From musician to online policy expert

In 2000 I was a professional rock musician, in Italy. I played in a reasonably successful band called Modena City Ramblers (yup). We were not villa-and-swimmingpool rich, but were doing reasonably well. For a number of reasons, I decided to quit the band, and start over at the age of 34.

My main asset was that, before I quit my job to become a full-time musician at the age of 28, I had been working as a private sector researcher in the field of economics. I had degrees, a few publications, and some idea of how to make sense of issues involving people and money. I also had a quite deep, firsthand knowledge of the music business. In the early 2000s there was a lot of talking about creative industries; I was an economist, and I knew at least one of them from the inside. It was a start. So I decided to try to become an economist of music and the creative industries.

It was hard to come by any paid work in this area, despite the glamour of my recent musical past that made me quite well-known in some circles. I worked with the City of Modena on a string of music-related projects (mostly designing vocational training courses for would-be music entrepreneurs, with some research thrown in), but I would make 8 to 15.000 euro per gig; it was sustainable… just about. We were doing interesting stuff and would even get some media interest, but I was the lowliest of the low in the ecosystem of economic research. Of course, no stability was anywhere in sight.

I tried to structure this activity a bit more: I started a company, and participated in a bid for running an experimental project funded by the European Social Fund. We won, but it was a disaster nevertheless: it turned out the way these projects are often handled in Italy is very bureaucratic, procedure-oriented instead of result-oriented. The amount of red tape was horrible and very expensive, and everybody operated under the assumption that everybody was just out to get a share of public funding, with no commitment to achieving anything of substance. My company (less so the other partners in the consortium) ended up doing a good job, but we also ended up losing money rather than making it. I left this space immediately after, and I’m not planning to be back.

Fortunately, I had overinvested in these smalltime projects. They paid my bills, and as long as my bills were payed I worked very hard, going for outputs that were worth several times more than I was getting paid for. It did not make any economic sense at the time, but it did give me a good conceptual arsenal. Also fortunately, the music industry got caught in the digital storm early in the game: Napster reached its peak in 2001. My band had been running websites and experimenting with new media since 1998. So I already had some sense of how to use simple Internet tools (first mailing lists, then blogs, then social networks) to fuel social dynamics.

So, starting in 2007, the Ministry of Economic Development starting hiring me for consultancy gigs in the creative industries field, that were better paid and more interesting. I deployed Internet tools with everything I did: they cost next to nothing and were very effective, also because they propitiate transparency and trust between public administrations that use them (if they use them well) and citizens. I discovered they are great in enabling collaboration between individual citizens and administrations; this had previously been practically impossible, but now suddenly it was possible, and it had the potential to make public policy more similar to Wikipedia. In one of these gigs I designed and directed Kublai, an online network for peer-to-peer editing of business plans in the creative sector. It worked well. There was something there.

At this point I decided to push my profile from a “vertical” space (creative industries) into an “horizontal” one (online tools for policy). The advantage is obvious: you can and should do online policy in any field, not just in the creativity/culture one. I wanted to be where the momentous decisions are really made, where the best minds are put to work, and that is not cultural policy. As much as I think culture is important, I had to accept that the vast majority of senior decision makers think it is really not a priority. So I wrote some articles and a book called Wikicrazia, intended to be a handbook for understanding and making policy through online tools. Once again, overinvestment: 18 months of (not full-time!) work for a book that I expect to sell 1000 copies. It does not make economic sense. But it does, because my few readers tend to be decision makers: one out of five is a potential client. Also, I used the book to push my profile internationally: I got people working for the White House, the World Bank, Cisco and other international institutions to collaborate and endorse me. The book was picked up by the media, and that gave me the standing of “that Italian guy” that knows about the stuff. Meanwhile I am doing more overinvestment: I started a Ph.D. in network theory, to figure out in a hard science sense why online networks work so well.

I am reasonably satisfied with my transition: I managed not to go bankrupt, even supporting others at time, and reconfigure my life. It does have two problems:

  1. it is not over: stability is not achieved, and I am not sure it ever will
  2. it required me to compress my standard of living for several years. Live in small, low-quality accommodation, saving on things like holidays and consumption goods.
And this leads to the second pillar of my strategy, which is self-motivation. I was able to do this stuff because I absolutely love it and I think it is important. Otherwise I would never have been able to work so hard for so little money at 40 years of age. My main problem now is how to consolidate and stabilize, as I prepare for my old age. You have suggestions? I'm listening.

Faith, hope, love

Consolidate and stabilize. My big existential questions! I have similar aspirations.

I also started my career with an artistic production (visual arts). I went through periods of extreme poverty. I gave up art for financial reasons.

But we can never let go of the artist in us.

I have found no magic formula SO FAR (hey, otherwise, I would have applied it to my own situation!).

We are living in a world in transition. You have an iconoclast mind, you see and think differently. This should be considered an asset.

I would say: build on your creative potential, consolidate your networks, chose your friends and surround yourself with people who share the same dreams as yours, reach to the people that inspire you (I wonder who that might be).

If you manage to achieve positive (spectacular, unexpected) results, Edgeryders could perhaps take you to more stable horizons.

Development as in a spiral and not in a straight line, leads to a richer (inner) evolution. But it takes more time to get to destination.

For decades, I felt guilty because I followed my passion (I always listened to the inner voice that guided me). I even consulted a psychologist this summer, to ascertain whether there isn’t any hidden invisible blockage, mysterious limitation of my mind that prevented me from attracting abundance so far. The psychologist concluded there was nothing wrong with my brain!

A few weeks ago, I chased away the guilty feelings. I changed the perception I have of myself:  I decided that from now on, I want to accept myself, completely, as I am, with unconditional love. I think it was the right thing to do for me.

Trust yourself. Have unwavering trust in your abilities. You are unique. You stand at crossroads. It’s not a matter of gaining more experience anymore. Time to sharpen your mind? And your faith? Pioneer of modern times, you open the road, and other will walk in your footsteps.

Believing in yourself is one of the first steps to success.

(If I can think of anything better than this, I’ll let you know…)



Still wrapping my head around this story.

How large a part of your story comes down to talent?

Talent, synchronicity, creativity

Hein? I only see three dots in your previous comment… Are you asking this question to Alberto?

Talent is very important, but it is not everything.

Beeing in the right place, with the right people, at the right time. It helps a lot.

What is talent?
I often refer to research on decision making by neuroscientist and neuroeconomics behaviorist Gregory Berns from Emory University. 'No organization can survive without iconoclasts, innovators who single-handle upturn conventional wisdom and manage to achieve what so many others deem impossible.'
Very few people can resist social conformity. A true iconoclast had the ability to resist such conformity, which is one of the points of Berns' book called Iconoclast.

Take Alberto, for instance. He is an artist, a musician. What makes him so astoundingly creative and successful in front of government officials? He has a very special talent. So special that we account individuals of the same stamp as Alberto on our fingers (if one does a quick scan in the open government sphere).

It is not only the talent to play a musical instrument, or be a good performer.

Berns explains that ‘iconoclasts’ overcome mental barriers that stop most people cold.

According to Berns, the brain has three natural roadblocks that stand in the way of innovative thinking:

  1. flawed perception,

  2. fear of failure

  3. and the inability to persuade others.

It is apparently very rare for one individual to overcome these three roadblocks. Very rare. Walt Disney, Pablo Picasso.

Alberto has a high degree of ability to persuade others. Has he been successful in removing roadblocks 1, 2 and 3? If he was surrounded by a team of people, a network, corresponding to 1, 2 and 3, what would happen? Berns suggests to form teams consisting of individuals who have one or more of these special skills.

I like how Berns thinks that it is possible to learn to think differently. It is possible. By seeing reality in a different way, he says that we can set aside fear, and expand our social intelligence. By doing this, people allow themselves to be more creative, and become able to implement fresh ideas.

Since open government is often described as a co-production co-creation with citizens, I cannot help but think that helping people who manage a government to think differently, would make them move towards more creativity.

Some, but not much

The most talented musicians in my generation did not get very far.

The most entrepreneurial and strategic people, who also were reasonably competent musicians had the most success.

And that is the truth.


Alberto, you really crack me up.

Send the gov officials to music school. Simple!

The most entrepreneurial and strategic people, who also were reasonably competent musicians had the most success.

And the moral is: be entrepreneurial and strategic in whatever you do, don’t rely solely on talent?

When nominating you as an Edgemapper, I thought about your life choices in the following way:

The greatest risk may be: ok, you change what you do for something else you think you love at one point, but be careful: if it’s a totally new thing, you have to catch up in order to really be good at what you do. And he does it, or so it seems.

That for me is a sort of talent - strategic if you want, but still talent to move around and capture that mix of skills which make you successful. You get to be very good at what you do no matter what you start, even when it’s only connected to your previous work and even when you too probably have things to learn. Not everybody can do that. Or is it just being a smart person?

Or maybe Nadia was refering to a different talent?

wow…what an on going story

I just wanted to say that u can inspire alot of people and I think u do along the way with ur story . From a musician to online policy expert is not an easy change at all and who knows what can u change to afterwards:)

for me ur story keeps me on my track , I always don’t see myself working on the same field for the whole of my life - I always have this discussion with my friends - and the stability thing pops up as u say :slight_smile: but I am not sure coz I am still starting but I wanna ask u do u think the stability thing is abit overrated to this kind of lifestyle ? when u say that “it is not over: stability is not achieved, and I am not sure it ever will " and the question is do u really want to achieve this” stability "?  coz I think if u r trying to reach it u wouldn’t have made these transitions and what do u mean with "stability " economic , social ,…?

anyway am really glad to know someone like u and hope we can know each other better -work collaborat together -

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