Available online the proceedings of the webinar on human capital and the ruling class. 6th Meeting promoted by the Eurispes Laboratory
The proceedings of the 6th meeting promoted by Eurispes’ Human Capital Laboratory are available here. The focus of the debate was “the ruling class and human capital”.
The meeting, which took place online on 14 December, was opened by greetings from the President of Eurispes, Gian Maria Fara. The participants in the discussion were: Piergaetano Marchetti, President of the Corriere della Sera Foundation, Carlo Noseda, President of IAB Italia, Silvia Stefini, Governance of Meritocracy, Benedetta Cosmi, Eurispes Laboratory’s Coordinator, Massimiliano Cannata, journalist.
FARA: Good evening, I would like to thank you, as President of Eurispes, for accepting the invitation of Dr. Cosmi, coordinator of the Institute’s laboratory on human capital, which is conducting an intense activity, especially in preparation for the extensive School Report that we will publish during the first half of next year. I would like to thank Piergaetano Marchetti, who is President of the Corriere della Sera Foundation, Carlo Noseda, President of IAB Italia, Silvia Stefini, a member of the Board of Directors of the Meritocracy Forum, and Massimiliano Cannata, an old, young acquaintance of the Institute, and our talented collaborator. The topic you will be discussing – and we will be happy to listen to you – is the ruling class and human capital. Benedetta Cosmi has long been committed to building human capital with the aim of nurturing the possibility of having a ruling class in this country that is increasingly worthy of the name. The work that Benedetta Cosmi is doing fits into the framework that I illustrated earlier, which is that of educational policies, and is closely linked to the idea of succeeding, through the development of serious educational policies, in forming good citizens and also, and perhaps above all, good leaders. The country absolutely needs this. This is a very complicated issue. Yesterday we were discussing about the brain drain, we were discussing the fact that we spend hundreds and hundreds of millions of euro a year to train young people who, once they graduate, run away or are captured by other countries or by European companies. As we know, the market is now a single entity, and this is quite a serious shortcoming, namely spending our resources to train young people and graduates who then go to live in countries where professionalism is regarded differently from us. Yesterday we were talking about this problem in relation to doctors: the training of a doctor from the first year of university through to graduation and specialisation costs thousands of euros, and then we expect these young people to remain in Italy paid starvation wages, when the proposals coming from France, Germany, England and across the Atlantic are considerably more attractive. So the issue of human capital is a decisive and very important problem for the future of our country. Either we will be able to intervene in this sense, to intervene decisively with the idea of enhancing the human capital that the country produces, or we will deny Italy the future it deserves. The work we are doing on this front and the activity and commitment that Benedetta Cosmi has deployed on these issues are of great interest to us as a research institute, but I believe I can say for the entire country. I am convinced that valuable indications will emerge from this evening’s discussion that will serve us to give even greater added value to the work of preparing the extensive report on schools, which will be the second – we produced the first more than twenty years ago – and with which we hope to open, in 2023, a serious and lively debate on a problem that we consider essential for the future of Italy. I thank you for your patience in listening to me, I will follow the debate with great attention, and then Benedetta has the task of gathering all the ideas, suggestions, and proposals that will come from today’s discussion to decant them into the work that we have already started to do, but that will begin to take shape in the early months of next year. Thank you and keep up the good work.
COSMI: Thank you President Fara, I would like to thank our guests who are helping us to grasp that link between training, schools, institutions, social bodies and human capital. This feeling of training and work together has often represented, even in the ideology of our country, not always a gamble in which all parties have believed, and we are trying to repair a weakness of the country and the system, because if the world of training and school, university and work do not feel allied, a distance is created that is difficult to bridge, both for young people and for the competitiveness of a country in being attractive. The guests invited are already playing their part, in particular a dear friend Carlo Noseda with whom we have been sharing the same nuances for a few years now and who will help us grasp some of those dichotomies that the Italy Reports always make use of, in particular the one on underdeveloped/modernity and technology. I will now hand over the floor to you Carlo, welcome.
NOSEDA: Thank you for the invitation. Among other things, I am in charge of this association called IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau), which monitors the trend of the digital advertising market, which in our country has a far more important impact than just advertising sales (if we think only of e-commerce and everything that it brings together, just consider that every euro invested in communication generates up to twenty-five induced), bringing the digital advertising industry in our country halfway between the tourism and automotive industries. The impact is important not only from an economic point of view, but communication also influences people, which is why I always urge us to use this great power we have been given in the best possible way. We deal with technology, we deal with digital. Unfortunately in Italy when we talk about technology we always tend to say there is a big technological gap; I think we have a huge cultural gap related to the use of digital, in the sense that we have in our hands tools such as phones that could take us to the moon. Today we could do unimaginable things with these objects and yet we exploit them to less than 10 per cent of their capacity. I often go to companies where the CEOs, the owners of the company have their emails printed out by the assistant: a person who has an email printed out is using the technology completely improperly. So, the thing you have to try doing is to explain to people what opportunities the digital world offers today also in the business world, you have to educate the managers of these companies to explore new technologies and this, unfortunately, rarely happens. We all know that humans are afraid of change, but if we encourage people to have a culture that is favourable to innovation, to change, then this desire to experiment is a bit more appreciated. The Americans say “fail fast while spending as little money as possible”, whereas in our country one fails after years of agony because he has the shame of being a failure. Here, we explore, we learn, we fail fast: digital brings with it a whole new set of logics and people have to be taught to deal with these new things in a more proactive way.
COSMI: I have already made a note for our parallel Observatory that the President mentioned, the one on Educational Policies, because one of the issues we wanted to address is precisely the one related to error and failure. The school, even at present, considers making a mistake as somewhat of a failure, so that for example if you fail more than one subject, there is no possibility of just making up the bit you got wrong, you just have to repeat the school year. Imagine this compared to foreign school systems where the school being by levels gives you the possibility of repeating that specific part of the course and this would also train the idea of functional failure.
NOSEDA: You mentioned the subject of learning. I am convinced that the Italian school is among the best in the world, but from the point of view of what you learn, not how you learn it. This is another aspect that needs to be systematised and brought more in line with today’s world. We are brought up to enter an assembly line. Each of us is trained with a professional skill set and that professionalism serves to fill a box: you generally start as an engineer and die as an engineer. If up until a few years ago I was interviewing people who would ask you for a fixed-term or permanent contract and then take a house and build a life, now they look at you and tell you I will give you two years of my life and then forget about me, I won’t just work for you because in the meantime I am doing two other jobs plus a third one which is a friend’s start-up in which I have invested money. So these young people will not do three jobs in a lifetime but they will do three jobs at the same time, because that’s how it works and the pandemic has only accelerated completely different ways of working; before, to obtain an employee you had to live in the city where you had your company, now instead you have them scattered all over Italy, and I would add all over Europe. So this agility and flexibility of a different way of working must also be reflected in the companies, because companies still see their employees as people who will stay with them for years, now instead you have to think of companies as integrated systems with other realities because I will no longer work for that company but I will work with that company, so the proportion really changes.
COSMI: What do you think creates a sense of belonging at this point? Since place no longer creates it, habit no longer creates it.
NOSEDA: It is created, I say this with great confidence, by the project in which the person participates, and only if that project is able to leave a big and strong impact, a trace. Just think that most of the young people who approach the realities they work in today go to study that company, not in terms of what it does, but in terms of how it does it; if what that company actually does lacks the so-called purpose, a way of existing that is consistent with the values that today’s generation has, then the company is discarded. This is odd because these generations have a great responsibility towards the planet, towards inclusiveness, towards respect for others, which is much greater than the way we were brought up with very vertical hierarchies and with values that I do not believe should be abandoned, but simply modernised a little, and above all made suitable for a generation that is now ready to knock on the doors of work and that will soon be the enlightened managerial class that you spoke of earlier. We talked about inclusiveness that is now emerging in companies, and I think that this inclusiveness should not just be the equal number of men and women, but also generational. I see big companies in which the average age is important where we talk about young people without having them around, therefore without trying to understand how to include them, given that sooner or later everyone must have their chance. So this inclusiveness in the labour world and this willingness to learn by making mistakes are factors to be taken into account. School must also teach you that when you graduate you are not done learning and from there you start working, because you study all your life. We have to learn that education is also continuous because technology goes on, too far ahead, while you remain firm on your beliefs and skills. So university should be like a gym membership.
COSMI: This could be a possible scenario. As a matter of fact, you are starting to work on ex-graduates both as a possibility of future investment and as a chance to return to learning on the same benches with a mutual exchange. How have you seen the role of the managerial class, of the top manager, changing elsewhere, if there is any reference model, if there is any delay in this in our parts as well.
NOSEDA: The managers who have the greatest appeal at the moment are those who know how to embrace change but also know how to translate it and make it accessible to all. As I said before, change is scary and if you don’t have the skills it is even paralysing, so I see on the one hand managers on the defensive, lined up in front of the goal hoping that no one will score, therefore nervous because they don’t understand what is happening, and on the other hand I see others running forward and dragging their teams behind them because they have seen an opportunity in the transition. You have to help those who are afraid and don’t understand what is happening. You just have to be curious, try to understand what is in front of you, analyse it and then judge it and not the other way around. The digital transformation we are experiencing is very important, new worlds are emerging and need to be explored and understood. Digital was born as a medium of communication, whereas today digital is an “environment”, a new set of questions are being asked, including ethical ones, and it needs a set of rules that must be defined. Today, politicians should be concerned about defining these new worlds, the rules of engagement because then they become grasslands for those who do business. We must therefore be ready to run and run really hard.
COSMI: One of your gifts is to be encouraging and I think that is a winning trait, not particularly common at the top because, as you said, there is a tendency to be intimidated, therefore to hold back. Encouraging does not mean to blindly comply, but it certainly means to be curious. Encouraging should be both the world of education and the ruling class. What goal do you set for yourself for 2023?
NOSEDA: To learn to do something I don’t know how to do.
COSMI: I turn to Silvia (Stefini), advisor to the meritocracy forum, who, with her book on meritocratic governance, introduces us to the interesting topic of meritocracy. A collection of stories of talent, women and sustainable enterprise. Silvia, help us understand how boards of directors are changing and will have to change. What does it mean to be “different on the inside”? It should not just be a question of a fictitious division of representation, which would create more noise and confusion than project building. What have you seen?
STEFINI: This book, Meritocratic Governance, stems precisely from the need to create a thread between what the elements of meritocracy are within the company, which affect the board, the board of directors and the entire organisation. What we have seen over the last few years is, without a doubt, a greater responsibility and a role of the board of directors that is a bit broader, more fluid, more connected with management and with everything that comes from human capital. As a meritocracy forum, we have decided to tell stories of merit – not necessarily a representation of what Italy is at the moment, but an aspiration, if you like – by selecting some stories of good entrepreneurs, of old Italian entrepreneurs, but also stories of new emerging realities, to try to understand what is the link between a board of directors that works well and an organisation that has been resilient over the years, that has been able to react well to crises and in which that important connection between human capital and top management has been created. There are stories that relate a strong purpose, which was mentioned earlier. The purpose is undoubtedly a glue of values that brings the company together and that, when it is expressed clearly, limpidly and without contradictions by the top management, then turns into something the organisation carries forward. The book was essentially intended to be a collection of positive stories.
COSMI: An example concerning the topic we are discussing today: the ruling class, human capital, skills and training. What emerged from the discussion?
STEFINI: I could give you the example of Zambon SpA. It is a pharmaceutical company that has long since created a business model focused on innovation – we are talking about new technologies – and the ability to attract talent. The way in which the company has worked – starting with the board of directors structured with external talents, who have brought in new ideas, and with the same ones engaged in other boards – has then translated into specific initiatives to attract talent and skills, through the creation of laboratories in collaboration with universities, other companies and internationally. This is a situation where, from the board of directors to the whole company, the focus is on collaboration, creating skills and the climate where talent develops. This generates competitiveness on an international level. I mentioned Zambon, but the same can be seen in companies, perhaps less well-known, smaller entrepreneurs who have developed initiatives of this kind. A very interesting case that we have analysed is that of Enovia, an absolutely new reality, a business factory created in 2015 through collaborations with the university which brings in technological ideas that are developed by it and then transforms them into factories, into products that are commercialised. Given the high technological content of what it does, it is clear that the skills and motivation of employees are very important – let’s keep in mind that this is an industry where talent is hard to find and retain. Thus, there is this link between the vision of the company, starting with a broad board of directors, management involvement and how to maintain the most competent talent. What I have found over time is this link between human capital and competitiveness, hence the company’s positioning on the national scene. It is becoming more and more evident, with new technologies, changes and the need to deal with these sudden crises that somewhat disrupt traditional business models, that there is a need to look for the skills but, above all, the motivation of people, and thus to be able to bind the individuals working in the company to a philosophy, to a common goal of which the board of directors must be a part. In short, the board of directors is not simply a body that approves policies or strategies, but it really has to get a bit more involved in interacting with human capital. There is more and more talk about involvement in human capital policies without getting into its management because clearly one has to distinguish what the tasks of the different corporate bodies are; making sure that there are the minimum conditions for future development is the basis of creating sustainable businesses – long-term competitiveness, the ability to attract and retain talent, differentiating oneself in markets that are international. Currently there are more opportunities, as well as more risks to be taken, and this is where contamination and openness to different worlds is certainly very important.
COSMI: Yesterday I had a meeting that, if you like, was a bit of an appetiser for today’s; I awarded in Rome a ninth edition of an award called “Young Italy”: ten talents under 35, with special mentions in the social sphere, many of whom come from STEM and medical subjects, related to technologies and economic investment in branches that can represent, for example, the work of the future. There were many testimonies during the award ceremony, such as the one of a young man who lives and works abroad, whom we awarded yesterday as Italian excellence, and who told us that he was the first to graduate in his family. So we are still in that Italy where the 20-30 year old is the first to study in the family, there is still a generation gap that affects the statistics. The country is divided into two “souls”, so that there is, for example, Confindustria on one side that promotes the hiring of young people with concessions and those on the other side who discourage this kind of relief and incentives. The truth lies in the middle: for years, many companies have had to deal with solidarity contracts, hiring freezes, early retirements, blocked redundancies and so on, which have certainly affected the volume of new hires. Did the passive side affect the active one more? Also from the perspective of incentive policies, what do you think an entrepreneur has missed?
STEFINI: It is evident that, in order to have a system that works well as a whole, you have to have a link between education, the overall system of the country, reforms and support given to companies, the virtuous ones. The Forum works a lot on this aspect: we have built an indicator that measures precisely the country’s meritocracy. Certainly, in Italy there are various aspects that block this meritocracy, on the other hand there are also virtuous examples. We must not let certain administrative formalities that exist in certain aspects of the public administration, or certain features that limit the fluidity of education, be an excuse per se for not taking initiatives. From a business point of view, you have to know how to choose, how to move, how to build over time, how to respond. The country is currently under considerable pressure to improve, if only to obtain international funding. In order to have a voice on the international scene, Italy must take steps forward – the more time passes the more urgent it becomes – the education-country-company link is fundamental. Companies must play their part by starting to be more proactive in pursuing initiatives that best unite and promote meritocracy. One of the Forum’s initiatives is to promote meritocracy by mentoring talent in universities where mentoring is perhaps less known or developed, trying to work on the infrastructure base we have. This is the only way to contribute to progress in the country.
COSMI: I move on to Piergaetano Marchetti. Today you are for all intents and purposes part of these workshop ideas to revitalise a country and innovate it. I always say, you are a deus ex machina, meaning that I always find you behind the good things. Thank you for being here with us.
MARCHETTI: Thank you, you are too kind. I reciprocate your words with friendship and esteem. You have touched on so many points here; I would like to touch on a few, in no particular order. Above all a theme that concerns both the school and education in general. There is a word that I am fond of and there is an attitude in life that each of us has had and that seems emblematic to me. The word is: curiosity. The attitude is that of a child, of a young person, that we have often had or seen in our children and grandchildren who pulls on daddy’s jacket or mummy’s skirt asking “what does it mean?”. I believe that the whole point of education is to raise questions, to provoke questions. This, in my opinion, is the “drop by drop” irrigation that makes talent sprout where there are signs of talent. This, to my mind, means, taking the subject of schooling as an example and referring in particular to the university, that it is profoundly wrong to set oneself the problem of having to prepare profiles that respond to the labour demand of the market. The market’s demand for labour is contingent and characterised by a historical era and, as said here before, it is by no means certain that it will always be so. I remember that when I was at Bocconi, at a certain point, they wanted to make 6 or 7 degree courses in finance; I, like other colleagues, fortunately opposed this, because we would have made the fortune of those who make cardboard boxes to pack up all the remnants of the many redundancies that would have been there if they had thrown themselves into finance to this extent. This is the wrong attitude, because the function of the university is yes to prepare for what is there, but above all to give that flexibility so as to respond to new demands; indeed, the ability to pose new applications for work. This I would say is a first fundamental block. It is true, the Italian school is very good up to a certain point. I have a daughter who is currently a University Professor of Medicine and Chief of Medicine in infectious diseases – a subject that has been so fashionable lately – who as soon as she graduated went to specialise in the United States where she was immediately put in charge of a small team because she had a superior preparation. This, however, is lost in our “after graduation”, where there are holes and uncertainties, whereas in other countries this is the phase in which they invest heavily and to a large extent. Not to mention what you said earlier and what we in the family have experienced first hand: only love for the family dissuaded my daughter from accepting offers from the US, Sweden or other countries. Of course, she found herself having to sleep, when she was on night duty, in an on-call cot which was missing a leg, so it was all bent out of shape, and which no one repaired because no one knew who then had to pay for it, taking for night duty on 120 patients 80 euros gross per shift, meaning not even 10 euros gross for each hour of work, which is a truly scandalous thing. Another problem is the social dignity and remuneration of those who teach. The teaching of an elementary school teacher is socially incomparably higher: it requires enormously more talent than someone who works in a banking or financial institution, even if he/she keeps up to date, because he/she has the responsibility precisely of nurturing talent. So really this structural – in other words, the supply chain, the school, the teaching method, the perspectives given, the school staff – is a fundamental block in the “ruling class/human capital” problem. Another issue that was addressed at the beginning was that of failures. I wanted, as a good jurist, to remind you of one thing: on 22 July this year the new law came into force, which is no longer called “bankruptcy” but is called the “Business Crisis Code”, and the dominant motive of the legislation in all the most advanced countries is to save business activity with all the necessary corrections and interventions, not to wipe them out and destroy them, and this also applies to people and trades. Companies that may have gone wrong due to exogenous risk factors as well as the failings of a manager, for which, however, the attempt to restructure, to mentally review what was done and why, and not to divide the world into “damned and saved” once and for all, is a fundamental attitude. This is because, as I said earlier, the world should not be divided into the “saved and the damned”; no one should prevail through the back door or through recommendations, but everyone should be able to give their best according to their possibilities and with the maximum involvement, and if at the end of it all, it is not number one, but number three or four, then what applies to the Olympics applies, i.e. “it is already an honour to have participated and been part of this pool”. I believe that the modern theories of merit are this: not the space to the one who cuts the thread first but the space to the one who prevails with his own strengths and the one who makes others prevail with his own strengths. And then there was a decisive element: I deepened my studies and began to read, but it is useless for me to quote them here, the famous writings of those who wrote against merit and I discovered that the writers against merit are, no more and no less, the prophets of populism and the thing about populism is that anyone can be a master even if they are masters of nothing. I know, it is usually brought up as an example that in 1945 we had Finance Ministers who had done 5th grade or 3rd grade, probably alluding to Scoccimarro who spent 15 years in exile in jail studying all the books on classical economics and developing a formidable culture. Hence, merit understood in this sense, in other words as the nurturing of talent, is something that even those who started from a skeptical attitude cannot help but embrace. I believe that sooner or later we will have to make an effort because when we talk about human capital if we understand the word “capital” as a resource, wealth, I am all right with that, but if we interpret it, on the wave of economic theory, as a tool to carry out an activity, that is less okay with me. Just as I don’t like it when in boardrooms, and it has happened to me for a long time, the good CEO on duty would stand up and say he wanted to “make a bit of efficiency” and that meant nothing more than firing people. This attitude has always bothered me, like chalk screeching on a blackboard. People are always a key primary resource for the business, which, if cultivated well, is the key to many things. It is not a mere efficiency motive that can hold back other elements of advancement with its presence. So, from a bird’s eye view, I come to the problem of the board: today in the company we are at the 3.0 stage – and then everyone on the “zero point” game gives the numbers they want. We started with an independent board with great decision-making power, we arrived at the monitoring board – where the activity is carried out by the managing directors with the board relegated to the role of controller – and then we reach the 3. 0 where the board has the task of looking to the future by identifying strategies; not day-by-day, not just controlling who does what, but identifying development strategies. This is where I agree with what our colleague said earlier about the need for a board that is curious and has a diverse background, with different experiences, as this is where the great challenge lies, and this is also where it lies for board leaders. I have played this role for some time and I know that if there is a subject that triggers and makes the board discuss it is if I debate the layout of the premises where the distribution of the products takes place, namely the shops, where everyone talks like when you talk about medicine or history. When, on the other hand, we talk about strategic choices, the discourse between those who throw us a cloud of smoke and those who, conversely, identify solutions becomes much more obvious. There is no doubt that here the diversification of professionalism is fundamental, I am not saying gender, which I now take for granted, on the contrary: I had to make some comments, to the delight of our colleagues, where there was the problem that the least represented gender was the male gender in reality where the statutes spoke of the least represented gender assuming it was the female gender, while vice versa it was the male one.
COSMI: Where? Can you give an example?
MARCHETTI: Unfortunately I can’t say.
COSMI: But the composition of the Board of Directors is public anyway.
MARCHETTI: Yes I know but it was related to a controversy , that is why I cannot speak of it.
FARA: I can give you an example, if you like. Here in Eurispes the majority of our members are women.
MARCHETTI: You are an asset to be protected. This, however, is the major problem. The big issue in societies is to learn to distrust the good man alone in charge. I, frankly, of the man alone in charge, with excessive powers, not assisted by people who have wide-ranging diagnostic ability, am wary because even the best man in charge – we have seen it in history and in so many enterprises – at some point can make mistakes as everyone does. That is why the good man in charge must be surrounded not only by “yes men” but also by “no men”. An example in this regard. You all remember a very dear friend of mine who was Minister of Economy and at the European Bank, Tommaso Padoa Schioppa, who started working at the Bank of Italy, when Carli was Governor. He was in the study office, just arrived, and they had a meeting on how to place government bonds. He timidly raised his hand and made an innovative proposal, but it aroused a scowl in the group of people present. The next day he received a call from Governor Carli, convinced that this would be the end of his time at the Bank of Italy. Instead, the Governor called him because he had reevaluated certain aspects of the proposal that he found interesting and wanted to discuss. Here, this describes well the attitude of the business leader not to be characterized, as in the army of yesteryear, by word of mouth that has to go uniformly from the top to the bottom but, vice versa, a place where one evaluates new proposals from one’s employees, asking employees to be critical, stimulating that curiosity and sense of innovation that is necessary. This then leads us to so many practical attitudes. When I had students at the university in the exam rejecting a 26 stating that they wanted to come back for a higher grade I always advised them to accept the grade, go home and immerse themselves in a good book of fiction or a good movie or play. Better to have a differentiated culture, better to finish work at 6:00 p.m. instead of midnight and afterwards read some books, go to some shows, than being the “stone bottom” who just stays there until his physical capacity is exhausted. This is also a methodology that I believe the good leader must have in order for him to be a forge of a leadership class. I would like to conclude by emphasizing that the problem of the ruling class is one that we suffer from every day. I do not want to debunk politics, but that is the issue today. When faced with the Prime Minister having a very interesting resume, the question everyone is asking is “does he have a ruling class next to him adequate to carry this weight?”; a question posed today as it was a few years ago and which shows that this is a central point. Main point that you have highlighted very well in your illustration of the various case histories and that goes through moments that go back, go into the school, into private behavior, into the culture in the Anglo-Saxon sense, that is, the habits of living. This is, in my opinion, the beauty of the topic of human capital and talent development, which is not something related to the more or less advanced course, but it is something that involves being a man, being a woman, how to live, how to relate to everyone else across the board. Sorry maybe I was a little too long.
COSMI: I switch to Massimiliano Cannata with the dichotomies we were talking about.
CANNATA: I would like to thank Benedetta and President Fara for such wonderful opportunities of discussion. You know that I am a communicator, I have a background in philosophy and I have been listening to all of you with great interest. My job today is to take notes because a lot of very stimulating insights have emerged and are still emerging from a discussion seminar like this. For this workshop I put together some notes that I wanted to compare and to submit to you. The whole set list, if a set list can exist, was turned upside down whilst listening to your speeches. Allow me, Benedetta, to respond as well to a couple of solicitations that came from the various speakers today. Listening to Marchetti reminded me of the teaching – we share this concern for the type of culture and the world of culture with President Fara – of Father Sorge. Father Sorge spoke of a ruling class that is up to the task, of men of synthesis, and this is precisely the profile that Dr Marchetti spoke of earlier. Men capable of standing between the past and the future, capable of being vigilant in reading the present, not passive, not ideologically enslaved, not reluctant. This critical spirit comes from an awareness of one’s own identity and is a long process of construction. In this task of construction – as was very well said at the launch of Eurispes’ work on education and school system – the problem of training time is fundamental. Noseda spoke of failures. Philosophical training forces me to recall Popper’s teaching that we should always bear in mind. That is, falsification is the prelude, it is the benchmark of science. A priori attitudes, the idea of having the truth in one’s pocket and having to reveal it to others is a very serious mistake that an educator cannot make and that the learners themselves, in a work of method as Marchetti said, need to instil. We need to strengthen this method of openness, another aspect that must characterise the ruling class. Obviously these elements have been somewhat lacking in the progress we have had in recent years, a progress, as Noseda rightly said, that is powerfully technological, but Severino was right to say that this will to power without adequate training is extremely dangerous as we turn the instrument from a tool into an end. Hence, it is the critical attitude that must be overturned, in order to arrive at a governance of technology, a governance of innovation and meritocracy. The theme of identity was also mentioned. The subject of belonging to a company today is a project-related affiliation, not one of closed identity. This passage that Noseda mentioned is very interesting and could also be developed in the Italy Report but also in the School Report. We must move towards the development of open identities, as the school of complexity has taught us to understand and also trained us to see. This is why the debate on the ruling class cannot ignore current events and makes us realise how difficult it is to read not only the country Italy, but Europe at this time. In recent days people are talking about Quatargate. Quatargate shows how the ruling class is still unsettled by the worm of corruption. Here is the ethical issue: if we do not rid the ruling class of corruption and bribery, we will not have a ruling class. This is an essential requirement that President Fara has insisted on several times and not only during the presentation of this year’s Italy Report, but also in last year’s one. I would like to recall by quoting literally what the President said: «We are suffering from the syndrome of rejection of anything that appeals to quality, a singular phenomenon that comes from afar but today has taken on the contours of structural drift». Almost an adverse selection, there is not a search for quality, talent, merit, as was mentioned earlier, but almost a fear of excellence, of intelligence, as if a mechanism of top-down closure is triggered in those in power, which leads them to be afraid of the circulation and confrontation of new types of intelligence and therefore of the circulation of knowledge. All these concepts are strongly contradictory compared to what we are trying to affirm, say and achieve in an Italy in which we would like to be adequate and ready to win the challenges of competitiveness and innovation. The moral issue has been buried, it was recalled just today in Corriere della Sera, in a background article, reflecting precisely on corruption in Europe. Unfortunately, one can see that the moral issue has been put to one side. It should be, instead, the central theme of a reality that we must try to change in order to look with that optimism that you, Benedetta, said is important, that positive spirit. That positive spirit, in order not to be superficial optimism, must be built on ideas, on projects, on the country we want, on the company we want.
COSMI: Let’s take advantage of the last few minutes with the notary. I liked to engage him on this last passage you mentioned. He has seen plenty of attempts at the Italy that we wanted to be. In the meantime, in which one did you find yourself most uncomfortable and at what stage do you imagine us to be in relation to the Italy we want to become, starting from the issues that makes you most uncomfortable, thus including publishing, companies, politics? Even Milan itself, the idea of one man in charge comes to mind. The councillors are probably no match for the Mayor, this is a more local provocation, even though Milan is a national symbol. Now there is this fashion of saying that whoever looks at Milan does not look at the rest of the country, perhaps one should look at the rest of the country first because Milan today gives us the restitution of the fact that if it is falling slightly behind, it puts us back in step with the questions of the rest of the world. When everything was going too well we didn’t even understand this gap between us and the rest of the world, but now it is the measure to grasp it. When we can afford the challenges and when we allow ourselves to hold back.
MARCHETTI: I like it in Milan and I believe it is a sensitive city, moving much further ahead than elsewhere. I believe that there is a remarkable vivacity, although it seems to me that it is more a vivacity of the community than the political ruling class. Let me give you an example. I took part in a debate some time ago about a book. There was a person who came and introduced me to another one, and I asked «what are you involved in?» and this person replied «I am in charge of the financial administration sector of the Democratic Party». I spend time in these circles and I had never heard anything like that. This applies to the counterpart of other parties. This strikes me as quite a serious matter. An advancement of society in its various articulations that is not matched by an equally strong progress of the city’s political frameworks. When I have been good and when I have been worse. This is difficult to say because I have always been in a privileged position, the son of professionals, in an intellectual environment, I have never had any burning economic problems, although I have seen a lot of people. I have to say that, in general, the best times depended a lot on the people I met during those years. With Prof. Monti I often had critical conversations and I never approved of his decision to enter politics by presenting his own list, but for example at Bocconi University I had feelings of exclusion for having certain ideas or of criticism because at times Bocconi had first-class or excessively competitive attitudes in this regard. I criticised them and felt uncomfortable. So altogether I have to say that the best times where those when Milan was more open to others, to Europe, to intellectual experiences, times when it had the good fortune to be around people with remarkable openness and diversification.
COSMI: So what Italy do you expect?
MARCHETTI: I expect an Italy in which we will have to put a lot of effort and bring forward the things we say. I’ll tell you my state of mind: I can’t stand witnessing discussions on the Pos and seeing people hanging from the cranes. I don’t want a country where we mobilise on the Pos and where we struggle to shout no to these monstrosities. I don’t want a country that goes in this direction. A country that forgets the big scenarios, the tragedies, the fact that we are all born to live as well as possible. I don’t see it as easy, for many reasons not only political but also related to the various digital and metaverse aspects and I don’t want to be reduced to a being without eyes, brain, etc. These will be years of hard work, not rest.
COSMI: This international appeal is interesting and, if you like, that is what human capital is all about: understanding the challenges, the injustices, the discrimination, the impossibility of being oneself. Iran has also given a strong shock to the Western world, prompting it to take a stand alongside those who are rebelling and to reflect on how these years will be recounted in the future. Companies are also increasingly taking sides, starting with advertising, in stating their positions. And we conclude with a reflection on the gender aspect, which needs to be rebalanced in both directions.
STEFINI: I wanted to pick up on a word that was mentioned earlier: courage. It is an important word that must be expressed in order to give a vision for the future that is truly purposeful and becomes sustainable in terms of its ability to survive and have a meaningful impact over the years. I see courage as a fundamental characteristic in companies and in our ruling class. Regarding inclusion and gender, I would like to go back to what we mean by merit: for us at the Forum, it is an aspect that begins with fairness of starting conditions and inclusion, and means the absence of preclusion. Merit must be a way for everyone to have a chance to emerge. How this manifests itself requires transparency on how choices are made and the ability to measure them; merit must be evaluated, there must be criteria, rules, definitions that must remain consistent and transparent over time, before judgement is passed. If these conditions are in place, by natural force, the best talents emerge and among them there would probably be more women in an active role than now. Despite the fact that there are several women on the boards, partly because of a law, we still have a very low female presence in management and in many other areas of business. Merit, therefore, would bring more women into active roles and probably bring different men into active roles. Let us not assume that meritocracy has worked well in the male sphere and has excluded women. There has been a problem over the years, conventionally, because it is natural to always choose those who look like us and to be frightened by those who are different and could bring disorder into the decision-making process. This may have excluded women but certainly also courageous and visionary men. The number one battle lies in inclusion and transparency in how decisions are made, how people are chosen and in giving the opportunity to have alternatives. I agree that merit should not translate as “let’s reward the best and exclude everyone else”; each individual must find his or her place. It is a matter of trying to place everybody in the right place, based on how they can best express their talents in the context in which they find themselves, helping them to understand how to use them in the best way. I wish for courage and more long-term vision for this 2023, which I certainly see as very complicated – with civil, humanitarian, economic and social crises.
COSMI: Let us finish with Maximilian, who helps us to draw some conclusions from both your previous intervention and the latest things that have emerged.
CANNATA: Summing up is always an arduous task. I will sum up some aspects both in terms of categories – opposing poles, dichotomies – and in terms of key words. Meanwhile, some words are “competence”, “good governance”, “transparency”, “quality of elites”, “merit”, “democratic participation”. These are all interrelated concepts and if we were to separate them as if they were part of watertight compartments we would, of course, be wrong and that is what we have been and continue to get wrong in this difficult phase. “Better means transparency” was said earlier; the very transparency that is missing and has been missing in this new big dust storm that is sweeping the ruling class in Europe. This extremely serious aspect has primarily moral as well as economic consequences, because we are betraying the great vision that the fathers of Europe had, and we are once again faced with this profound discrepancy in the European dream between campaign slogans and the actual reality – as Machiavelli would have said – which is made up of quite different things. When drawing up the studies we are going to do, we must bear in mind the strong interrelationship that exists between these aspects and always ask ourselves what it takes to be truly human. When we betray this fundamental ethical question, we do not respond to our professional duties and tasks, in whatever sphere these are to be performed: company, school, enterprise. Today’s debate is itself a dichotomy, because “ruling class” and “human capital” are two different concepts. We must presuppose an upward movement of a human capital that we are able to elevate to the ruling class; for this we need investment, rigorous training, open-mindedness, respect for skills, the ability to reward talent without creating that dichotomy enunciated by the President of the Corriere della Sera Foundation that would result in “saved/damned”. Therefore, returning to the subject of elites: they must certainly be included in the “preservation/change” relationship, because a major problem of our ruling class is that it remains “entrenched”, it doesn’t look ahead, and this happens both in the political and managerial ruling classes. Little innovation, few start-ups, we have very important excellences, yet we know that they are punctuated, isolated; small realities that struggle to make a system and, above all, the system is not an innovative one as it tends to be a conservative model. Bauman said it very well in his essay Retrotopia, this looking back without the ability to look forward. It is a very strong but interesting oxymoron, because the utopia that is peppered with backward thinking is a negative one, it is a strange utopia that does not encourage us, that does not inspire us with a positive dream, but makes us stop in our positions. A further dichotomy is the one of “Presence/Absence”, as we had, for example, with the fire of Tangentopoli, the illusion that one ruling class could be beheaded and we imagined that another could be built. However, without a constructive assumption and a truly enlightened pars destruens we were faced with a vacuum. This void was then filled with populism, as mentioned earlier, which was filled by non-politics, and in companies it is often filled by the absence of corporate governance skills. Regarding enterprise, Dioguardi, a great connoisseur of innovation and professor emeritus of the University of Calabria, has written quite clearly, saying that enterprise today is an encyclopaedia, it is made up of multi-ethnic capital that speaks different languages and possesses transversal training. We have to be able not only to respect these differences, but to make them grow into a managerial class, then make them into management, and in this case too there is a process. so the reasoning becomes tripolar: “managerial class”, “human capital”, “merit”. An ambivalent term, analysed very well by the Forum of Meritocracy, which also hosted an interesting speech by Marco Santambrogio, who wrote an essay on the “sickness of merit”, exactly because there is an underlying ambiguity within this term, and this helps us to introduce another dichotomy: “Backwardness/Modernity”. If we are crushed by the present – as Giuseppe De Rita pointed out very well in an essay a few years ago, and he knows something about Italian society – we will not know how to read this complex category of modernity, and we won’t be able to read it in the right terms either, thus remaining unable to answer the basic questions. Essential questions that have emerged in this discussion and are already emerging in the preparation of the Eurispes Report on schools. A first question is the one about rebuilding the education system. If we do not rethink the education system what ruling class would we be building? A hundred years after the Gentile reform, which nonetheless formed that ruling class that determined Italy’s decisive choice for the West – at that time a decisive choice – and then formed the ruling class that allowed the country to turn from rural to industrial. A great epochal step. Are we capable a hundred years after that experience of rethinking the appropriate education system? And when we look back, why do we only do so in a spirit of erudition, without being able to grasp the interesting signs that history scattered and gave us, in a country like ours that was able to “make the leap” during critical moments. Where do we place the ethical aspect in this reflection? Because we still see it as crucial in current affairs. Another category to be introduced: “unity/multiplicity”. If we look at the ruling class as a category of unity, therefore in a simplistic view, we would have a hierarchical, asphyxiated ruling class, which does not give others the chance to introduce themselves; it becomes autocracy – as former President of the Chamber of Deputies, Luciano Violante, reflected interestingly in a recent discussion and in a very interesting essay entitled Insegna Creonte, recently published by Il Mulino. We realise that if this movement of elite selection becomes exclusionary and closed, it becomes autocracy and crushes democratic participation, denying young people even the chance to join in; we thus talk about young people but in reality we don’t want them in the control room. Another question is what will be the places of confrontation. If the agencies of meaning, the places of confrontation that make the collective body grow, mature – a collective body so distressed, dislocated, in difficulty as it already appears today – are in turmoil, where will it be possible to find a moment of confrontation? In the digital agora, it can have a moment of confrontation. We ourselves, today, are speaking through an extraordinary medium, we are distant but we are engaging in agora, we are forming community. But there cannot be this community merely to respond to the great needs of Generation Z, which is hungry for things. The image of the child pulling on his father’s jacket, to understand, with the curiosity to go further, is beautiful. If we could satisfy that curiosity while respecting the alterity, in that “saturated immanence” – in the words of philosopher Donatella Di Cesari – that crushes alterity and diversity and makes us self-confident. This is not the education we want and the School Report will investigate why this is not happening. Does it depend on teacher training? Does it depend on a Ministry that outdated itself and needs to be rethought? Why do we stop at the label and not go to the substance? We had a debate on the naming of the new Ministry: Education and Merit. The problem is not to stick a label on the Ministry. The problem is to understand how these concepts can be freed from ideology in order to, by transcending alignments, become an element of discussion and growth. In this contrast, why introduce, I was saying, space and time. Because the time required for the education and growth of an entire ruling class is a very long, it is not the immediate time of the net. It is not that instantaneousness that seems to be resolved in a click. We parents must resign ourselves to this too, when we cannot keep up with our children, and realise that growth is an incredible process that cannot be shortened. Neither can democracy be reduced to a shortcut one. Democracy is a complex gesture, it has been a labour of thought of people who have fought for it. Sometimes we forget this and think that education can have an instantaneous time. So the category of time is fundamental and the one of space as well, because we need to create an environment, an ecosystem to learn, to innovate and to experiment. If this is a closed and asphyxiated space, we will have a vertically oriented ruling class, we will have an autocracy in the long run, not an autocracy, we will have closed and not open schools, we will have merit misunderstood. We know from the data that the social lift has been blocked for some time now and today we realise, and is a dramatic aspect, that in the past the son of the artisan would also become a magistrate or notary or even President of the Court of Auditors. This fantastic cursus honorum, largely attributable to the gifts of intelligence, is almost impossible today. Since there is not that equality in the starting conditions, it is then difficult to take a quantum leap. So we need to review the education system also as a right to study, as a great aspect of implementing the principle of equality that is written in the Constitution. As you can see, the dichotomies increase, as there is also the dichotomy of freedom/equality, a dichotomy on which Norberto Bobbio gave masterly lessons on this aspect, so that these categories do not become right-wing or left-wing, but for them to be addressed with the right objectivity, it is fair to give equal starting conditions and just gratification to the talents that truly deserve it in a circulation of intelligences. This gives rise to that Italy, that good society, which was the underlying theme of the last Eurispes’ Italy Report. This is the good society that we have seen this afternoon, the breath of intelligence. Intelligence is the oxygen of democracy, the spirit of democracy if we really let it express itself, because we can foresee a glimpse of the country that we would like to build. And it is not just an Italian problem. it is a general issue with the ruling classes of Europe. For instance, the number of women: the best performance is in the United States, which has 20 per cent of women in managerial areas and positions of power; the European countries have 12 per cent.
COSMI: And besides, America hasn’t even had a female president yet.
CANNATA: Exactly. These are issues that ought to give us pause for thought when we reflect on the subject of the European ruling classes. Great Britain, Germany and France, which might have what it takes to become a ruling class, are flawed by two particular viruses: the French ruling class tends to be very nationalistic, it clashes with the idea of a Europe that is open to dialogue and of states that can have equal dignity; the German ruling class is very mercantile, we can see this also in trade relations where democracy and business are not exactly the same thing. So we have ruling classes that are basically unprepared, dramatically unprepared, even at European level, not only in our own country-system. The Meritocracy Forum has highlighted the categories of merit in: freedom, transparency, rules, quality of the education system, attractiveness of talent, equal opportunities, social mobility. We have been for many years – I believe this revelation was made in 2015 – in last place, 9 points behind Poland and 45 behind the Scandinavian countries. So if we widen our gaze to the global/local relationship, we see that the ruling classes are affected by common viruses that perhaps we have to an even higher degree but which are also present elsewhere. To find a dimension of optimism we must actually build a country on new foundations that does not deny the past: to have been is the condition for being. We must give real centrality back to the ruling class and to schools, we must stimulate businesses to adopt attitudes that are respectful of the ecosystem, therefore far-sighted, and above all respectful of the territories, because business is the community of a territory, growth, often even dignity. What the great entrepreneurs of the past have represented – Olivetti for example in the Ivrea area, or Ferrero himself who redistributed income in Piedmont – are virtuous examples that show how wealth is made by the community, not by privilege, not by opacity. There is a lot of work on this terrain, and the best minds must be called upon to confront this. Eurispes does it, has always done it and will continue to do so. Michel de Montaigne stated «Better a head well made than a head well filled». Building intelligence, not erudition that weighs down, but the free possibility to create by responding to vocations, as we used to say. Then we would also have that measure of free time that is healthy. Only then would we have an enlightened enterprise in a world that truly has an innovative school. This is the synthesis we must seek. Perhaps I have spoken at length, but this was the message I wanted to deliver, even having taken many notes while you were speaking.
COSMI: Thank you Massimiliamo, you helped us put together the various aspects of many inspiring passages. Going back to the school, to Silvia, it occurred to me that we will probably have other teachers, other men, other headmasters. Now there is actually an invasion of female headmasters, so we are probably creating an overabundance that is affecting the working world as well, because too many women are going to be employed in the school and not elsewhere, and conversely far too few men are working in the education system. What is changing, what kind of stimulus is missing? This is a topic I have already written about, perhaps an equally strong battle on the male gender in schools should be done, because it is taking on unbalanced proportions that may not be good for the society of education, the society of human capital.
STEFINI: I agree on this point. It is precisely the issue of having balanced positions in all professions that the people who are best suited for a number of aspects, which may be values, skills and those who are best suited for a certain type of position, must emerge. This is not always the case. So if you can be absolutely transparent and strict about these criteria you would certainly have a more proportional rebalancing between men and women in each profession. There is a lot of male talent that is no longer looking at school as a professional opportunity because maybe other aspects are missing, so this is a wake-up call. Gender balance is just that, in my opinion.
COSMI: Perfect. President, thank you again.
FARA: Thank you, it was a very interesting afternoon. As you will have seen I was only away for a few minutes, I followed all the speeches with great interest and participation. Extremely interesting things were said and let’s say that in some ways you have outlined the shape of the next Italy Report. You will see when it is published how your suggestions, your reflections have been collected and valued. Thank you for your participation. A special thanks to Benedetta for her commitment to this project. Thank you all and have a good day.
COSMI: Thank you for accepting the invitation, for animating the Laboratory in this way and hopefully changing the country in the direction of meritocracy.