Leadership Notes #14
Pair reading these two books together this month for two dramatically different takes on how to take your decision making, creativity and thinking to the next level. How enemies and baseball can reveal big time idea breakthroughs.
Red Team: How To Succeed By Thinking LIke the Enemy, by Micah Zenko
Astroball: The New Way to Win it All, by Ben Reiter
Interview: Rodrigo Tavares
Rodrigo Tavares is Founder and President of the Granito Group, a company that advances the sustainable economy though management consulting, investment banking, and policy & research. He holds over 15 years of experience in government and international organizations working on foreign affairs and economic cooperation. From 2011 to 2014, he served as Head of the São Paulo State Government's Office of Foreign Affairs. His academic path includes Harvard University(Senior Research Fellow), Columbia University (Research Fellow on a postdoc grant), University of Gothenburg (Ph.D.) and University of California, Berkeley (Visiting Research Fellow). Tavares is author of 4 books, including “Paradiplomacy: Cities and States as Global Players” (Oxford University Press, 2016). He was nominated Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum (2017), and StartUp Portugal Ambassador (2018). Born in Lisbon (1978), married, with a teenage son.
Potolicchio: What is paradiplomacy? And does your theory of paradiplomacy give you more or less hope for the future of global challenges like climate change, mass migration, and human development?
Tavares: Paradiplomacy is the foreign policy of subnational governments (cities and states). A nation-state vision of the world neglects the fact that power is no longer derived only from military spending, demography or geography. Our world is so multilayered, with so many different players operating and competing amongst themselves, that the new sources of power derive from our ability to seize the opportunities generated by a networked planet. It’s from the scale of our global engagement, from the thickness of our networks, that we will be able to channel our capacity to influence and advance our agendas. With about 55% of the human population living in cities and with some cities/states enjoying larger economic strength than countries (the economy of the state of São Paulo, for instance, is larger than the individual economies of all South American countries, apart from Brazil itself), it is inevitable that subnational governments engage with external players – from companies, to countries, to other cities or substates. And if people living in urban areas are the most affected by some of the global challenges such as mass migration or global crime, then it certainly makes sense that they have a seat at any negotiation table. Living in a networked society without considering cities and states is like fighting cybercrime with a bayonet.
Potolicchio: Given your career, what advice would you want to give yourself when you were in college?
Tavares: Practice multitasking. Professional excellence in the future will be less related to the domain of niche knowledge and more determined by our capacity to highly perform several tasks. Being familiar with STEM languages and practices, with business administration, with arts and humanities, alongside our core expertise, are very important assets. Nowadays there is still merit in spending all your life at a university producing high caliber scientific work on, say, America’s foreign policy in Southeast Asia in the 20th century. But in the future a person with solid knowledge on South East Asia may in the course of his/her career work as an investment banker for Temasek, found a FinTech startup taking advantage of the region’s thriving VC ecosystem and, indeed, produce high-caliber research on foreign policy in full awareness of local dynamics. Shifting, overlapping, crosscutting, and backtracking will be words used to describe our professional choices.
Potolicchio: What has your interaction with startup culture taught you about innovation and what is the most important lesson that other leaders and entrepreneurs should learn from this environment?
Tavares: The world of startups should be epitomized more by failure than success. For each unicorn that arises there are thousands of young companies that are buried in the first years. Behind the media buzzes, there is a heap of debris. And ironically this is what is so valuable about the venture capital world. It’s only in a context of adversity that you are able to spot the most resilient. I would rather invest in a founder that has fallen down multiple times but is always able to come back up stronger than in a team that has the highest credentials but has never experienced an earthquake. So my question to founders is, “forget for a second your technical skills and look retrospectively to your life: are you a fighter? Do you have the tenacity of a bulldog? How long can you hold your breath underwater?”
Potolicchio: What's a book you would gift the Secretary General today?
Tavares: Coincidently, Antonio Guterres’ family and my own family come from the same region in Portugal – Beira Baixa. And going back in time our relatives come from small villages, with only hundreds or a few thousand people living in each. I would give him a book by Eugénio de Andrade (1923-2005), one of the Portugal’s best-known contemporary poets and a native of the same region. Andrade’s poetry repudiates abstractions and all its sophistication lies in its simplicity. Guterres work at the UN has been equally pragmatic.
Potolicchio: What's a book you would have a young leader embarking on their career read?
Tavares: That is very difficult to answer. I’m an avid reader. I always have time to read and therefore I wouldn’t be able to pick only one, not even a handful. Books are very personal too; you interpret what you read through layers and layers of conditioning. Everyone has his or her own filters and therefore books that touched me can be utterly irrelevant to you. But, OK, let me try this one – Markings by Dag Hammarskjöld, the Swedish UN Secretary General. I have read it many times in English and battled my way into Swedish too. The book is his intimate journal of poems and spiritual reflections and it reveals a man with strong sensitivity and sensibility. The book was published in the 1960s after his tragic death in Zambia.
Potolicchio: What's a future trend you predict will happen that most people would be surprised by?
Tavares: Every time a country is in the midst of a heated national debate on pension reforms or social security (Brazil or Russia, more recently), I get baffled at the fact that they are not really considering the possibility that babies born today may very well live to be 150 years old and that in only a few decades most people won’t need to work. Working will be like a hobby, something you do for pleasure. Machines will do most of the work. They will power our economies. And they will be much better at their jobs than us humans. Notions of time and aging, productivity, and self-worth will radically mutate.
Potolicchio: What's something seemingly small that has made a big difference in your life (i.e advice, book, product purchase, chance encounter)?
Tavares: I’ve never been able to take anything for granted; sometimes moving forward has been painful. But I’ve benefited from generous gestures of support from people who have helped to make that journey less strenuous. For them, their deeds may have been small, but they had a strong impact on me. From high school teachers to former bosses, I’m very thankful to them. And I often tell them so. A few years ago, when I became a Senior Research Scholar at Harvard, I tracked down my Portuguese high school teacher Maria Vera Oliveira, who I hadn’t spoken to in 20 years, just to tell her that her fierce commitment to her students have had a profound impact on me. She taught me a lot more than 19th century Portuguese literature and I wanted her to know that. Success is always collective.
Potolicchio: Who do you most admire and why?
Tavares: I have a hard time relating to famous people, the awe-inspiring names in the history of humankind. For me the grand gestures are often the smallest ones; the deeds that go unnoticed are the ones that I value the most. I admire nameless people, who against all the odds, and sometimes even at their own expense, still show selflessness, honor, dignity, and altruism.