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Davos Debrief: In Resilience We Trust


“What is interesting and important happens mostly in secret, in places where there is no power,” novelist Michael Ondaatje writes in The Cat’s Table, and it was a strange coincidence that I came across this enigmatic line on the descent down from Davos, the Swiss ski resort that had just convened some of the world’s most powerful men and women for the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum.

The paradox of Davos is that it is both highly public and highly secretive. Relationships and business transactions are on show, as much as they are taking place in back room meetings and private encounters on the peripheries, far away from the glitz and glamour and where the buzzing doesn’t need buzzwords. Davos is the great equalizer and the great divider at the same time. The hierarchies are both formal and explicit (manifest by the color of your badge), as well as situational and subtle, with small smart mobs forming around the most sought-after, both on- and offsite (“one minute you’re in, the next you’re out”), in emotional roller coaster, funicular, and shuttle rides between recognition and rejection, belonging and alienation.

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Out in the Open

“All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone,” the 17th century philosopher Pascal famously said. Four centuries later, however, research asserts a direct correlation between openness and happiness. It turns out humans are social animals, after all. “Openness is the freedom to be one’s self,” one self-help blog states, representative of common belief. I concur. In my life, openness has been a prerequisite for almost anything good happening to me – from moving to the U.S. to meeting my wife to, most recently and fittingly, speaking at a TED conference focused on the theme of “Radical Openness.”

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A Hackathon to “Reinvent Business”

Can social technology enable companies and the people within them to make better decisions? Can it improve corporate behavior? Can it perhaps even help restore the social contract between business and society? These are just some of the questions to be tackled by the “Reinvent Business” hackathon – a collaborative, rapid ideation and programming workshop – to be held in San Francisco on June 9-10, Hosted by frog and LRN, in partnership with BSR, Carnegie Mellon University, Dachis Group, Net Impact, Silicon Valley Bank, Fast Company, and the World Economic Forum, the two-day event will bring together software developers, designers, gamers, film makers, writers, business leaders, and other creative minds to imagine, design, and build a more human and truly social enterprise. The goal is both simple and bold: to develop concepts and prototypes for innovative products and services that have the capacity to transform business from within.

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Walking Like Senna

I walked a Formula One race track last fall in Abu Dhabi, in the blistering evening desert heat. The city of Abu Dhabi opens the track a couple of days a week for bikers and joggers. I, however, was walking, due to a lack of appropriate sportswear, gasping for air, and happy to make it through even just one round. It was a surreal experience, not only because I was the odd outlier amidst hundreds of bikers and joggers, but also because it turned the purpose of the race track on its head – as my own private 'slow movement' against the race of the machines, fundamentally opposing the design intent of the venue. It felt like a meditation that turned the split seconds which typically frame the Formula One drivers’ quasi-automated blink decisions into an extended once-in-a-lifetime moment.

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Davos Debrief: Data, Power, Happiness – It’s Getting Personal

Following a year in which “people power” was the rallying cry from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street, the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting 2012 in Davos, which ended last Sunday, might seem like an elitist anachronism, but it is worth noting how the WEF over the past few years has tried in earnest to include voices from civil society as well as younger generations – from new, very active communities within the WEF such as the Young Global Leaders and the Global Shapers to – this year – even Occupy Davos. The result: As a “platform for multi-stakeholder dialogue between business, society, and politics” (in the words of WEF founder and executive chairman Professor Klaus Schwab), the WEF is more relevant than ever (full disclosure: I am a member of the WEF Global Agenda Council on Values in Decision-Making).

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Unpredictability is the New Consistency


A lot has been written lately about the changing profile of the CMO, a role which faces an increasingly complex set of stakeholders and expectations (“10 Great Expectations: What CEOs Want From Their CMOs”) as it is engulfed by empowered consumers, big data, digital media pervasion, and accelerated technology innovation cycles. While CMO tenures have slightly increased to an average of less than four years, the role remains a hot seat. Technology savvy, analytics prowess, and strict ROI measurement are almost unanimously heralded as the key attributes of a successful marketing leader. The CMO is expected to be a business strategist, innovator, and change agent, while at the same time also acting as the brand evangelist, inspirational communicator-in-chief, and cross-functional collaborator. Tough one. How can today’s CMO succeed in times of hyper-connectivity when long-held beliefs are shattered, audiences are transient, and “software is eating the world” (Marc Andreessen)?

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Disrupt and Disrupted - Notes from The Great Indian B2B Marketing Summit

I had the great pleasure of speaking at The Great Indian B2B Marketing Summit in Bangalore yesterday, organized by Jessie Paul, the former CMO of Indian outsourcing juggernaut Wipro, author of the book “No Money Marketing,” and founder of Paul Writer, a marketing consultancy cum hub that runs an influential online CMO Roundtable and other formidable programs to facilitate the exchange amongst the Indian marketing community. The program was quite an eclectic mix of topics, ranging from social media and digital marketing trends, to market development, to marketing leadership, to personal branding.

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The Economist and the Human Potential

If TED is about “Ideas Worth Spreading,” then the Economist’s Ideas Economy conference series is – as the title would suggest – about ideas worth monetizing. It’s the Economist, stupid! The venerable publication, a notorious late adopter, has realized that despite solid market standing it must reinvent itself to survive, both through a suite of new digital products and by branching out into the conference business. The focus on Innovation (as in “a commercialized original idea,” as the excellent moderator Vijay Vaitheeswaran defined it in his opening remarks) is a natural fit: The Economist has always stood for liberal economic policies and liberal social values – which is typically the kind of fabric that innovation thrives in.

The most recent event of the series (full disclosure: frog design was a sponsor) took place last week in New York: With the theme “Human Potential,” 250 business leaders, entrepreneurs, politicians, and academics discussed for two days how to foster and tap into the creativity and intellect of their employees, stakeholders, peers, and students. The cynic could object and ask “Do we indeed have potential?,” inferring that the term “potential” implies progress and betterment – but are we, humans, even good? And if so, can we get better?

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Rebranding America?

While 500 thought leaders from the US and abroad are convening at PopTech 2009 to “reimagine America,” Bono, in a much discussed op-ed column in Sunday’s NY Times, reminds the world of the “idea of America” – and defends the president who has set out to reinvigorate it:

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A Movement for Meaning-Driven Business?

Our promised series on “Meaning-Driven Business” is taking shape. After introducing the concept of “Chief Meaning Officer” in the “Power” issue of design mind, we are going to formally launch this new forum in our upcoming special TEDGlobal issue (to be released on September 21) as well as on a special micro-site to be launched in a couple of weeks.

For the first round of essays, we are delighted to have received contributions from three industry and thought leaders: Beth Comstock, chief marketing officer of GE and one of the world's most influential Fortune 50 marketing executives, will take the economic crisis as an opportunity to make the case for marketing-driven innovation. Werner Bauer, Nestle's chief technology officer and head of innovation, will describe his company’s concept of “Shared Value” and how it enables a more socially responsible business. And Dev Patnaik, founder and chief executive of innovation consultancy Jump Associates and author of the book Wired to Care, will illustrate how “high-empathy organizations” of all kinds prosper when they tap into a power each of us already has: the ability to reach outside of ourselves and connect with other people. Stay tuned!

The conversation is continuing in other outlets, too, and some pundits want “meaning” to not only be an abstract concept, but a movement. Economist Umair Haque is one of them. His "Generation M (as in “meaning”) Manifesto" stirred some controversial reactions (just read the comments on his blog) – from unconditional endorsement to accusations of arrogance and naiveté. It is one out of many manifestos that have recently been published on the new “new economy” – this, too, is a sign of the times. Manifestos indicate an increased need for ideological alternatives – and meaning.