The Value of Talent
Many people in Italy speak and write about “the brain drain” and “overseas talent”. Few of them go back to the true meaning of this term.
But only by knowing its exact meaning can we understand what it represents for the Italy of today.
So let’s see.
A “talent” was once an ancient unit of weight. It was a reference weight for commerce, as well as a measure of value equal to the corresponding quantity of precious metal.
The talent is mentioned in the Iliad when Achilles gives half a talent of gold to Antilochus as a prize, and in the Bible when the talents of gold, silver, bronze and iron are mentioned, as donations for the construction of the first temple of Jerusalem.
In several languages, the talent has taken on the meaning of “gift” or “ability”, adapting to current use the metaphorical meaning also present in the famous parable of Jesus.
Over the centuries, the talent became a natural endowment.
It is naturally endowed – and if it is not, it cannot be learned – a natural inclination which is so much more profound than an ability, so much more deeply rooted than a passion, so much more distinctive than an appearance or manner, that it cannot be reproduced or feigned. It is a part of the self.
The ancient meaning of a unit of weight and a sum of money casts light on important connotations of this word.
The talent was a unit of weight and a sum of money since the coin itself was of precious metal. In Athens, a talent was equivalent to more than twenty kilos of silver.
Serious wealth, therefore, is derived from investment in the transformation of that talent, that weight, into power and freedom.
And this short passage from Dante expresses the medieval meaning of talent:
“Intesi ch’a così fatto tormento
erano dannati i peccator carnali
che la ragion sommettono al talento”.
“Such torment, as I learned, those souls acquire whose condemnation comes from mortal sin, subordinating reason to desire”.
Dante, Inferno, V, vv.37-39
But who, then, is a talented person?
The first meaning is that of ‘desire, will’, prevailed in the Middle Ages, and began in Provence; the second, that of ‘natural or acquired aptitude’, occurs sporadically in Italy and in France, but only bursts fully on to the scene during the Renaissance.
Talentoso had already appeared in Italian in the thirteenth century with the meaning of desirous, lustful, and at that time, the adjective was also used in the sense of ‘very dear, pleasing’.
“Quand’io passo vegiendovi davanti, lo cor si parte, a voi vien talentoso di dicer ciò ch’io sento per amare”
“When I walk by and see you, my heart leaps, it longs to express my feelings of love” (Chiaro Davanzati, Rime, XIV, 13th century);
During the Renaissance we find it also used in the sense of ‘very precious’ as in the attestation of Francesco Colonna from Hypnerotomachia Poliphili:
“And who shall be the possessor of such an inestimable and precious treasure?”
The first Italian evidence of its use in the sense of ‘full of talent’ is much more recent: the GRADIT gives the year 1857 when “There can easily be… more talented people but likewise easily more melons” is written in the Family letters with memories of the last years by Francesco Guerrazzi.
The first occurrence of the talentuoso form appears soon afterwards;
Therefore, both forms are well evidenced. However, compared with the answers given to us by the dictionaries, referring almost exclusively to talentoso, verifying the actual use of the two adjectives provides some surprises.
The majority refer to the world of football or more generally to sports (although the adjective also appears in artistic, culinary and other texts)
Here are some definitions of “talent”:
By Paolo Lucchetta (architect):
“We can reasonably agree that talent in itself is a gift, a natural inclination that each of us possesses to a different degree and whose recognition, exploitation and expression should permeate training courses in our society. But the critical factor seems to be the project, the passion with which people who recognise their own talent decide to share this individual capital socially. The quality of our condition largely depends on these choices and the gaps that are created in society. I could therefore venture to say that being a talented person nowadays has a lot to do with a sort of sense of the responsibility shared by citizens who are strongly committed to using their individual talent to build the future of the world around us, a scenario which is more than possible, because in part it exists already.”
By Valeria Tatano (architect):
“Talent” is “a word little used today, at least in the intellectual field, as it is so often used in the worlds of sport and entertainment, but if we talk about entrepreneurial skills or cultural interests it is not common to use this word, perhaps also for reasons of modesty. Modesty due to no longer being able to take for granted that people with talent can develop it and see it recognised, or that it really counts in a society that tends to favour economic and political power over culture and knowledge.
Talent is a gift and so is the identification of its existence. It should be family and schools which spot the signs, but I fear that the latter in particular find it hard to identify the real gifts of some, appearing as they do at a young age in confused forms, often hidden by exuberance and agitation (physical and intellectual), characteristics that teachers usually do not like.
We do not want to see talent in those who have it because such awareness leads to a responsibility: to cultivate and develop that talent, which needs care, attention and therefore time, an ingredient which must nowadays be accounted for and endowed with an economic cost that someone must pay.
On the other hand, I am convinced that even those who are apparently devoid of talent can eventually develop qualities in their own field, through study, reading and curiosity. We can all find within ourselves a small talent and make it grow if we have the strength to develop it and, especially young people, the good fortune to meet a mentor, a contact, a guide, endowed with a critical spirit to ensure we do not deviate from the true path.”
Pierluigi Aluisio (IT specialist) defines “talent” as follows:
“In the current economic and social environment being a talented person also means being courageous. It is not enough to have skills: you also need the courage to express them.
Having talent today means having the courage to have ideas and communicate them, the courage to dream, to try to stand out, to take risks and to know how to involve other people in your projects.
It means having the courage to look beyond, into the future. In this static, politicised and gerontocratic society, being a talented person means having the courage to explore new paths; your own.”
The economist Michele Boldrin provides a very interesting explanation of talent:
“In itself, I believe the expression “talented person” has the same meaning as it had 10 or 100 years ago, i.e. a person with intellectual, cognitive, artistic or manual skills above the average. Not necessarily all together, but at least some. Obviously, natural talent or talents are not much use if they are not cultivated, applying them to knowledge and skills which must be acquired. From this point of view, things have remained the same for the last several centuries. The activities to which talents are applied have changed but, even in this case the change is more apparent than real. After all, whether you use a computer or a fountain pen, you’re still writing texts; whether it is done at CERN, in a huge accelerator, or in a small and rudimentary laboratory in Via Panisperna, the particle physicist poses questions that are expressed in terms similar to those of eighty years ago and which, in fact, have arisen from the answers given to the previous series of questions; the bridge designer solves problems that are similar to those of 800 years ago, being, in a sense, no more than a continuation of the latter. Talent is distributed among humans by nature but its exploitation is the business of the humans who create the conditions necessary for it.”
By Riccardo Della Torre (research economist):
“When I hear about “talent” I immediately think about ideas. But ideas and genius alone are not enough. I believe that being a talented person today means having something to say (which is original, new, different, but also based on solid and practical grounds), having the courage to say it and above all trying everything to put it into practice. At the same time, in my opinion, being a talented person today means being able to listen, understand, read, look around, and absorb as much as possible from our surroundings: I refer to the ability to learn from people with whom we share work, study, interests, free time.”
Massimo Russo (journalist):
“Being a talented person means having acquired specific skills and knowledge; having the curiosity and passion to continue exploring and learning; being able to see solutions by hybridising very different fields; being willing to risk themselves and their “income by virtue of position” in dealings with others; not accepting that something is “impossible because it has never been done before”.
Maurizio Carlotti (TV director):
“Talent and genius are not the same thing. Genius is the ability to create something from nothing; talent is the ability to transform the existing. A brilliant person believes in himself and in his ability to create alone; a talented person believes in what surrounds him and in the possibility of improving it. Genius is private, talent is extrovert. It is difficult to imagine a talented person on their own, while the iconography of geniuses shows them as solitary. Genius is a gift, while talent in addition to qualities requires a specific aptitude. Genius can be compared to a pure chemical element; talent is more like a complex formula.”
Massimo Donà (musician):
“Although it is true that the word “talent “evokes a kind of innate ability to do something, in other words a kind of natural inclination to perform a certain type of activity, it is also true that the issue raised by the question refers to something that, nowadays, is coloured with a specific connotation, which goes well beyond the generic meaning of the concept in question. Yes, because being highly talented today means something very different from what it could have meant, for example, two centuries ago. In short, what is the modern context in which a person is situated, and in relation to which his talent, if any, can be specifically recognised and exploited as it deserves? It is, as can easily be recognised, a context characterised above all by the increasing acceleration of transformations. Requirements, needs, values and priorities are changed incessantly; in short, nothing lasts long. So it becomes increasingly difficult to have the necessary and sufficient time to redefine your aptitudes in relation to the context. What could have been acceptable aptitudes just a few years ago may already have become obsolete….
So real talent today consists precisely in being able to continuously reshape and update one’s aptitudes (with great speed and flexibility) – the real aptitude today is being able to redefine one’s aptitudes as quickly as possible or discovering increasingly new ways of developing them.”
Emanuele Pettener (writer):
“What it has always meant, I suppose: being able to think, as far as possible, with your own brain. In other words, developing original thoughts. Very difficult, given that we generally think recycled thoughts and say things already said, even more so today, bombarded as we are by an unhealthy concept of communication. We are no longer able to sit quietly by ourselves to reflect – we have to turn on the wretched mobile phone and communicate – but talent develops in individual silence, in a frank face-to-face conversation with ourselves.”
Marino Pagan (researcher):
“In my opinion, people today considered “talented” are above all people able to successfully combine multiple skills and interests.
In the world of research, for example, many of the latest discoveries and innovations were the result of communication and integration between various areas of knowledge by people who were able to grasp the common aspects of the various scientific disciplines. In my field of study, the neurosciences, the last few years have seen enormous growth in research designed to solve problems arising from economics or law, in the same way that the use of techniques and tools borrowed from engineering and physics has become increasingly essential.
With this in mind, a talented person today is required to expand their cultural horizons as far as possible, communicating and cooperating with different players and feeding their own curiosity even outside their own sphere.”
Valeria Benvenuti (researcher):
“Talent is perhaps one of the few tools that young people can possess in order to stand out in our society. In a system in which young people tend to conform to a uniform model, it is inventiveness, initiative, imagination, but above all curiosity that make a young person talented. Being talented means maximising one’s abilities in order to create something innovative and useful and to turn today into a better tomorrow. A young person who hides his talents under a bushel does not get involved, does not want to improve and remains the same as before: he basically expects others to decide for him. And it is precisely in this period of crisis in which young people are most affected that there is a need to stand out, to assert the talents, regardless of their number, that each person has. Anyone with abilities has a responsibility to develop them.”
Michele Brunello (architect):
“People who display a talent normally have two characteristics: they have their feet firmly planted on the ground and at the same time have “their heads in the clouds”.
Having your “head in the clouds” is a necessary characteristic that helps one to observe reality and to reason from the general to the particular and vice versa, and leads to the development of innovative ideas and “high” thinking even when facing everyday problems.
Having your “feet planted on the ground” make actions and ideas effective and practical, and serves to interpret and codify the new demands of the environment in which we live.
However, having a talent and being able to express it are very different things.
To describe the particular Italian “milieu” in which, with various difficulties, talent can be expressed, I use two other elements.
You need fire: the continuous action even if chaotic, starting again, the challenge of limits, the risk. In short, you need the passion of doing accompanied by an ethical dimension that makes it possible to believe in what you’re doing. The fire within.
Finally, you need water, the liquid element that represents the exchange, the necessary fluidity that generates circulation and comparison of ideas, the dynamic instability that does not allow the affirmation of rigid and ideological positions, the impossibility of standing still because everything around you is moving.”
Stefano Beraldo (manager):
“Talent belongs to the sphere of aptitudes. A person who has it and does not turn it into actions suffers. It does not produce benefits for the planet. Nor for oneself. I can’t see any difference in having talent today and in the past.”
Andrea Jester (financial consultant): “Having the ability to abstract and then make a summary, to have an overview but also being able to intervene in the detail, contributing to the completion of the overall design.”
And so from the sum total of all these definitions the nature of talent emerges.
Italian politics has, today more than ever, a need for people with “talent” among its ranks. “Talent” manifested by actions, not words.
The politicians of today, who have distinguished themselves in social and economic life only by knowing how to speak, but not knowing how to do, should be excluded from the proposal to voters.
For Maurizio Bragagni the facts speak for themselves. The numbers. His professional life. And the facts, the numbers and his professional life, are there for all to see.
In addition to natural ‘talent’, Maurizio Bragagni has the advantage of his presence in the European city that more than any others has characterised the history of Italy over the centuries.
English influence has been felt since the time of the Roman Empire.
Constantine’s mother, Santa Elena, was English, and Constantine I “The Great” was one of the most important figures in the Roman Empire.
It was he who favoured the spread of Christianity.
In more recent times we remember Giuseppe Garibaldi and Giuseppe Mazzini.
The two key figures in the Unification of Italy.
Mazzini arrived in London at the beginning of 1837 where he struggled to make a living writing for various newspapers. He settled in the area of Clerkenwell, a district of London that had become famous with the name of “Little Italy” due to the presence of many Italians, mostly political refugees.
Mazzini opened a small free school for children in Hatton Garden in 1841. It was also thanks to his commitment that the Italian church of Saint Peter in Clerkenwell was built. Mazzini made contact with many Italian emigrants who shared his political ideas.
He was also a correspondent for several liberal newspapers on the continent, such as Le Monde in Paris and the L’Helvétie in Switzerland, the “Monthly Chronicle”, the magazines “British and Foreign Affairs”, “Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine”, and the radical “People’s Journal”. In the latter he published a series of important essays entitled “Thoughts on Democracy in Europe,” in which he traced the utilitarian origins of the various utopian movements of the time.
London therefore represented an important place in the development of Mazzini’s political thinking and for republican Italy.
Giuseppe Garibaldi arrived in Southampton on 11 April 1864, welcomed by thousands of people.
After making a triumphal progress across the south of England, he was welcomed at his first public appearance in Trafalgar Square by over half a million Londoners, according to conservative figures produced by the Metropolitan Police. A multitude which, as the newspapers of that time recorded, was not exceeded even at the funeral of Wellington.
But that was not his first visit to the United Kingdom.
The first visit was in 1847, for more amorous reasons: he had become engaged to a rich and attractive upper-class widow, Mrs Emma Roberts, whom he never married but with whom he always remained on friendly terms.
“We’ll get a rope, and hang the Pope, so up with Garibaldi!” – so sang the London children, while at Hyde Park there was a demonstration by Irish Catholics, shouting “No to Garibaldi, the Pope forever” until dispersed by the police.
The British government had always held the Italian hero in a certain esteem: in 1846, the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, had supported Garibaldi’s efforts in defence of Uruguayan independence and the British government would later also support the exploits of the Thousand.
He was “a man of great dash and courage” to the British diplomats, who greatly appreciated the fact that in the Italian Legion, which he commanded, the aid provided by the government of His Majesty did not disappear into private pockets, but was administered with absolute rigour and correctness.
Conduct which helped reinforce the image of a man of “courage and utmost honesty”, and came to overturn the Italian stereotype created during the Protestant Reformation.
The celebrations followed each other without pause for several days, although the most solemn moment came on 20 April when Garibaldi was granted honorary citizenship.
Throughout the world newspapers gave great prominence to the welcome given to the General, in particular the “Illustrated London News” which devoted many illustrations to the event; these were a great success, later becoming cult objects and collectors’ items, attracting prices of up to 500 pounds.
Today if an honourable member of the Reform Club wants to sit on the table where formerly the Hero had sat at a dinner at which the members of the time asked for and obtained money to buy rifles, he must ask for special permission and ensure on his honour that he will not damage in any way the sacred memorabilia and the commemorative plaque.
It also gave rise to a vast industry of souvenirs which are still in use today, such as teacups with the bearded portrait and flowing mane of hair, ashtrays, chocolate boxes, cross-stitched cushions, statuettes of Garibaldi on horseback in a glass ball with snow effect, oleographs in their thousands in which Garibaldi’s features are stylised and blend into an almost messianic icon. Not forgetting Garibaldi tea mugs and the Garibaldi biscuit, a raisin biscuit sold in a metal boxes with a portrait and map of a reunited Italy.
The adulation of the crowds and all the phenomena of idolatry were not appreciated by Queen Victoria. “I’m almost ashamed to rule a nation capable of such follies,” she confessed after reproving her son, the future Edward VII, who had said, with enthusiasm, that he had been honoured to shake hands with “The Hero”.
The Queen, annoyed and worried, asked the prime minister Benjamin Disraeli (who had refused to shake hands with the man he referred to as “the Pirate”) what the man possessed to arouse so much hysteria among the people. “Your Majesty,” replied the politician, “that man is today the most powerful individual in the world because in him it recognises absolute purity. He is what he says and he says what he does without contradiction and weakness”.
Not only Italian politicians and revolutionaries found inspiration in London.
Also poets, among them Ugo Foscolo.
He arrived in London on 12 September 1816 and spent the last eleven years of his life there struggling with considerable financial and moral difficulties. As soon as he arrived in the city, he came into contact with numerous English intellectuals, being introduced into the cultural circle of Holland House.
He became a friend of John Murray, the publisher who, in April 1817, published the fourth and last version of the Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis (the work is essentially similar to the Zurich edition of the previous year), accompanied by a brief Note and a selection of chapters from the translation of A Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne.
The early days of English exile were relatively happy, the first impact even exciting. The new friendships and the fame he enjoyed overseas surprised the poet: “From the moment I set foot in England I was pleased by everything. Here for the first time I realised that I am not entirely unknown to mortals; and I see myself welcomed as a man who has already benefited from a century of good reputation and integrity”, he wrote to his friend Quirina Mocenni Magiotti a week after his arrival.
During the London period, Foscolo devoted himself mainly to editorial and journalistic activity and engaged in the historical-critical study of some periods, texts and figures in Italian literature, especially Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio.
Other works dating from this time, in addition to the fourth Ortis, were new essays on the Homeric translations, The Graces and the unfinished Letters Written from England (’16 -’18), some of which were published posthumously with the title Gazzette of the Beautiful World), the incomplete Apologetic Letter, found and published by Mazzini after Foscolo’s death, the famous Essays on Petrarch (1821, II ed.1823), the historical discourse on the text of the Decameron (1825) and the Discourse on the text of the Divine Comedy by Dante (1826). In addition, some 30 critical essays, written to be translated into English and published in the British periodical magazines, including the series Epochs of the Italian language and the famous article Antiquarians and Critics of Italian History (1826).
Foscolo was welcomed in liberal circles, and initially made a good living from his activities.
Mazzini, Garibaldi And Before Them Foscolo, But Also After Them, Marconi.
Marconi, the son of a wealthy Irishwoman, travelled to the United Kingdom, where he thought, rightly, that it would be easier to find the necessary capital for the practical use of his invention. On 12 February 1896, Marconi left with his mother for the United Kingdom. In London, on 5 March of the same year, he filed the first provisional patent application.
On 2 July 1897, he received the patent from the London Patent Office.
So, in London in July 1897 Marconi founded the Wireless Telegraph Trading Signal Company (later renamed Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company), which opened its first office in Hall Street, Chelmsford, England, the following year, employing about 50 people.
Centuries before, and scholars now agree, another Italian, a Sicilian to be exact, from the city of Messina, moved to Britain.
He was Michelangelo Florio whose family name on the maternal side was Crollalanza.
Today known as William Shakespeare: the greatest dramatist of all time.
He was an ………. Italian talent.
All of them were inspired, pampered, and loved by London.
London loves Italy.
It loves Italian talent, is able to bring it out, and supports it.
London – a source of ideas, suggestions and advice that deserve attention.
Other nations have also used Italian “talent”. Giovanni Battista Viotti, for example, the Piedmontese violinist and composer who composed the music of what would later become the French national anthem: the “Marseillaise”.
Today, more than yesterday, Italian politics, or rather Italian society as a whole, should be a magnet for the talent of those who have been successful in the land of Albion and elsewhere. To pass on experience, to give practical answers to the real needs of citizens, to be a point of reference for those visions that go beyond national borders.
In the next few years we will be talking more and more about artificial intelligence, robotics and widespread digitalisation.
Italian society must be ready to take on the challenges of such innovation. The future is the consequence of the story that is being written now.
The next few years, the next legislature, will be a challenge between current certainties and the emerging need for a strategic approach sensitive to the new technologies that will be transforming first education and then the world of work.
Maurizio Bragnani is one of those people who is able to take on this challenge.
His role as CEO of Tratos Group Ltd is fundamental to the effectiveness and usefulness of any political policy proposal.
Being at the head of a company universally known to be highly innovative, capable of identifying new directions and translating them into opportunities for further development, thinking ahead of the competition and maintaining leadership in its main market is proof of his own talent. He is a major asset for the political group that will support him in his candidacy for nomination to the Senate of the Republic, with responsibility for foreign and Europe affairs.
For too long, not only have Italians abroad not been listened to, they have not even been taken into consideration, except marginally, in assisting the growth of Italian society.
It is now time that, even in the absence of a binding mandate, there should be a bond of political responsibility between voters and elected representatives.
Article 67 of the Italian Constitution states: “Every Member of Parliament shall represent the Nation and exercise his functions without a binding mandate”
It was written and conceived to guarantee the most absolute freedom of expression to the members of the Italian Parliament elected to the Chamber of Deputies and to the Senate of the Republic.
The founding fathers considered it desirable that, in order to guarantee democracy, every individual parliamentarian should not be bound by any mandate imposed either by the party to which he belonged when he was a candidate, by the electoral programme, or by who voted and elected him to either of the two Chambers (prohibition of compulsory mandate).
Rather, it is political responsibility that must be respected.
It is a juridical, philosophical and political concept which decides whether a person working in the State in a political capacity should be responsible (and to whom) for the political choices made, and is therefore answerable for his actions.
Dr Bragagni sees his political responsibility is simply this: to respect, protect and promote the general interests of Italians abroad.
How is this to be done? With specific legislative activity, with draft legislation arising directly from the needs of Italians working abroad and which is also useful and necessary for Italians living in Italy.
“Talented” Italians living abroad are universally known for their positivity, their initiative, their ability to solve problems, their innate vision of the future.
In all probability the Italian political class is unable to appreciate and value the Italian “talent” living abroad. In the last few legislatures, people were nominated who were light years away from being “talented”. The judicial and political facts speak for themselves.
It’s time to turn the page.
In fact, it’s really time to change the book of Italian politicians living abroad.
And Maurizio Bragnani wants to write a chapter in this book; a chapter that first of all describes his Italian existence abroad.
He can do that with ease, having been able to appreciate the culture of the host country, the rules of civil cohabitation, the sharing of history and having known and expanded an industrial activity with hundreds of employees all over the world.
His is a chapter full of values; the values that everyone should have, but which are too often forgotten “in the last drawer of the conscience” – a drawer never opened.
Maurizio Bragagni keeps that drawer open every day, every second of the day, because he knows that only by respecting values is it possible to grow, improve oneself and help others improve too.
His is also a chapter that defines commitment in work.
“At the head of a large company you have to be pragmatic, but you also have to recognise and make room for vision. Vision arising from an opportunity to be exploited may eventually be transformed into a “talented” action.” Dr Maurizio Bragagni.
His place at the head of a company in which the culture of innovation is one of the attributes that set it apart is an important element in his ability to champion talent.
Research on the culture of innovation within Tratos is fully described in the paper written by Maurizio Bragagni and published in May 2016 by the Cass Business School – City University London.
But Maurizio Bragagni, like all Italians abroad, has not forgotten his roots.
“Discover Valtiberina” is a publication strongly promoted by Maurizio Bragagni and supported by Tratos to bring the Val Tiberina, or the Alta Valle del Tevere, to international attention.
And the Italian roots mingle with “talent” thanks to the magazine “Il Club”.
This was born out of an idea by Maurizio Bragagni to create an information tool and a community to discuss “British” culture in a complex historical moment characterised by the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.
“England is my wife, Italy is my mother. Do not ask me whom I love most”
This quote represents the choices facing Maurizio Bragagni in daily life.
It is ‘the Mother’ now needs his help, his ability to summarise the various options and needs, but the relationship with ‘the Wife’ will bring only further advantages for both.
A summary of this approach needs to be translated into a legislative bill. The Senate of the Republic needs it. Italy needs it.
Whatever they do, wherever they are – Italians need it.