see in Europe or the U.S. – unfortunately I, Mike Copland, Peter Fleischer and Henrik Stroier, a german gentleman who spoke the next day were the only non-russians in attendance and this is a great shame: if I can give any advice to Andrey and the organizing crew for 2014 that is to get more european and american delegates, as this will do wonders for the perception of Russia in the west.

In the afternoon of day 1 I attended an excellent discussion called“Made in Russia” where we discussed whether russian products are ready for export. Someone from Lada took us though the great strides they are making on product quality; I must say I am not sold on this at all and although I engaged in a Twitter exchange later with someone claiming the new management is so good that Lada may be competing with BMW in 5 to 10 years, this seems a tad over the top.

A recommendation for Russia

While it waits for its Lada, its Megafon and many other companies to be ready to slug it out in the open competitve market, I think Russia should leverage NOW things it already has a world leadership on: nature, wilderness, lakes, rivers in a pristine condition most of us in western Europe can only dream of. After all 11.5% of the world’ landmass is situated in Russia – the only other country coming near to such a treasure trove of beauty is perhaps Canada, but how comes Russia does’t get a similar number of adventuresome tourists anxious to see places very few other people have seen before?

Have someone publish the equivalent of the Milepost, create a few campgrounds and service stations and spread the word on Internet boards where hordes of motorhome equipped dutch, french and italians are desperately searching for new destinations.

They will come back with wonderful stories and pictures, making more people want to come the following year and so on, in a truly viral fashion.

Then, next time a Russian politician discredits the country, one of these people will stand up and say: “I’ve been to Russia last summer, they’re not like that at all, this guy is a jerk!”. Believe you me, I speak from experience: if the perception of Italy and Italians depended on our politicians, we would be in worse shape than Russia, but luckily millions of people pour in our country every year, experience our food, visit our cities, talk to our people and no amount of vile behaviour on the part of an Italian politician will ever be able to taint the great image of Italy.

Mumbai, India

A very instructive journey, which prompts me to come back to learn a little more; I sure can understand how people say that traveling to India changes them.

One first consequence is a desire to know more about the history of this great country: a perusal of Amazon offering in the way of manuals reveals an abundance of books about british India and a relative scarcity of books about the whole story of India; also I am not seeking a 1000-page tome, but a more svelte format that I can digest quickly.

My impression is that the country India really started with the british domination – before there were four large states more or less perennially at war with each other and under the influences of the various potentates in the region.

This was repeated over and again by several people – no such thing as India. Dozens of languages, five main religions plus many more others, an enormous diversity in ethnicity: all of this points at a situation for me reminiscent of the Balkans – only 1,000 times bigger.

Secondly, the language. India may have “the largest english speaking population in the world”, but don’t mistake this for the statement “everybody speaks english”:  even if a privileged 20% speaks good english that leaves 80% who barely does or not at all. Even in big cities like Mumbai and Delhi we met a lot of people whose english sometimes was very basic.

Third, a few European shell-shocks: I was expecting poverty and lack of basic hygienic facilities to strike me, and they did. I was expecting the assault of beggars and salesmen, and that I did not get. I enjoyed walking for hours in bazaars in Mumbai and Delhi, stopping at carts and looking at stuff – yes, they obviously try to exercise their trade, but never aggressively and a simple “No” works almost universally.

I also enjoyed bargaining when I bought something – even though I have no illusion of beating the experts – nobody was ever pushy or aggressive.

Fourth, size matters, in so many senses. How do you lift 200 million kids from stricken poverty? Nitin complained about having too much work and not being able to find employable people for his business. Of course the road workers or janitors do not speak english: if they did, they’d probably get a better job as clerks in some company. Size also pushes the inequalities to extremes not experienced anywhere else I suspect. The beggars living in the streets and eating God knows what next to Bentleys rolling down the manicured Delhi avenues.

Talking to Cyrus we discovered that house prices are higher than in Milano, yet the intrinsic value of the buildings honestly cannot be compared – the price must be supported by the utilitarian value of real estate, which points to a layer of population similar to the European middle class in purchasing power, but can you imagine two-and-a-half times Europe’s middle class concentrated in 5 or 6 megalopolis instead of perhaos 30 or 40?

Fifth, this country exists in its present form since 70 years only: I purposefully excused myself for asking blunt questions about ethnic or religious strife, about the relationship with Pakistan or the feelings towards the Brits.  After 150 years of unity of Italy and one and a half millennium of roman empire my country still hasn’t really figured out where it stands on its own identity: these are things that run very deep and may require a few more centuries to really settle, but I am ideally positioned to ask these questions, I am italian and everyone loves us, essentially because we are a threat to nobody.

Sixth, we were very fortunate to spend our time in Delhi as guests of Roma on behalf of Mahindra Corp., not only for the exquisite hospitality in itself, but also because we lived in a house. While this is nowhere near experiencing living the city (we had two excellent gentlemen looking after us, preparing our food an driving us around) yet this was so different from the hotel life in Mumbai. Both ABCI and Mahindra’s hospitality were nothing short of superlative, but I am so glad I had the opportunity to experience both.

Of course, “blending in” is not an option: I am way too tall (even though someone told me that my complexion is not too far from that of indians), and Mirella’s platinum short hair attracted so much attention a few ladies asked to have a a picture taken together with her; but there is something, even after only a few days of wandering, that made me feel at ease even though I was and will always remain a foreigner, something that made easy asking for directions to porters or store clerks, that made language difficulties manageable. I guess I will have to spend a little more time on this.

Speaking of which, Yogesh and Deepak already said they will invite us again next year, and my wife said she is already booking her time to come along.