Secrets to thrive in the age of transformation. P&G Alumni Network – Global Conference Madrid 2019

  • On February 26, 2020

In this video, I speak to P&G alumni about the importance of positively embracing digital transformation, and the power that technology has to improve business and society as a whole.


Below you will find a transcript of this video:

So, I need to start with a confession: I am a millennial. We exist. 

Well, I’m not actually a true millennial because I was born in 1983.

I’m looking around the room here – where are the under-40s? Please raise your hand. Hey, very good. So here’s the thing: age is just a number, right? It doesn’t matter. If you’re more than 40 but feel young, hungry, thirsty because you want to learn, raise your hand. Yes! We have the right audience. 

So let me take you back a little bit, to 1983. This was my first computer. Does anyone know the brand? Amstrad.

This was my first computer. I used to play Super Mario. But I also used to do some basic coding with it. I had this book that was pages-long. And I had to type into this computer lines of code to make a calculator – because it didn’t have a calculator. And the problem was that if I got one character wrong (I see some people nodding), you had to write it all over again, and you didn’t know where the mistake was. I guess it’s this thing’s [the Amstrad computer’s) fault that I never wanted to learn how to code. 

Then, later on in the 90s, I got my first Windows PC that was connected with this beautiful thing [an old modem] which made this sound [dial-up sound] when the page was loading.

So, we appreciated time back in the day. Because it took time to just show the page.

And then I joined P&G in 2005, and I met this machine. The fax. The printer. The everything. You’d go to this little machine in the room, and you would send the fax. So I am a millennial, but I worked with fax. And, actually, in 2005 I also worked with Lotus Notes. Anybody? Yeah I know there are some among you that still love Lotus Notes, I know, I know, I know; that’s ok, that’s ok – no problem.

And then something happened in 2007. What happened in 2007? Yeah, this guy happened [YouTube video of famous Steve Jobs iPhone launch plays]. 

So, the iPhone happened in January 2007. And what he [Steve Jobs] says here – the speech is beautiful, if you want to rewatch it: it still gives chills – is that you are fortunate enough in 2007 if you get to work on one of these [an iPhone]. Today we are fortunate because we get to experience many of these [smart phones and new mobile technologies].

So what has happened since 2007? The pace that technology has evolved at – it has affected our lives directly: the iPhone, tablets, faster PCs and so forth. Technology is all around us. 

But here’s the thing. I obviously have my family; I’m from the south of Italy. And my mom – who was born in 1954 – finally started to use the PC – the laptop – we gave her just five years ago. My mom has an average education – this room has an above average education. But she took a generation – 25 years – versus me, to start using the PC. And she did because she was forced. Me and my sister live abroad. We don’t really pick up the phone – actually, if you call me, I probably don’t answer. We text. We Skype. You send me a meeting. So, she had to adapt to be able to talk to us, and now she’s using the PC. But it took her a generation. 

Why? You got the answer to that question this morning: Fear. 

There are several types of fears associated with technology. The fear my mom has is different from yours, but I think it all comes down to a very specific type of fear we have when we are faced with something we don’t understand – it’s the fear of losing control. 

It’s the fear of this thing doing something that I don’t want to be done. And so, when we have fear of losing control – when we start not understanding the environment around us – what happens with our brain? Our brain does a very powerful job. It starts to create ideas. It starts to imagine. It starts to fill in the blanks about how things are supposed to work. So, we come up with our own ideas, concepts, opinions. For example, if I say ‘blockchain’, how many of you would put up your hand and come up on stage to talk about what blockchain is? Any volunteers? OK, four or five people.

But here’s the thing. I bet that later today, in the evening, after a few drinks, if we talk about blockchain you will all have an opinion about it. For sure! Whatever that opinion is, we fill in the blanks we create with our imagination. And we think of technology in ways that sometimes block us from advancing; and from changing. 

So, where is this information coming from? From the media, obviously. It’s a massive amount of data that the media is feeding us, very often creating more fears. And, of course, for somebody like my mother it’s very easy to believe what is said on TV. But it’s not just my mother. It’s all of us. Different types of people are talking about technology in a way that’s not helping us to understand it but rather to fear it. And it’s not just the media. Anybody watching Black Mirror on Netflix? I don’t know how you do it! I find it horrible. Scary. I watched three episodes, and I couldn’t stand it, because I don’t want my brain to be fed with the negativity associated with technology. 

The thing is that human beings are very bad at predicting our future – especially when we don’t understand something we are even worse than predicting our future. I have an example. What if I were to tell you that I could predict, down to the exact second, a future apocalyptic event? One where electricity and water would stop. One where planes would fall from the sky. One where nuclear weapons would be launched. One that would spell the breakdown of society as we know it.

And this event would take place in less than 50-years’ time? What if I were to tell you it was 15 years away? If I were to tell you it was a few months away? Or tomorrow? 

This isn’t just a hypothetical question: this was a real concern people had as the 20th century came to a close. It prompted increased sales in bottled water, canned food and survival items, as the entire world prepared for an incoming unnatural disaster of unprecedented scale. A potential computer error known as the ‘y2k bug’. You remember it? Yeah, the Millennium Bug, I think we called it here in Europe. 

And what happened?

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing happened, because they fixed it. They fixed the programming issue associated with the Millennium Bug.

The point is that we are not good at predicting our future when it comes to technology. We have a very bad track record.

Well, one thing’s for sure, and I think it follows a beautiful pattern: technology is evolving fast.

We’re not going to stop this progress. So stop believing that we can slow it down – it’s not happening. 

Research is there – AI, data, IOT, health. We have massive benefits to take out of technology. We’re not going to slow it down. But we also cannot predict it properly. So how do we address fear? The answer came from a few of the speakers that anticipated me. In a world where the pace of technology follows the exponentials (as Ray Kurzweil said): “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century: it will be more like 20,000 years of progress”.

Now, I love Ray, and the problem with this statement of Ray is that it is from 2001. We’ve come a long way since then. It’s probably not 20,000 years of progress that we’re going to experience – it’s significantly more. So what do we do? I think the only thing we can do is to work on ourselves because the only thing we can truly truly operate is ourselves. We talked about change this morning. 

Now, the funny thing about change is that it’s nothing new. This guy in the picture is a philosopher from 2,500 years ago, Heraclitus. 

And one of the things he said is that ‘the only constant is change’. He said this 2,500 years ago. So, the concept of constantly transforming is nothing new, ladies and gentlemen. But, somehow because our lifespan is short compared to the life of the universe, we forget. And we forget that we are not static individuals. We forget that in this age of accelerated transformation, and that the only constant is change.

What should we change? Our mindsets. 

I like to imagine the brain as a computer; a beautiful massive complex computer. And I like to imagine that we could go into the source code of this computer and read the code shaping our mindsets; our sets of beliefs; our rules; how we make decisions in our lives. And as we read this code, we can identify the faulty lines – and rewrite it. Rewire our mindset. How do we do that? Education; learning; unlearning; relearning. To me, this is the number one and most important secret to really drive home in any age of transformation – especially the current, fast-paced age of transformation. We have to work on our mindset. We have to rewrite our code. We have to change our rules that allow us to take decisions or not take decisions. We have to change how we see the world. How we accept other people; how we accept technology. 

What happens when we don’t change our mindset in the corporate environment? In my daily work, I have the opportunity to coach and consult senior leaders of various organisations. We have a digital transformation consulting practice, and I work with two other fantastic partners here on the transformation of manufacturing.What happens when we, as managers, don’t change our mindset? First, we have an opinion about everything.

Like I said before, we’ll talk about blockchain later. We all have opinions. When we have an opinion about everything because we’re managers, we automatically know it all and we know better. And when we know it all, and we know it better, it’s difficult. As Bracken mentioned this morning, it’s difficult to change their [managers’] mindset because they know it better. Who are you to tell me how to do it?

The third pitfall is one that gets a lot of organisations stuck into immobility: “we’re already doing it”.

When I say digital transformation, 90% of my potential clients say “we’re doing it”; and then I say “Good. Perfect. Let’s look at what you’re doing”. And then when you unpack it, you understand that it’s full of ‘beliefs’ of what they’re doing – and there are opportunities that have to be uncovered and developed.

Now, there is a fourth one [pitfall] that is a tricky one. “Everyone else is doing it”. What do I mean by this? Technology companies like the Googles, Facebooks and Salesforces of this world are selling software solutions to us every day. They are big. They’re massive. They’re thought leaders. So, if the companies they serve are doing it, my company needs their technology as well. Wrong? Do you need it? Does your business need it, or are you just following a trend that makes you feel content and happy? And, at last, when everything fails – when the results are not there – it’s technology’s fault. It’s not – it’s your fault.

So, why? We’ve seen a similar curve today: the immobility in organisations is keeping organisations slow while technology is progressing.

We need plasticity. We need agility. We need adaptability – as individuals; as leaders; and in our team. When you lead a team – when you have employees, when you have co-workers – you want to transfer this to them. Because it’s the collective that has to progress – not just you alone. And this is what I say to my clients (all of them, in the first five minutes of meeting them): “If you want to work on digital transformation, it’s not about technology: it’s about people”.

We have to work on people. Only by working on people can perform the transformation together. So how do we work on people? We work on the mindset – but what is unique to us as individuals? 

Here’s what I think. In the last hundred years, we have seen an incredible amount of progress. Industrialisation has brought us wealth, and has brought poverty down. It’s done magic for humanity. 

But I don’t think that human beings were born to work in factories. I don’t think human beings were born to drive trucks. I don’t think human beings were born to drive to or do repetitive boring jobs. We are more than that: that’s a machine’s job. 

We have been acting as machines for a century. We achieved that, so now we have to move past it. We have to work on the rest of our software, embedded here [Luigi points to his brain] which makes us unique in comparison with the machines around us. Even when they will get to communicate emotionally with us – what is that? It’s this. It’s this set of ‘apps’ you can download in your brain (not from the App Store) – this willingness and desire to develop your social awareness. Your individual awareness. Your self-discovery. Questioning yourself. Being better at being a human being. 

And this is my second secret: “How can you develop these characteristics for yourself; for your kids; for your co-workers; for your teams? How can you invest in doing a better job?”.

And when you start unpacking that code – when you start rewriting that code – what happens is beautiful.

Dr Jack Ma made a brilliant speech last year at the University of Hong Kong. Jack Ma has a brilliant mind, of course, but he’s also a very very simple man and he speaks simple words. And one of the things he said is that, as a society, we’ve been driven in the past by the advancement of knowledge; the competition of knowledge. That competition is gone. Knowledge is accessible. He says: “The future is for a society driven by experiences and creativity”.

And this is what we need to learn to teach ourselves again. And, as we do that, my last secret is an obvious one. Once we unpack the code – once we rewrite our code – once we learn to be human beings – we will want to embrace a lifelong learning journey. No excuses. We must all have the desire and thirst to be young, and to feel young until the final day. 

Thank you




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