5 things we learnt from Davos that we thought you needed to know

Last week, presidents, prime ministers, business leaders and their entourages gathered in a Swiss ski resort to set the world to rights. Well kind of.

The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, also known as Davos, is now in its 40 something year. It’s raison d’etre: to provide an unrivalled platform for leaders from all walks of life to shape the global, regional, industry and business agendas.

While it’s easy to dismiss Davos as simply one big knees up mother brown for the world’s elite, you could argue it is, amongst other things, an important bellwether of the pressing issues and priorities of businesses globally.

Take this year’s theme: ‘Resilient Dynamism’.

As founder of the forum, Klaus Schwab argues it’s now time to look beyond crisis management: “Future growth requires bold vision and bolder action”.

Excuse the corporate speak but there’s more: “We live in the most complex, interdependent and interconnected era in human history – a reality we know as the hyper-connected world… (it) requires successful companies to demonstrate strategic agility and to possess risk resilience.”

So the message to businesses in a nutshell: if you don’t adapt – and keep on adapting – you’ve had it.

Social makes the top table 

The business agenda specifically had three key themes: one about creating new value and reshaping business models; another about how to leverage advances in science, technology and medicine; and the final one, how to adapt to the future evolution of social technology.

Yes, social has climbed the ranks and is now firmly on the agenda of the top table. You may not be banging on a closed door for much longer.

The big 5 

We didn’t have the privilege of attending (but happy to get an invite next year Klaus). However, here’s what we learnt from doing a bit of digging:

1. Big business beware: this Internet thing is empowering the underdog
For underdog, read you, me, your next door neighbour. Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, shared some David and Goliath stories to set the cat amongst the pigeons. The businesses who had at their peril upset the little man, only for that single voice to quickly multiply online.

2. Big data yes, but there are some sticky privacy issues to address
Several sessions seemed to talk up the big data opportunity as the penny seems to have dropped that mining the rich vein of data now available on our every move can be used to real competitive gain. Ellen Richey, Chief Enterprise Risk Officer at Visa sensibly argued that for the promise of big data to be fulfilled, there’s got to be a real emphasis on building trust in the way that data is being used. In other words, if you’re going to use my data for commercial gain, what’s in it for me?

3. The race for ever greater business productivity is stifling creativity
Shantanu Naraven, CEO at Adobe argued the case for creativity – with some hard facts. Apparently 8 out of 10 people surveyed believe that unlocking creativity is critical to economic growth. That said, only 1 in 4 people think they are actually living up to their own creative potential – believing productivity, not creativity, is what employers demand. Naraven summed up that everyone can be a creator and share their creations today – ideally using Adobe’s software. Sorry we added that last bit. Snide comments aside, we’re with you Mr Naraven.


4. Fail to understand who buys your stuff and what they really want at your peril
Mark Spelman, MD at Accenture shared his thoughts on the 10 ways consumers are changing and why it’s important. He reported that 73% of consumers surveyed say they have increasingly been using the Internet to research and buy products and services in the last three years. And lots are using social media as well. Picture the scene, lots of business leaders incredulous that this Internet thing is finally catching on – busy taking notes and wondering where they can buy it. Anyway, common sense prevailed and Spelman advised that it’s no longer about the ‘where’ and ‘who’ of selling but the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of consumption. Being able to understand and act on these changes is the key to generating profitable revenue growth.

5. It’s all about playing the long game
S.D. Shiblulal, CEO of Infosys got to the heart of the challenges proccupying business leaders today – and stated the case for focusing on the long-term. Basically, agility and speed of response are critical in overcoming short-term challenges, but resilience determines the long-term fortunes of an enterprise. He went on to say that essentially a long-term is nothing but a series of short terms, so it’s important to overcome the short-term stuff with a firm view on the emerging future. Glad he cleared that one up. However, there were some strong themes: about tuning into mega trends; living with constantly changing business cycles (they’re here to stay) and the need of enterprises to fulfill their social contracts – to give back from society from which they take so much.

And there you have it. Davos 2013 – in one handy guide that’s excluded all the important political frolicking that makes the headlines. We hope you enjoyed your armchair visit as much as we did

By Earnest 30 January 2013

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