Each year, the World Economic Forum brings together leaders from more than 100 governments, top executives from the Global 2000, and prominent social activists to discuss global priorities and shape the agenda for the coming year.
This year, I was fortunate to attend the leadership summit in the Alps — Davos, Switzerland. This visibility into our atmospheric condition was brought to the minds of some of the world’s most senior decision makers. I was provided with real-time insights into where our world is headed and the situational aspects we face — as a species.
There are four themes that I heard resonate over my time in Davos.
1) The Digital Revolution is Reshaping Everything
We all know the impact that technology is having on our individual lives, but it’s hard to appreciate the pace and scale at which these changes are impacting the world as a whole; governments, companies, and individuals.
This rate of evolution was demonstrated in clarity on day one. At the early morning breakfast panel, my Digital Radar research was released, describing the state of the global digital revolution.
Roughly 80 percent of the 1,000 companies my team surveyed have made significant progress on digital initiatives. Only around 20 percent of these companies are among the visionaries who are genuinely addressing the global issues at scale.
On our panel, it was particularly revealing when the CFO of Adecco, the world’s largest staffing company, described how artificial intelligence is helping match skills with demand. Instead of taking jobs, this AI is actually creating opportunities for many people. Another integral aspect that was revealed is how so many of the speakers and panels relied on analytics to make their point. From climate change to equality, each passionate point was punctuated by a chart — often derived from big data — and the results of intense analytical models.
The gap or line that was previously drawn between technology and business — and between technology and policy — is gone.
The apparent conclusion is this: technological literacy, together with analytical proficiency are required to make sound business and policy decisions, and to drive adoption.
2) Collaboration Cultivates Optimism
Far from being the stereotypical elitist enclave, Davos provides a literal forum where global business and policy leaders can meet, and more importantly, get things done.
The world of bureaucracy where the former glacial pace of decision making has been the norm — new speed and open debate is crucial to creating positive momentum, and the ability to breed a practical form of optimism. The feeling in the air was “Yes, we have our challenges, including some odds that appear impossible — but we can handle them if we work together.”
In a panel on the technology skills gap, Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi exemplified how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can address specific needs and drive change. This coding organization has 35 million students who are gaining valuable skills now, and are showing the way for traditional local governments to transform their curricula and educational delivery systems.
There was concern about the government shutdown in the U.S. and the delays in trade deals with China. However, there was underlying confidence that these issues will get resolved over the next few months and that global growth and global profitability speed will pick back up again.
3) Physical Connection Matters
The world is a small place, made more so through the power of physical connection.
It can be easy today to live your life online, interacting with others through emails, calls, and social media, forgetting that there is a human being on the other end.
While each attendee at Davos could have directly participated online, the collaborative, optimistic spirit I discussed above was only possible because of our physical presence alongside one another. This human interaction increased productivity, enhanced connection, and created an atmosphere of mutual trust that is difficult to describe yet palpable to experience.
It was amazing to see and participate in so many short, yet productive discussions. My favorite was a discussion we had with the head of the world’s leading online learning institution. After introductions and framing the challenge at hand — within fifteen minutes a significant commitment was made to create a new curriculum and train thousands of employees. This commitment to training is one of many examples where the person-to-person nature of the interaction, combined with the venue and purpose, create an environment for action and a commitment to responsibility.
With this human contact, we were all better able to balance human connections with credible possibilities for progress. Informal discussions and warm conversation were possible, without wasting time on logistics and excessive pleasantries. In the end, we were able to strike a balance between connection and action that is rarely possible online.
4) There Is a Moral Imperative of Leadership
It’s easy to talk about the world’s most pressing issues, but without making the hard decisions, nothing gets done.
At Davos, I heard a lot of talk about the environment and social goals, but there was also an emphasis on what exactly can be accomplished about the matters calling for decisions. This wasn’t a place for posturing or virtue signaling — each person at Davos understood that our goals were only achievable if we were willing to make the trade-offs that lead to real progress.
During this World Economic Forum, it was emphasized again and again that the responsibility for turning these global goals into actions — lay with leaders — both in business and policy.
No one put it better than Sir David Attenborough, aided by his able moderator HRH — Prince William himself — laying out the sustainability challenge in stark terms of the choices that lay before us. Again, a sober discussion ensued about empowering the one and taking accountability and ownership of the future through the promise of bold collective action.
Gender equality was another topic that was frequently discussed, with a specific focus on inclusion — not just diversity. The Equality 2.0 dialogue felt purposeful and deliberate, more focused on solving these issues of inequality, and not on polarizing stereotypes that sometimes emerge in the mainstream press.
It was incredible to spend the week in this amazing environment with hyper-vigilant think-tank individuals, presenting and receiving information about the enormous challenges we face as a species.
I look forward to putting these ideas into action in 2019 and hope to return to this snow-capped bastion of world leadership in the coming years.