Stelio Verzera

nominato in Who is Agile in Italy da:

Jacopo Romei

What is something people usually don’t know about you but has influenced you in who you are?

Stelio -”

It was a dark and stormy night. In fact, it was a spring morning instead. The little 12 years old Stelio was alone at home recovering from a light flu. On a shelf a tiny, powerful book was waiting for the right moment to be found. “Zen in the art of Archery” was the title. It had been given a gift to his mother by a German friend, with the hand-written dedication “An answer for all of us and, yet, another question”.

That morning a journey begun for me, and the last of three strong influences entered the scene: Eastern culture. From that day, I’ve travelled both mentally and physically through the grasps of Buddhism, Taoism, Central American Shamanism, Australian Aboriginal culture, Hinduism and more. I started practicing martial arts after a quest for the right master culminated calling the Chinese Embassy when I was 14 and in despair for the scum I was finding around. I learnt perspectives very different from those taught in our schools and families, and I learnt them by doing, with my “guts”, not (just) with my brains. My Wu Shu practice lead me to a beautiful 1997 China for a few weeks, right into the Shanghai Tiyu Xueyuan (University of Physical Education of Shanghai) where I met really amazing people just as different from me as moved by a similar fire. I’ve practiced Chinese Martial Arts intensely for over 12 years, both internal and external styles, plus Aikido and Capoeira. And I still practice today. I’ve been lucky enough to meet real masters, heir of very ancient traditions, and I’ve slowly and deeply learnt a few radically important things of life as, for example, how to “enter through the form, and then exit the form”, or to “practice very much the little, and not a little the very much”. These things have come to be a good third of my core influences.

The other two thirds are the sea and my family. Strongly interconnected to each other.

This would be a very long story to tell, so let’s just say that I’ve been raised in the water, I’ve never had to “learn” how to swim: I have never forgot since I’ve come out of amniotic fluid. I’ve started sailing with my grandfather when I was six. I’ve spent tens of hours free diving alone among sea life. Salty water is home for me. I’ve grown up to be a sailor, a free-diver, water skier, scuba dive master, wind surfer and now that I’m not-so-young still a surfer and kite-surfer. I’ve chosen to study Aerospace Engineering because I wanted to complete my knowledge of the waves and of the wind, studying the whole cutting edge body of knowledge of Fluid Dynamics. And so I did.

Behind and inside all of this, my family. It was Sicily, mid 70s when I was born. And it was from a couple of 20 years old very inexperienced youngsters, magically and blindly in love. I should have been interrupted in the early pregnancy. But my mother left the doctor as soon as she sat down with him to talk about it. My grandfather supported her telling they’d have taken care of the baby even if she did not want to get married. But she did. And off I went with a family of two very young parents. They tried hard but did not make it together, and split when I was 3. They kept love and kindness to each other though, and they still do today. So I found myself blessed with actually three very diverse families into which I’ve grown up: my mother and his second mate, her parents living in the next door, and my father’s family. I’ve been loved from three very different sides, while learning that life can be understood and taken in very different ways, all of which are inherently right.

So these three things have strongly influenced who I am today, my ability to be agile or, as I’d rather say, to be fluid: my family, the sea, and Eastern culture.”

If you would not have been in your current industry / role, what would have become of you?

Stelio -”

What the heck do I know, man?!

What I am sure of is that I would be a different person if forged by different experiences, different friends and different challenges. I’ve hit the wall with my head in this very work path, crashing a company pretty badly. I’ve met the love of my life, my wife. I’ve come to design a few powerful things that are taking me around the world in amazing creation spaces. I’ve found many incredible people and a few new brothers, and today my ohana is here. All the rest, is quantum imagination.”

What is your biggest challenge and why is it a good thing for you?

Stelio -”

Keeping my steps truly in line with myself. Or, in other words, staying happy and free.

It takes some counter-intuitive and sometimes unpopular choices. But it’s the only thing that makes real sense to me, at many levels.”

What drives you?

Stelio -”

Driving me? Besides my wife you mean?!

Seriously, family and love are two of my deepest values. I’d confidently say that they drive me. And also the way I mean them, drives me. Which is broadly, like in the words ohana, ubuntu or aloha. Then a vivid curiosity. And pleasure for the good things of life that fill you up with a wide smile, like a glass of good rum in a sailboat at anchor off a Mediterranean island within a midsummer night with a long time friend, talking about whatever gives us emotions.”

What is your biggest achievement?

Stelio -”

This was a good one for personal branding. Damn it!

Truth is: having kept my steps deeply in line with myself. Always.

What is the last book you have read?

Stelio -”

I read books in cohorts. Yes, three or four at the same time. No agile dogma of WIP limit here, I’m in ri. Leave me alone.

So the last cohort is: The art of Power by Thich Nhat Hanh, Antifragile (second reading) by by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Managing in the Next Society by Peter Drucker, Surfing the Edge of Chaos by Richard Pascale, Mark Milleman, Linda Gioja.

What question do you think we should also ask and what is the answer?

Stelio -”

What should the agile community stop right now?

Calling itself the “agile community”.

In fact, it is a do-or-die moment for it, and this is the way out. “Agile” has become a semantic container, meaning too many things and, thus, nothing. Just like “website”, for example.

This is the fate of those currents that happen to become Zeitgeist. It’s not good or bad, it just happens, and it takes true agility to evolve out of the trap. So get out of the “agile” thing, if we are truly adaptive and agile as we claim. Moreover, this “community” concept is getting more and more dogmatic and entropic just as it gets more closed on itself. And it is getting more and more closed on itself. It seems to me that the reaction to losing that “intellectual edge” that so-called agilists had back when “agile” was a thing of a few, is to mark the territory boundaries of the “agile community” sharper, instead of opening up to other valuable knowledge flows and creation spaces in order to evolve by cross-contamination and feedback iterations.

Who do you think we should ask next?

Stelio -”

Michele Luconi, because he’s had the attributes to live agility down to its hardest implications with doxastic commitment in his own enterprise. We should all be thankful to this kind of entrepreneurs. They are lighthouses.

Emanuele Rapisarda, for in his answers we’ll read the best upcoming agile. If you want to have a peek at what real agility will look like in 5 or 10 years, listen to the thoughts of this young professional.

And thanks a lot to Jacopo for naming me: I’d have done just the same, bro. Aloha.


Michele Luconi


Emanuele Rapisarda