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50-for-50 interview: Valeria Maltoni, conversation agent

valeria maltoni

One of the original powerhouse writers in the new media “space” (new word, please!), Valeria Maltoni excels above all at what her blog boldly promises front and center: connecting ideas and people. She seems to know everyone and turn up everywhere, always with a resource, recommendation, or connection in hand. Valeria is also one of the most prolific bloggers I’ve ever met: years after many have left their sites to gather dust, Valeria continues to publish meaty content there while maintaining a useful presence on a breathtaking array of social media outposts. She was my roommate at SXSW 2010, so I’m pretty sure she actually does sleep; perhaps it’s something in her pure Italian blood that gives her superhuman strength. Red wine and pasta, FTW!

When did you decide to become a writer?

Writing found me. Since a very tender age, I felt the desire to commit thoughts to paper/screen to stabilize the flow of information coming at me so I could make sense of it with others. I observed that people operate at different time frames and frequencies. Often, they would not be able to listen in real time. Or be too distracted by the practical things in life to want to think about the layers in social interactions, cultural movements, patterns, and change. So I wrote it all down for later, to make things visible, document them in some way. And, in the process, to sing myself into existence. I was eight when I wrote my first poems.

Who was your favorite teacher?

Dante Alighieri. Seriously. To me he was the first blogger. In a time when writing meant doing the bidding of the people in charge, he decided to write his own thoughts and opinions down. Not just that, he wrote in the language of the people, the Florentine dialect, when all literary people were writing in Latin. And, he wrote in a style that was considered “popular” and not scholarly — comedy. He poured all of his knowledge, which was quite vast, into the Comedy, all 100 chapters of it. Which he finished in exile; a conservative in liberal times. Doing that, he gave us something that transcended his age. He documented the human journey, and he created the Italian language. What’s not to like?

What do you love to write about?

Business. I see a need for shared inquiry, which is the meaning I attach to conversation, along with action, the agent part of my online identity. It’s a brand new field, much of the things I do don’t exist anywhere, yet. I want to help organizations do some hard thinking for themselves. So they can see what they haven’t realized about their business, and do better deals. Corporations are made of bits called promises — and the better the promise in and out, the stronger and more resilient the business. I think to understand business we need to get back to basic concepts: promises, trading, models, assets, and flows.

What has writing taught you?

Patience. Because what I write about doesn’t exist yet. It takes time for people to find it, recognize its utility, how it will help make them successful and enduring. I’m changing the conversation on what I see are the diminishing returns of repetitive and inbred thinking, which is so popular now. It’s a process. The alternative is clever. It gets attention. Clever is not going to bring performance, though.

How has writing made you stronger?

It has given me a way to remember and sharpen what I’m thinking. And to create a platform that allows me to think about what adds value, to see things.

If you could go back in time and tell 10-year-old you anything, what would it be?

Keep up the good work. I’ve always been true to myself. Something my parents taught me. Yes, it makes for a more interesting, often challenging, life. It comes with the enormous gift of freedom and responsibility. I would not want it any other way.

What are your five favorite books, blogs or things to read?

I like to read from a wide selection:

Valeria Maltoni specializes in taking companies to what’s next in their business cycle by planning and building value creating systems that add momentum and performance to deliver strength, resilience, and endurance to the business. She’s worked in the Strategy Group at Powered, Inc. overseeing engagements for companies including Anheuser-Busch InBev, Allstate, and GE Appliances. During her career, she’s held senior business roles executing growth strategies at global Fortune 500, mid-sized businesses, and small start up companies in 5 industries. Her long-running blog, Conversation Agent, is consistently ranked among the top 30 marketing blogs in the world on AdAge Power150. Handpicked by Fast Company as Expert Blogger, Valeria is on the Advisory Board of the Consulting Practicum for the International MBA at the Fox School of Business, Temple University, SmartBrief on Social Media, and a co-author of The Age of Conversation.


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