Learning to unlearn

“Never let a good crisis go to waste”. We can learn a lot from this famous phrase by Winston Churchill, helping us to define new approaches and new ways of designing the future.

Our fifth Life Ready Conference took place on 28th May. It’s part of a cycle of live events that draws together ideas, reflections and best practices for journeying through the crisis and establishing the new normal that’s waiting for us after Covid-19. So what do we need to learn in to help us prepare for the changing world of work? What are the soft skills that we need to effectively work through uncertainty and constant change? How can we learn to unlearn in a flexible and quick way?

“We need to unlearn certain things to be able to see the existing model as one of the many options available to us, instead of the only way forward”, explains our CEO Riccarda Zezza. “In our recent surveys, we’ve seen that 91% of employees expect their company to improve their processes based on what they’ve learned over this time”.

We looked at these themes with 6 representatives of large companies, as they now need to influence their business culture and accompany their companies through the transition.

Nicola Spagnuolo, Director of the Tertiary Training Management Centre

Remove legacies to “reinstall” skills

“The need to change doesn’t emerge from the crisis”, states Nicola Spagnuolo, Director of the Tertiary Training Management Centre, an association that unites 9,000 companies and around 24,000 managers. “Companies that shine through the next phase will be those who have already welcomed change.

The ability to change needs to be trained over time. One crisis won’t be enough to make a company revolutionise the way it works. The current situation doesn’t really require us to learn new skills, but to reprioritise the ones we already have. “In order for our approach to move forward, we need to remove any legacies within our thinking so we can ‘reinstall’ our skills”.

Elena David, president of Aiceo

Learn quickly and look to the future

“We need to make sure what’s currently being referred to as the new normal doesn’t quickly become a thing of the past”, says Elena David, president of Aiceo, the Italian association of CEOs. “We need to unlearn the false rhetoric that closes around people and their fragility: rather it must become a type of research to open up our cognitive and relational space. And we need to unlearn the power of improvisation to bring value back to our skills”.

“We need to unlearn the rhythms of a world in the hands of men who choose other men. As a woman I would like everyone to learn about a system based on merit and skills. We need courage to do things that aren’t a knee-jerk reaction in times of emergency, but that allow us to truly create change”.

Isabella Falautano, part of the Board of Directors at Valore D and Chief Communication&Stakeholder Engagement Officer at Illimity

Plan while you wait

“Businesses need to care for their people, not just listening to them but engaging them”, highlights Isabella Falautano, part of the Board of Directors at Valore D and Chief Communication & Stakeholder Engagement Officer at Illimity.

“In Vuca phases, the CEO also needs to learn how to be a Chief Emotional Officer and know how to authentically stay close by to the people within the business. In the phase between the crisis and the moment where change takes place, it’s important to value the time spent waiting. Waiting helps to scrape away anything that’s superfluous, revealing the essence of the organisation. It’s what’s left, when everything feels uncertain. When you’re in the middle of the delicate waiting phase, it’s important to use your time to plan”. 

Alessandra Pilia, Head of communication at Api

Collaboration and innovation: beyond the boundaries of the building

It’s probably true that small businesses have been the ones that have faced the biggest challenges. They’ve had to leave the beaten track in business and go it alone. “People naturally adapt and evolve. People are at the heart of business. We’re just extended families”. Alessandra Pilia is the Head of Communication at Api, the Small Medium Enterprise Association that represents around two thousand small businesses in the North of Italy, totalling 38,000 workers. According to their recent survey, in times of health and economic crises, 68% of associates are worried about the future of their collaborators and their families.

“Small business owners have found themselves being community managers within their own organisations, using chats and tools that they weren’t used to using to provide information and reassure their employees”. Once more, the focus is the person. “The company doesn’t end with the entrepreneur, but it lives and goes beyond the boundaries of the building. The first innovation manager in the company is the person that accepts that they don’t know everything and unlearns the culture that they have brought with them up unto this point, encouraging collaborators that have the courage to say ‘now we’re going to try doing things in another way’”.

Paola Previdi, CEO of SFC, Confindustria Training Systems

Normality in managing exceptional situations

Over the past few months, the crisis has slowed down lots of aspects of our personal and working lives. But it has also accelerated many others. Starting with the decision to abandon plans and behaviours that are no longer relevant. “In situations that aren’t clear, you don’t have the interpretive knowledge to move forward, so you have to keep asking new questions”, says Paola Previdi, CEO of SFC, Confindustria Training Systems.

“Now we’re being asked to reframe problems. To do so we need mixed teams, blending together different specialisms. Those who manage companies must know how to coordinate and keep their collaborators on board. Some companies have implemented remote working as the norm. Lots have used this time to train their employees and rediscover their resilience. In future, ‘normality’ will mean managing exceptional and complex situations. There will be other unexpected things that can come out of nowhere. We need to be able to turn them into our advantage, stimulating our brain with innovation”.

Paolo Ravà, President of the Order of Chartered Accountants and Accountancy Experts in Genova

A multi-generational agreement for a new economy

“It seems as though lots of people are looking to return to the world they knew before. They’re suggesting old schemas that are now weaker than ever. But as professionals, we need to reflect on what the future holds”. That’s what Paolo Ravà, President of the Order of Chartered Accountant and Accountancy Experts in Genova says. “We need to look at things with fresh eyes. If managers continue to operate within traditional organisational, legal, financial and governance systems, it will be a failure. Profits must always come first, but they need to be part of a bigger system”.

“We need to talk to our young people about a different profession. Even if it won’t be the middle generation that make it happen. We need to create an agreement between different generations. It’s about helping those who know how to take risks, but also learning to take them ourselves. And get involved in an economy that is based on skills and not relationships”.