Leadership, Design and Communication Innovation – Long Before The Current Digital Era

HE WAS AN EXPERT on Marketing and Business Process Reengineering, working with a prime consulting practice in the UK.

“Could you hold the line please ? I will put you through to the boss”, she said.

“Hi, how are you doing?” The boss asked the consultant.

“Well, and you? You called me?”

“Yeah, when are you coming back home?”

“I don’t know yet. Why you ask?” The consultant said.

“Well, we’re working here with the ‘dynasty’ and there’s people I want you to meet,” the boss said. You need have no worries about coming here, I will also speak to your boss about this.

A couple of weeks later the consultant came back to his home country and met the ‘dynasty’ man. He was only in his late-20s. “Let’s go for a walk in the factory,” he said, “and I’ll show you what I mean. Then we can have a talk about what I want to do with re-engineering this place,” he said.

This young man was the CEO of a company that belonged to a group of enterprises that employed 360,000 workers around the world and had annual sales of over $45 billion.

The consultant and the CEO met many times. A friendship started.

The consultant was intrigued to know how the CEO had developed so strong a vision, wisdom, knowledge, and interpersonal skills, despite his young age.

The CEO told him an incredible story that began one sunny morning in July 1981, when he arrived at the family’s robotics factory under an assumed name as a serviceman to clean the lathe.

He had told his father: “I want to understand the factory from the bottom, I want to understand the people working with us, I don’t want one day to get the top job just because I am the son and nephew of the powerful bosses. I want to be a leader who has got people on his side, and who understands the nuts-and-bolts of the business.”

“Y’know,” he said, “my mom took me to USA in 1974, I went to a School in Chattanooga Tennessee. Then I kept going with a University in Providence, Rhode Island. I wanted to get the complete picture and give free rein to my creativity, but rising through the ranks like anyone else.”

“I like Design an awful lot,” he continued, “and I’m convinced that co-creative intelligence with experienced people, continuous brainstorming both by myself and with others, can give us a breakthrough in innovation through Design. My American education opened my mind to this opportunity.”

“Everyone has ideas. I want to talk them. I want to experience poeple, opinions, and different skills.

I want to create a pool of ideas because I’m sure this will enrich our capability of creating nice, useful, and high-value products that will appeal to lots of customers. Max I want to innovate this company through Design and participation of everyone. I want to create new leaders. I want the management to become a lot more transparent, a lot more willing to listen, a lot more willing to mentor and be reverse-mentored from lower. I am convinced that we must not leave anyone behind.

And I know that one day, this way of thinking will get the upper hand in business.”

“Y’know,” he went on, excitedly, “I created integrated production centers as an elevator concept for communication and ‘design thinking’. We have a huge number of skills here and many more abroad. I want them brought together through group dynamics, aimed at common goals. We need to get our heads out of this building and think differently.”

Paradoxically, it was this CEO’s enterprising spirit, and his determination to carve out a career without relying on family favours, that brought him to the notice of his uncle and led to his official “designation” to the board in 1995.

As the consultant listened to him, he was struck dumb with amazement. “Gee,” he thought to himself, I’ve never heard anyone, especially so young, in such a position, talking this way till now; this guy is definitely inspired.”

He perceived that he was talking to an uncommon guy. But only years later did he realize that he had met an extraordinarily forerunner CEO who was talking about pure Leadership, Values, Design and Innovation.

“Design has an impact to everything we do in this company, and I want to make sense of it. We are joining a new communication and media landscape. I want to apply a new design/communication-based business model, spanning design, just-in-time production, marketing and sales. ”d’you want to work with me?”

The consultant could only say “yes!” It was a unique opportunity for him.

The CEO worked hard to turn around the group’s deficit, relaunching and setting a new global design approach through substantiated design/communication-oriented multi-skill teams.

“Design, Communication, is technology, production, care about details, lateral thinking, experiencing people and potential improvement for business and life.”

Three months later, the consultant saw his BPR analysis through to completion and returned to his company in England.

Today, 20 years later, we need this type of “fresh-air” Leadership and Innovation more than ever, to increasingly engage people and deliver amazing results.

That young CEO was right. He was another Steve Jobs, another Richard Branson.

I was the consultant.

And from that point on, from my age at the time, I began to think of things in a different way. That man reinforced an impression I already had. I clearly realized we needed a different breed of leaders and mentors in order to improve business and society. And I realized that we had to do something ’cause it wasn’t working just as it was.

It is for that that I stand.

Are you inspired by this story? What examples have you seen of True Leadership in action?


Massimo Scalzo
Massimo Scalzo
YOU MIGHT SAY that Massimo advises big and small companies, entrepreneurs and individuals on how to craft digital strategies that get tangible results from their tactics. Which is true. You might even agree with few german managers who called him “gute schlepper” (good tugboat in English) because of his inner strenght of pulling people toward visionary and positive goals. However, neither of these statements would be completely true. The truth is that from his childhood, Massimo was fed and watered to be someone who relates to people, is constructive, multilingual, loves the life and looks at the future. And the most amazing thing that came out of his attitude is the ability of conveying the same feeling to others For nearly twenty eight years he traveled and worked in management consulting in eight countries. His thoughts, notions, ideas, speaking engagements come from more than thirteen years as an entrepreneur and fourteen plus “on the road” for Touche & Ross, Deloitte and PricewaterHouse. On his path, he learned a great deal about customer-driven strategy and transformation, digital marketing and design thinking, working on behalf of a-z roster of clients, e.g. IBM, BMW, Frost & Sullivan, SAP, Oracle, Fiat, Salesforce, Accenture, OpenMinds and many other SMEs in several countries and industries. Massimo lives (as much as he can) in the greater Frankfurt area in Germany. He loves his two kids, Massimo and Amelka, more than anything else.

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  1. Ben, this is one of the the coolest thing I’ve ever read about the subject. Thank you very much.
    Like you, I have a scientific university education, for me two plus two will always equal four.

    Ben, I FULLY identify myself with what you have written. Most likely you are right regarding better hiring procedures. They could be useless, or partially useless,in a way. As you said, it should be a top-down approach, otherwise people would end up being influenced by the control-based status quo, which is the powerful enemy of true leadership.
    If possible, we should tackle the roots of the problem and not finding a fallback solution. I agree.

    You are right, it’s true Ben, leadership industry has developed over time, after WWII, with a proliferation of schemes, often fighting against each other.
    The effect was that people did not understand (almost) anything about it. Then, since 2007-2008, the volume of it has increased enormously and it has become very diverse.
    The reason is that economic crisis has left deep scars, a deep negative imprint on people and the potential for economic growth. People in key positions have betrayed ethical expectations and let folks and a lot of companies down. In Europe it was a catastrophy. In any case, thank goodness, we are coming out of the economic crisis which has affected the whole of Europe and the entire world.

    The result of all that, is that
    1) business leaders, managers and even governments are experiencing a profound crisis of trust and legitimacy triggering a loss of confidence in traditional modes of operation. People feel they need another breed of mentors/leaders, who can be closest to them. Many young people entering workforce are staying away in droves. Often they are left on their own to deal with experiencing the company day-by-day activities. They want to be taken in due consideration.
    So what has happened has fanned a deep desire to create a different leadership.

    2) there are people who do not want anymore to sit at a desk every blessed day, and/or being caught by the agenda of someone else. They don’t want a boss anymore.
    They want to be the boss of themselves. But they are not sure how, they see the Internet as a way out. But also in this case they need to understand what’s all about “leadership” if for no other reason than themselves.

    I’m creating a new Thing on the Internet, in order to give voice to smart people who can make a contribution to a double-edged need: High-touch Leadership & Digital Brand Communication.
    These two things are not opposed to each other. What unites them or would do well to unite them, is the Genuineness & the thirst for Innovation. By the time I’m done,(it will take more than a bit of time) I’d like to invite you to speak, when and if you want to, and make your valuable contribution. World needs Mentors.

    I am small, I like to pay it forward, but I know one thing: how to build a digital strategy that creates an impact, especially as regard to Infoproducts.

    Ben You will have a Great Life!

    Thank you – Massimo

  2. Thanks for the response Massimo.

    You wrote “I still wonder, after so many years, why people do not understand or pretend that the problem does not exist.”

    I have wondered the same in the past, but being a science kind of person, a nuclear engineer knowing that everything is about cause and effect, I have learned that there are some very powerful “causes”/forces at work.

    First, our society is very autocratic – parents, teachers, churches, media, government, and bosses at work. Our society teaches us all the authoritarian approach to managing people from birth. That means it does not teach us the opposite approach. So when we get to be in charge of people, the vast majority of us use this approach as how to manage them. Then we get promoted in order to replace retirees or those moving up and when we arrive at the top, we are loathe to “get off the horse that got us there”. This is a very powerful force.

    Second, it also means that from birth most of us have been told to be like this, look like this, act like this, and think like this OR ELSE. To escape the consequences of the OR ELSE, ~95% of us conform to what the autocrats want, some more and some less. Conforming becomes so automatic we don’t even know we are doing it. Conforming stops many of us from thinking for ourselves, from being our own person, and causes us to follow the value standards reflected in what we experience. In the workplace, this means that employees use the disrespect shown them by leaders who continually tell them what to do and rarely listen to them as how to do their work and treat their customers, each other, and their bosses. So performance suffers greatly and most of the workforce suffers terribly in their personal lives from poor morale and motivation causing mental and physical health problems. This is another very powerful force.

    Third, we have the leadership industry. Billions are spent annually by business in an attempt to improve leadership development. But this industry is focused solely on studying leaders and what they do, not on followers and what they follow. The result is that leadership is wildly misunderstood and everyone has an opinion. Everyone is trying to get a piece of this very big money pie, trying to sell their solution to the huge performance problem authoritarianism naturally produces every day without fail. Before WWII, the leadership industry was almost non-existent. Since then it has grown by leaps and bounds selling everything anyone can think of including college degree offerings in management and leadership, services from huge companies of consultants, books, audio tapes, and on and on. This is another very powerful force.

    Today, few dare to go up against the first and third forces for fear of their own livelihood and almost no one understands the second force.

    As you indicate, we do suffer from doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. This was what Albert Einstein said was the definition of being insane.

    As concerns better hiring procedures, I doubt that will work since as soon as you hire a better manager, the vast majority will be forced to conform to the command and control approach to managing people. That said, if we can get a few CEOs to change, their results may well force their competitors to change or go out of business. Or perhaps general education can do it by convincing employees that they should not put up with being treated so disrespectfully.

    I am encouraged by the fact that there is now a significant amount of data reinforcing the need for a change. My own methods don’t actually require a change right away, only the addition of listening and responding to employees. The change comes as listening and responding immediately increase performance and thus makes telling employees what to do less necessary.

    For myself, I am in the process of producing online courses that will explain the simple science of people and then build from that what leadership is and how to provide superior leadership. Perhaps I can get the message out, perhaps not. But I will try.

    Have a great life Massimo.

    Best regards, Ben

  3. Dear Ben, thank you. in my view, you are absolutely right. In this vein, I would like to publicly express my appreciation for what you said. Excellent words. I still wonder, after so many years, why people do not understand or pretend that the problem does not exist. You are right. This is Science of People. I wonder if we have to put up with this state of affairs for much longer. Leaders, or at least those who consider themselves as such, cannot be only those who tell others what to do. Let me say quite frankly that far more needs to be done in many respects as regard to this matter of understanding people, otherwise, in a few years’ time, Gallup, sadly, will use the same indicators and collect the same data. I will never get tired of saying that if we want different results, we need another breed of leaders, and to do so, we need different hiring procedures.

    Thank you Ben.

    I wish you a glorious day!

    Best Regards
    Massimo Scalzo

  4. Great story Massimo. As you relate, listening to employees and helping them to be their best is superior leadership and results in the very best products and services.

    Most importantly, there are very good reasons why this approach to managing people succeeds. And of course, very good reason why every other approach fails and results in the 13% of worldwide employees engaged as reported by Gallup. These reasons are the science of people, why people react the way they do to what management does and does not do. This science makes clear what exact managerial actions are the right ones and which are wrong.

  5. Dear Diana,

    thank you for your words and for sharing. I am happy that you found it inspiring. That experience I described has personally enriched me. It was an incredibly valuable experience for me. I wrote the article just to pay tribute to that CEO now, at least in my memory, just at a time when, I think, we are going to need people like him most.

    Thank you Diana.

    Have a wonderful day!
    Massimo Scalzo