The Italian crisis and the wait for Godot

July 12, 2013 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Estragon: Well, shall we go?
Vladimir: Yes, let’s go. (They do not move.)

A crisis is a crucial point, a turning point, a situation that demands change or reaction in order to resolve the situation.

The current European crisis is said to be the worst in history, yet, the overall behaviour, which lacks any proper reaction and indeed, any action, is making matters worse. The European Union Times states that Italy has been the slowest growing economy in the Eurozone over the past 10 years. The recession has been progressing for two years and the situation is forcing people, especially the young and educated, to leave sometimes severely depleting family life savings. The country is now in the hands of one of the oldest elite classes in Europe: with a newly elected president aged 88 and a ruling class made up of individuals well over 60 years of age.

ISTAT, the National Statistics Agency, has released its report early in May providing a scary picture: almost 15 million people, slightly less than 25% of Italy’s population, are living in households that meet three or more of ISTAT’s poverty indicators. Over 15 million Italians are seriously affected by the economic crisis and over 8.6 million people – around 14% of the total population – are facing serious problems. According to Federconsumatori, over 9 million people have given up their healthcare and various organisations complain about the poor nutrition amongst those people. These numbers have doubled in less than two years, taking Italy into one of the worst ever situations the country has faced in living memory.

Italy’s unemployment rate has now reached its highest level over the past three years, being as high as 10.8%.

This is not the picture anyone would expect to see in one of the original G6 countries that founded the G6 forum during the summit at Château de Rambouillet in 1975: at that time, these six founding countries were the wealthiest nations on earth.

Italy, considered one of the Eurozone’s biggest economies, is left seriously compromised by the current crisis. The ability to alter this situation appears to have dissipated.

“Italy needs a new perspective” says Mr. Ferdinando Pillon, senior strategy consultant for top companies, “although managers clearly see that what they are doing is not producing the expected results, since they have already put so much efforts in doing what they have been doing, they prefer to go ahead not to waste their work and not admitting that they were wrong”.

Victims of excessive egos, the ruling class is letting the country sink, unable to take responsibility for the current situation and lacking the integrity to admit to the existence of the crisis.

“Everyone sees what others have to change, everyone has the solutions for others, but the so claimed innovation, so warmly supported by those gurus will be vanished because of the divisions” adds Mr Pillon. “Solutions are always expected to come from others’ – in a reality that surpasses Beckett’s comedy [Waiting for Godot], Italians wait for innovation to come to them like a miracle from heaven.”

Where is the invention, the courage of Italians willing to mock the existing reality to produce new concepts and ideas? The main issue is highlighted in Mr Pillon words: It’s never about us, the problem is with others.

It is the image of a fragmented country that relies on accessing public funding or on a financial bailout to survive. The ruling class already knows that regardless of what they say or do, they will always be bailed out and their behaviour excused.

“We need to stop relying on funding and investments, we need to focus on quality” says Mr Antonio Santangelo, a journalist and communications consultant.

We are waiting for Godot, yet it remains to be clarified if the Italian Godot is the collapse of the system or the much hoped for change.

Like in Beckett’s tragicomedy, Estragon and Vladimir talk about Godot and spend their time deciding what to do, just as Italians are doing.

The reputation of Italy has dramatically fallen and foreign investments are dropping. Recently the American Chamber in Italy presented the results of Italian competitiveness for the US market: 33 top US managers were interviewed and 88% declared that inefficiency of public institutions presents the main obstacle to investing in Italy.

Bureaucracy, the system where individuals are controlled in their efficiency in reaching the goal, has turned into the perfect alibi to justify the stagnation and the collective lack of responsibility. The control system that screens choices and decisions, and requires everything to be justified and proven, has created a perfect system where no one is responsible. All decisions result by putting in place the same routine practices, removing any critical thinking and taking away the role of the individual and the awareness that change comes through an individual’s actions and ideas.

Leading Italian Universities are tackling the crisis by increasing the choice of courses that provide training in new specialties such as content analysts, reputation managers, community managers, content specialists, conversation agents, creative engagers. Extremely vertical profiles like these will provide the perfect gearing towards an even more bureaucratic system at a time when Italy especially needs vision and a broad and critical approach to the problems it faces. Experienced professionals are facing hardship because their progressive and original outlook is no longer valued.

A broad vision that offers solutions or suggests change is seen as a threat to the burgeoning bureaucracy. Meanwhile the country faces years of crisis educating new so-called ‘professionals’ who will be a safe bet for organisations thanks to their lack of vision.

In Italy today, if investments are made, they generally rely on political lobbies that have no real interest in changing things and seek only to maintain their leadership. The main actors now on stage are the same individuals who have been present year after year for decades. Italy’s ruling class is the oldest in the world, with an average age of 59 and with one of the lowest education levels in Europe: only 31% of Italian leaders have a masters degree. University professors are on average 63 years old and banks’ and financial CEOs are around 70 years old, according to a Coldiretti/Gruppo 2013 study published earlier this year.

Italy focuses on short term tactics and lacks an overall strategy: if the goal is to justify roles, investments and positions, then a safe tactic is to show that something has changed, regardless of whether this is no more than the name on a business card. A tactic as an isolated contingent action is useless, unless it forms part of a structured strategy.

Since innovation comes from people, creative people are the key. Overpaid managers demand creativity and original approaches but hire safe individuals with well structured and standardised CVs that tick the right boxes, or more commonly have the right connections. There is no room for creative and inventive individuals, “Innovative and creative Italians are hired abroad, not here”, as Mr Pillon says.

Nobody is prepared to risk hiring someone who questions the status quo, who could drive through change and who might not tick the boxes, because this would lead to the acceptance of individual responsibility that the bureaucracy has driven out of the system.

“Countries can change only through people, through people that are able to leave wrong ideologies behind and make innovation happen” says Mr Pillon.

“Italy cannot innovate, we rely on selfishness and individualism. We always tend to shift the blame on someone else”.

If innovation is a mindset, as Mr Pillon says, if it is made by people and though people. The ruling class is wastefully waiting for Godot. They fritter away money in time-consuming, expensive and unsuccessful projects.

This is the result of a system based on acquired rights that no one wishes to relinquish. By increasing the bureaucratic system and relying on hidden allies, the Italian ruling class has been unchanged, aloof and sheltered for decades.

Just like in Waiting for Godot, when Estragon suggests to Vladimir that they go and Vladimir agrees, they do not move.

Yet, while Beckett’s character Godot remains a mystery in the play, Italy may face a different Godot soon. Take a seat, the solution to Italy’s crisis “won’t come this evening but it’ll come tomorrow” whether in the form of action or final defeat.


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This post was written by Patrizia Bertini

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