What Matters to Mauro Porcini

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Debbie Millman has an ongoing project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an effort to understand the interior life of artists, designers, and creative thinkers. This facet of the project is a request of each invited respondent to answer ten identical questions and submit a nonprofessional photograph.

Mauro Porcini is the Chief Design Officer at PepsiCo. Next month, he’ll publish The Human Side of Innovation: The Power of People In Love With People, our PRINT Book Club pick for November.

What is the thing you like doing most in the world?

I love sharing a meal with interesting people in new and unexpected locations. It’s a kind of experience in which you can easily find three commonalities: the pleasure of food, which is a delight to our senses; the joy of people and dialogue, which is a delight to our intellect and soul; and the excitement of travel and discovery, which is a delight to our heart and mind.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

As a child, I recall sitting by my father and watching him paint and draw with a variety of mediums such as watercolors, pencils, ink, oil, and pyrography. I remember then trying to do the same, experimenting and having fun with the process. But there’s a specific moment that was impressed in my memory as one of the most creative ones: it’s the day I decided to innovate. Pyrography (Greek for “writing with fire”) is the art of decorating wood with burn marks resulting from the application on the surface of a heated object such as a poker. That’s what my father— and my grandfather before him— used to do on wood, creating incredible pieces of art. That’s what I started to do too, until one day I decided to change the substrate. I found scraps of leather and I began to burn these scraps, creating art on top of them. Then those scraps of leather became bracelets, bags, and wallets. All of the sudden, I transitioned from being a little boy artist to becoming a young designer. I went from producing art to producing artistic objects. I was 8-years old. I didn’t realize this back then, but with my designer’s perspective today, that’s exactly what happened when I changed material and I gave new meaning to the creative act of burning that material with a heated poker. I became a designer, and I became, somehow, an innovator too.

What is your biggest regret?

I don’t have any regrets. Truly, not even one, and this is for a simple reason. All the mistakes I’ve made in my life— and there have been many— and all the chances that I didn’t take, or the ones that I did take that didn’t go as planned, have all been integral to my growth. They’ve made me the person that I am today, and they’ve made me a better human being. Without those mistakes, I wouldn’t be where I am. To be clear, I am not referring to my professional position as Chief Design Officer of a renowned corporation. Not at all. I am referring to my awareness about the value of people, about the power of kindness and respect, about the importance of optimism and curiosity, about the potential of dreams and hard work and about the many traits and gifts of those people that I like to call “unicorns.” Unicorns are people in love with people. They are people obsessed with the idea of creating meaningful value for themselves, for their loved ones, for their communities, and for society as a whole. Having regrets is a negative mindset that I don’t particularly care for. We should replace regrets with the excitement of the lessons that we can extract from our missteps.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

Through two powerful things: the support of friends and family as well as the help of another kind of dear friend, time. People that loved me were there to give me comfort, keep me in high spirits and protect me from my heart and my mind, when I needed them the most. Time did the rest. It was through a major heartbreak that I was able to fully understand the power of kindness. In my personal life and then in my professional life too. I will always be grateful to the people that have been there for me. I want to be one of those people who is there for others and I want to be the person that is there when I’m needed most.

What makes you cry?

Romantic movies and books.

How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?

The joy is short. The pride is life-long. Let me explain. I find more joy in the journey toward an accomplishment than in the accomplishment itself. The Italian writer Giacomo Leopardi describes this common feeling in a wonderful poem titled, “Saturday night in the village” (Il sabato del villaggio). In these verses, he tells the story of the joy a village experiences during the preparation for the Sunday holiday. He makes clear that the most joy actually takes place on Saturday, when the village is able to share moments together: working together, having fun together and dreaming of the perfect celebrations to be had the day after.  

That is what excites me— the journey and the dream rather than the accomplishment. That’s what gives me the adrenaline to go on, no matter the roadblocks and the difficulties. That’s what makes me feel alive. That’s the very essence of my life; always working towards something bigger, more relevant and more meaningful. Not only for myself but for others. The pride is then generated by the achievement and it is carved in my soul. But then I have this instinct of trying to be proud for more achievements because if I do it, that means that my role in life has been even more meaningful. It also means that I can keep experiencing the joy of the journey, more and more.

Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?

The philosopher Blaise Pascal used to say that even under the assumption that God and afterlife’s existence is unlikely, the potential benefits of believing are so vast as to make betting on theism the best bet we can take. In other words, believing in God and an afterlife can give us meaning and hope, while not believing can lead us to emptiness and eventually desperation. The latter is not the case for all, but it’s for sure a likely end of atheism for many. As we don’t know if an afterlife exists or not, it’s much better, even much more rational, to bet on its existence than not.

I was personally raised in a Catholic family, in a Catholic country, a few miles away from the Vatican otherwise known as the Catholic’s “headquarters.” My culture makes me believe in an afterlife. But, as for many people, my heart then regularly fights with my intellect and my mind, always looking for proofs and facts. As we know, there is no solution to that conflict. So, I prefer to embrace a reassuring and optimistic vision, taking Pascal’s position, and believe.

I imagine the afterlife as pure energy, radiant, shining, and warm. I imagine it as pure peace and serenity. It’s a life where we reach full awareness, where we feel each other happiness and where we find our own meaning, individually and collectively, as a whole.

What do you hate most about yourself?

Nothing. I hate the world hate. It’s the only kind of hate I allow myself to have: the hate for hating. 

I do believe that we need to learn to accept ourselves for who we are, with our weaknesses and opportunities, in a positive way. We should spend our lives always trying to become the better version of ourselves but we should do so with full peace of mind and profound appreciation of who we are: a miracle of life, a miracle of Mother Nature and a miracle of God.

I may not particularly like, for instance, the shape of my body or my lack of patience, but I’ve learned to see them as an opportunity to improve. They are a part of who I am today and I am ok with it. In the meantime, they are also one of the measures of the potential of who I could become in the future and I love that. 

What do you love most about yourself?

The awareness that my life journey has given me. The awareness that my life journey has given me. The awareness that makes me be a better father for my newborn daughter Beatrice, a better companion, a better son, brother and friend, and a better leader for my teams. As awareness is a journey, I can’t wait to see what I can become in the coming decades, if I will be lucky enough to still be alive. So, at the end, what I love the most is the potential of who I can become…

What is your absolute favorite meal?

If you’re referring to what my favorite meal of the day is, then that’s lunch… when I have time to enjoy it. For instance, I like the idea of a wonderful lunch with friends in the hills of Tuscany, during a holiday. If you’re referring to a specific dish, then the choice is hard, but I’ll try to pick one. One of my favorite dishes is definitely fettuccine with clams and bottarga, with a very light preparation, a good olive oil, some garlic and fresh Italian parsley (our prezzemolo).