What is Italy’s role in the global ecosystem for innovation

There was not much talk of innovation during the Italian election campaign.

You may object that there was no lack of proposals in the various electoral programs.

But never has this topic, so decisive at an international level, been central to the debate.

More than anything, however, what was lacking (and is lacking) is an organic vision of the role that Italy can and must play in the broader context of the global ecosystem for innovation.

The feeling is that no one is asking this question.

Let’s try to develop a suggestion of a proposal that we could summarise in a formula: “the doctrine of significance and of long-term business”.

Francesco Cicione

by Francesco Cicione

President of Entopan and Founder of Harmonic Innovation Hub


For various reasons, particularly in recent decades, a prescriptive (and not generative) approach to building the future has been consolidated in Italy.

We are the “modern” State with the largest production of laws in the world: to date there are about 110,000 national laws (to which regional and local ones should be added), against about 3,000 in Great Britain, 6,000 in Germany and 7,000 in France.

The culture of “text” wins over that of “context”.

An inextricable tangle which, instead of releasing energies, blocks, does not produce any certainty and makes everyone vulnerable and exposed to changeable or superficial interpretations.

In particular on innovation issues where we see out-and-out paradoxes of content, method and vision: the applicability of the Business Crisis Code to start-ups; the difficulty of consolidating in practice, for research and development activities, the reference to the Oslo Manual and to the Kline-Rosenberg criterion recently introduced in our legislative system; the impossibility of simplifying and de-bureaucratising (also through the creation of special sandboxes).

To all this, but subordinately, also add an evident dimensional problem: of the market, of resources, of infrastructures.

Why, however, despite all this, “still we innovate”?

Luca De Biase tried to explore this topic in his latest literary effort.

If we were to try to answer these questions by drawing on the experience of the Harmonic Innovation Hub in which we are engaged, we could try to say two very simple things:

  1. innovation is a counterintuitive and uncertain effort (anarchist, courageous and generous) aimed at producing cognitive, methodological, cultural, economic, social, institutional dissonances in desensitised contexts. Necessarily through a patient and long-term investment that shuns short-term metrics and revenues;
  2. where the impediments are greater, the more latent potential for change accumulates. It is like a hot, deep and submerged wave, a hidden energy that only needs escape routes to emerge and periodically release its potential.

It seems to us that these two aspects describe and summarise in an effective and essential manner the specificity, or, better still, the all-Italian paradox in developing innovation.

A path, this, perpetually balancing uncertainly between the fragility of the system as a whole and the excellence of many experiences; between order and disorder; between normativity and creativity; between rigidity and generativity; between economic, political and spiritual worlds (to quote Feuerbach).

It is an “innovation by reaction” which inevitably generates a function of the same innovation that is discontinuous and non-linear, punctual and non-integral.

It is no coincidence that we always talk about “Italian genius” and not about the “Italian system”.

It can therefore be said that in Italy innovation coincides with “people” and not with “organisations” (public or private).

People” who then become “communities”: stable communities that allow the lasting evolution of local identity and of widespread industrial expertise by building relationships, networks between contexts, knowledge, identity, skills.

It is the Italy of “knowing how to do”, of “creativity” that becomes method, of the culture of the project and of the product, of family businesses, of our manufacturing and our industrial design champions that are our true and authentic “unicorns”.

A “model”, this, constantly fed not by the strength of a “system” but by the inner thrust of “individuals”.

It is the “spiritual work” that recalls the ethics of personal responsibility.

It is the perspective suggested in Pericles’ famous discourse to the Athenians: to be individual thinkers and builders of kalos, of beauty, of harmony, of truth.

It is, more than anything, the wisdom of the “parable of the talents”.

This makes the entrepreneur, the manager and the innovator, first of all, a mystagogue and an ascetic (sometimes also unintentionally): only by progressing spiritually can one contribute to material progress.

Because, as Wiener used to say: “The innovator must be endowed with a conscience and a spirit of devotion, and also with that inner drive which will never allow him to be satisfied with anything less than the best work he can do thanks to his own abilities. This spirit of mission can be very far from any official religion, but it contains within itself what is the substance of religion. The letter kills, but the spirit gives life.”

For these reasons, therefore, it is not certain that the “Italian model” will ever manage to become “system” (an opportunity not to be wasted, probably, is given by its possible subsumption into the “European system”).

But, to be honest, this is not necessarily such a great evil.


In recent months, Alain Godard, number one of the European Investment Fund, highlighted the strong dimensional limit of European venture capital in relation to the standards of the most efficient world benchmarks.

Zooming in on Italy, the problem becomes more acute.

For a long time, appeals have been multiplying from many sides for the Italian Government to commit itself to reducing this delay by ensuring ever more substantial allocations.

It is certainly a useful initiative, but probably insufficient.

Only in recent months, in fact, France, Germany and Japan have announced public plans to support innovation policies for approximately 10 bn, 30 bn and 1,500 bn, respectively, while China and the US continue in the wake of their already powerful public investment programs which have been implemented for decades, to which no less significant private interventions have been added.

And then again, still on a dimensional level, it should not be forgotten that our internal market is too small to guarantee real opportunities for scalability.

In summary: we risk self-condemning ourselves to a perennial, fruitless and desperate chase capable, perhaps, of only producing precise results.

The question therefore arises: is it possible to build an alternative strategy aimed at promoting a draft system capable of implementing and consolidating a global Italian leadership in the field of innovation?

We put forward a proposal which may appear unprecedented (if not downright unrealistic and naïve): to shift the focus from the concept of “dimension” to the concept of “significance”.

Insisting on chasing after orders of magnitude, metrics and the models of others could be, in fact, a serious error of vision.

Experience teaches us that it is on other levels that Italy has always won and will still be able to win the challenge: intangible assets and long-term strategies.

Italy can and must express its original vision.

Italy can and must be the “giant” on whose shoulders the “dwarfs” define the horizon of the future, contaminating with “sense” and “prospects” the isotropic, homogeneous and undifferentiated “models” of modernity, sterilely and aridly aimed at only maximising quantitative performances.

To be significant, in fact: for the main major global players, for the most important international investment funds, for the best growth & late-stage companies worldwide.

We need to “attract” and “include” rather than “chase” and “compete”.

To become the ecosystem of ecosystems around the world, to perform a purpose of connection and direction useful for building the necessary synthesis between tradition and innovation; between past, present and future; between speed, objectives, territories and different paradigms.

This is our peculiarity, this is our treasure, this is the asset on which to build Italy’s position in the global chessboard of innovation.

The “Italian model” preserves a “mystery” made of slowness and depth in a fast and superficial era.

A “mystery” that is deeply innervated in the millennial tradition of primeval wisdom and classical culture and therefore capable of enabling, even in industrial and innovative contexts, the value of longevity and stability (centuries-old) as an alternative to fleeting and sometimes ephemeral fashions.

A “mystery” made of irreplaceable skills and traditions that has already produced, a long time ago and before anyone else (we should never forget this!), our “unicorns”: the champions of our manufacturing world and our industrial and cultural design.

No one in the world can fully compete on this level.

We cannot and must not, therefore, give up the need to understand and value what we have not yet understood even about ourselves.

This is true digital humanism.

This is what makes Italy great and unique.

This is what gives it an unmistakable mission.


In an era marked by unprecedented transformations in the history of humanity due to their intensity, scope, depth and speed – leading us to consider that this is a change in era rather than an era of change – it is worth distinguishing between (i) competitive innovation and (ii) impact innovation.

Although both have to be implemented according to a vision of harmonic innovation, some substantial differences clearly emerge.

The first (competitive innovation) is the expression of quick thought, it reasons by short-term objectives and returns and sets out to create good capitalists (speed thinking or capitalism thinking): it is therefore fair that it be subjected to constraints set by the market context (corporate, industrial and financial).

The latter (impact innovation), on the other hand, is the expression of a slow thought, it pursues long-term objectives and returns and sets out to create good ancestors (slow thinking or cathedral thinking): this must therefore be free and redeemed of all constraints in order to be effectively and efficiently projected onto a horizon of inter-generational (socio-economic, environmental and cultural) progress.

Some may underline that one does not exclude the other, and that the two perspectives could try to usefully co-exist: after all, is this not precisely the triple bottom line logic that seeks to make profit, people and planet converge within the same perspective of sustainable growth?

Investigating the issue more closely, however, it is not hard to understand that this hybrid formation is not as easy as it looks.

While in some ways it may be possible (and even useful) to integrate and/or reconcile the needs of profit with those of people and the planet, the opposite is much more difficult.

If we truly want to focus on the need for positive changes for people and the planet, we must act without any short-term interests.

It’s a matter of priorities.

For this reason, in the history of recent centuries, the large civil and religious institutions and the great patron families have always been the ones that have taken on this responsibility.

Since the great civil and religious institutions and great patron families have stopped taking care of these needs, the world has become more vulnerable, fragile and insecure.

It is necessary to start over, both in the institutional and in the corporate settings.

If possible, by bringing together social sciences and public policies, with business and innovation sciences.

History teaches us that this is the right path.

“Long-term businesses” are not subject to the test of time.

They live to create life, and they have always shown themselves to be capable of generating widespread value for long periods, at the same time safeguarding and implementing the “solid knowledge” we always need as well as the “perpetual memory” of those who have made it possible.

We could offer an infinite number of examples.

Are we ready and willing to make a sincere effort to build such a bold, counter-intuitive yet at the same time such an imperative vision?

Are we ready to promote the birth of businesses and competence centres emancipated from the yoke of all commercial and bureaucratic anxiety in order to ensure freedom, continuity, stability and quality in the territories where people work to build a better future?

Will the great civil and religious institutions, the great patron families and philanthropic foundations, want to reclaim this responsibility that has always been assigned to them by History?

The Harmonic Innovation Hub – and the corporate structure that supports it – as an operational projection of the idea of harmonic innovation, is seeking to implement and promote this arrangement, and hopes that all those who have historically supported these processes may rapidly join it.

But how?

By involving the great local and national institutions, the great patron families and the philanthropic foundations of the Atlantic and of the EUMENA Region in supporting the Harmonic Innovation Hub with a long-term perspective.

Moreover, by involving patient investment funds in programmes with at least a ten-year time frame, founded on the progressive enhancement (also in an exit perspective) of the intangible and strategic and other assets of market revenues.

To pursue these objectives, it is fundamental to implement an ecosystemic model.

This is a tough challenge.

But a necessary one.

It is the challenge that, perhaps, Italy can and must play on a world level in the coming decades.

(Associated Medias) – all rights reserved