Is “Influencer” even worse than “Disruption” ?

I am hardly appreciative of the prose of this newspaper: rabid, extremist, abrasive in general it makes me stop reading halfway through.

The topic however is interesting, as it calls one of the big bluffs of modern marketing, i.e. the role of influencers.

Let me start with a disclaimer: I am absolutely convinced the concept of “influencer” is a sound one: I get influenced by other people in my opinion-forming process, and I am convinced so we all do.

For example, my opinions in foreign policy are influenced by Sergio Romano, in distributed computing by Werner Vogels, in divulgation of physics by Richard Feynman, in mobile phones by Tomi Ahonen, in macroeconomy by Thomas Piketty, in Open Source by Eric S. Raymond. But on tractor lawnmowers I am influenced by Beppe (whose surname I don’t know), in heat pumps by Stix66 (whose name AND surname I don’t know).

How did I choose my influencers?

Well, like we all do: I came across some of their commentary on topics that were relevant to me: I appreciated the quality of commentary, shrewdness of perception or analysis to the point it made me read more, listen more, watch more.

They are my useful beacons of knowledge I can turn to when something related to their domain comes across my stream, and contribute to shape my understanding of those domains.

In other words, the concept of “influencer” is IMHO completely centered on the influenced. Just how ridiculous it is to instead focus on the influencer?

influencerIf influencers are chosen by their own audience on the basis of what they say or write, how can someone be an influencer tout court?

Influencer in what?

Influencer to whom?

This is another attempt to paint a coat of “modern” on very old marketing: we say that we embrace the concept of “segment of one”, but we don’t want to take the trouble to really understand it, so we look for proxies that will make our life easier.

We say that we want to engage in individual conversations, but the old world of cozy relationships with the anointed media through a highly specialised department was much easier to deal with and – most importantly – to control.

Another consequence is that the arrow of the influencer → influenced relationship is monodirectional: I can say mr. X influences me, but mr. X cannot say he influences me. Is like being cool. Your friends can say you are cool, but saying it about yourself is desperately, utterly uncool.

Which casts a wannabe light on anyone whose bio includes this qualification.Screenshot 2016-04-22 11.35.18

Take my good friend Sean Gardner (@2morrowknight): he is a Twitter star, has a million followers, but do you see the word “Influencer” in his bio? Well, me neither.

So, how do you find the “real” influencers? Can you work with them? Does the expression “influencer marketing” carry ANY meaning?

The answers to all these questions is “Yes” if you don’t cut corners.

“Influencers” cannot be separated from “Domains”, so the first thing you need is a clear domain map; once you have this map (or Ontology if you like unusual words) you will pepper it with influencers and once you have this enhanced map you can devise you own content strategy to engage them – and their audience – in a relevant way.

But that is the subject of another post or two

So long, Boris!

Today Boris, our beautiful 5yo Cane Corso passed away suddenly: apparently he suffered from a stomach torsion that took him in a few hours.

Here you see him on the very day he arrived about four years ago, while he gets acquainted with Bellatrix, our blonde Bullmastiff who is now shell-shocked like the rest of the family.

Not the first time we lose a pet, and not the first sudden death, but I still can’t believe I won’t be greeted by his black striped lumbering frame when I arrive home tonight. Despite the size, Boris was the gentlest of dogs, always playful and happy to see us.

He certainly was an escape artist, and I had to pick him up a few times at the local Dog Rescue Unit after he took advantage of a delivery man or a plumber leaving the gate ajar. Each time he looked at me with a remorseful gaze as if saying “I swear I won’t do this again”,  but each time I knew he was lying.

He was never fast enough to catch to stray hares which trespassed in our garden, but he did his best to scare off moles and rats.

I am sure there are plenty of red balls for playing catch where you are now, my friend, enjoy !!!

Geneva bound

Big day tomorrow: together with Yanina Dubeykovskaya, President of the WCF Association, I will be in Geneva to meet mr. Ahmad Fawzi, Director of the United Nations Information Services.

UN Geneva


Many opportunities for collaboration are on the table, but I do have my own secret objective: to get the U.N. Organization to support the part of the 2017 WCF Program I have been asked to design:

“Communications to overcome religious differences”

In this age of rampant radicalism, I believe that the faithful of the world together with agnostics share a set of fundamental values we all can build upon through dialogue.

I think that learning about other faiths does not make one less religious; it makes one more aware of other ways to look at the same fundamental issues and challenges. And, as we all know, it is much more difficult to hate someone you had a good chat with.

Wish me good luck!

Gianni’s Charity BBQ

This is to explain the rules governing this event.

  1. Charity BBQs are called at my house with a totally unpredictable frequency, during the good season. Typically one is called in June and another in September (as part of my #birthdaypledge program).
  2. Attendance is open to all: I usually put up a Facebook event to get an idea of how many will participate and make sure there’s enough food, so please be nice and register. This includes also people who are vegetarian or even vegan, as there’s plenty of grilled vegetables if you don’t fancy pork.
  3. (Loud) music is to my unique judgement and includes healthy doses of hard rock, grunge, prog but also brit rock, hip-hop and anything else which catched my fancy since the ’70s. In this post you can find last year’s playlist.
  4. My BBQ maxes at around 70/80 people, but the garden could accommodate many more – this means that if someone volunteered to co-cook (bringing their own BBQ equipment) we could accept more guests. Please shout if you’re interested.
  5. Food and drinks are free, but you are requested to pay an €10 rent for your chair. This money goes to a Charity which I will announce in due course on the Facebook event. Past beneficiaries included PaviaAIL, the local chapter of the national association for the fight against Leukemia and Caritas Diocesana to support their work in favour of Syrian refugees.
  6. Free parking is available, but not in the same place as last year, as we had  a couple of broken car windows, so we’ll use the nearby cemetery parking lot which is much less isolated.

Get ready!

The joy of explaining

One of my personal heroes is Nobel laureate Richard P. Feynman.Feynman + apple

My University course included an exhilarating amount of Physics, but having majored in Classical Literature I was lacking the vast majority of preparatory studies which I had to do on my own.

Appreciative of my struggle, one of my teachers was kind enough to advise me to use prof. Feynman’ Physics course as a support textbook; at that time I did not know he smoked pot, played bongos and picked locks as a hobby, but in reading his lessons I found myself attracted to his figure.

Even after I graduated in Nuclear Engineering, despite the fact I never practiced it, I retained a vivid interest in Physics, and I continued to read Feynman’s books and lessons, as my admiration became deeper and deeper: the above ad contributed, no doubt, to make me switch from Windows to Apple.

In fact I thought I had read and watched everything that exists by dr. Feynman or about dr. Feynman. But I was wrong.

Today my good friend Geoffrey Rowan (thank you!) puts on my Facebook stream a priceless interview where the professor essentially refuses to explain to a BBC journalists why magnets behave the way they do because – he says – “I cannot explain this in terms of anything that’s familiar to you”.

First of all, regardless of how much you understand or love Physics, you owe it to yourself to watch the interview.

You may think dr. Feynman is belittling the journalist’ preparation in physics, but he is not. In fact there is another tale that helps shed light on the importance he gave to explaining things in rigorous way.

At the end of a lesson in Princeton, one of his freshman students approached him with a question. The professor said: “This is a very good question. So good, in fact, I will prepare a whole lesson on it.”

Time passed, and the lesson did not come, so the student came back to Feynman to ask whether he had forgotten about it.

Professor Feynman said: “No, I haven’t forgotten. But I realized I cannot explain what you asked in terms that a freshman can understand. This means we don’t fully understand this particular phenomenon, yet!”

That statement implicitly defines what the man thought the importance of Physics was for the ordinary person:

Reality can only be explained to someone who understand Physics at the freshman level.

Study, kids of the world, study !


What is provincialism?

Literally, it is an excessive focus on your little walled garden, without knowing (or being sensitive about) anything just outside it.

It can pop up in everyday behaviour and it’s typical of people with little or no abroad experience, and the use (or misuse) of language exposes the victim to fails of epic proportions.

Textbooks are filled with examples: badly translated signs, gross translation mistakes always make for a good laugh.

fresh crap

One hardly expect this in the context of the financial community, where language is used with the utmost care, and when the context does not call for venturing in uncharted language territory.

The article you see below (click the image for live version) appeared on and reports about the Social Capital Markets Conference held in San Francisco being about to introduce a new word, merging  “Accelerator” and “Incubators” and resulting in a neologism that is making every reader who is Italian or of Italian descent roll on the floor laughing out loud.

While you’re not likely to find the word in any proper dictionary of the Italian language (therefore I had to forge the vocabulary entry you see below), every kid above 4 knows exactly what the word means, and it’s hardly conducive of the concepts the authors imagined.

2016-04-07 devex impact inculator annotato.001

Fresh crap, indeed!

P.S. thanks to Claudio Marchiondelli for the find!!!


Panama Papers: what can each of us do?

11.5 million documents, 2.6 terabytes of information.

The Panama Papers are a huge archive, probably way too big for each of us to digest. We can however do something on our own.

The people at SüdDeutsche Zeitung (@SZ), the newspaper who received the leak, has set up a special dedicated site where they will report what they find as they continue digging in this mountain of information.

Today’s article, for example, is about Iceland, a country whose new government was heralded as the champions of the small guy against Big Bad Banks: well, it turns out that allegedly not everyone in that government wore a shining white armour…

Screenshot 2016-04-04 13.40.22

So, back to what each of us can do.

  1. We can give our clicks to @SZ by reading the special site every morning: build that in your breakfast routine, maybe taking some time off kittens and quizzes. This will improve @SZ’s ad ratings and help pay for their investigative work.
  2. We can use our social graph to spread the news to our connections: this is only as powerful as we want it to be, and we owe it to ourselves and out children to use our social connections for something as good as this.
  3. We can read. Perhaps this is the most important thing, because the best journalism in the world will not do a thing if people don’t take the time to understand.

Good reading!

Good Ads

The music is romantic, her voice is soft.

“I remember everything about the evening he proposed me: what I was wearing, what he was wearing, which restaurant we went to, what we ate.

It’s been a fantastic journey and I’d do it all over again. Every single thing.

With and exception maybe. I would not send him that Good Anniversary SMS while driving because, you know, I’d still be alive now!”

This ad is part of a campaign launched by the Italian Ministry of Transportation; there are three or four small narratives like that, and they all hit you hard in the stomach because you don’t see them coming.

The second is an ad aired by CNA, an association which supports small entrepreneurs:

BANKER: “Hey, look at that! Who have we got with us today?

ENTREPRENEURS: We’re entrepreneurs! We’re young and enthusiastic…

B: That’s great! Have you got capital?

E: Well, no…

B: No capital? What have you got then?

E: We have great ideas! We will change the world…

B: Ideas! Ha! Ideas!! Ideas come and go, they can’t be weighed, touched, tasted. There’s not such a thing as free lunch, you know? This is a BANK, dudes, not CNA!

Again, you don’t see it coming and the way the Banker character changes his voice from supporting and enthusiastic to cold and heartless is absolutely spot on.

Creativity is not dead, thanks God!

Do Computers belong in Schools?

I have been asked several times whether I believe Computers belong in Schools, especially by friends who already know my answer and like to stir controversy.

I believe computers are extremely useful TOOLS to support teaching, but should not be attributed a single hour of the curriculum as TEACHING TOPICS.

I do not believe there is ANY value in a kid learning how a computer works, how to program a computer, or how to design a computer.

Like any tool, it accomplishes a function; like any tool it is being constantly improved and innovated; some tools are of very common use (e.g. your DVD player or microwave oven), some others are reserved for specialists (a vibrator for liquid concrete or a bulldozer).

Nobody is thinking of having an hour or two per week dedicated to microwave ovens or bulldozers, so why make an exception for computers, especially in the light of evidence that shows how any 5yo masters your new smartphone in seconds?

Children are perfectly able to learn by themselves how to use a computer for the things they care about (surfing or playing games) but no, we want them to become masters of Word or PHP wizards.

The mistake however does not lie in the fact that, under the ridiculous pretense of making them more competitive, they would learning stuff that’s already way obsolete (by definition) and which will therefore be of NO PRACTICAL VALUE whatsoever.

No, the real damage is in the trade-off. Add an hour of Computer Programming and you must take out an hour of something else.

Like math.

Like reading or writing.

Like history of geography.

Like literature, poetry, music or art.

Like foreign languages.

Any of those holds in the humble opinion of someone who scraped a living with computers for 40+ years far more value in building a balanced, sensitive, intelligent, curious, tolerant human being than – ugh – a feckin’ computer.