Archives For Davos


January 25, 2010 — 1 Comment


I am spending the next day and a half in Munich before heading up to Davos for the annual WEF annual meeting. There is a great event that happens here every year called DLD (Digital Life Day) put on by Burda Media. You can think of it as a mini TED but with many more Europeans. The content is eclectic but I came away with a couple of interesting insights from today’s sessions.

John Nesbitt, author of the iconic Megatrends in the 1980’s, is just publishing his new book China’s Megatrends . He, along with his wife and venture capitalist Joe Schoendorf, were talking about what is really going on in China. One interesting comment from Nesbitt was “China is a country with no ideology”. Given the way China is represented in the western press this comes across as pretty radical but the point he makes is that China today is about the under 25’s and they are only interested in creating better lives and not in whether communism or capitalism are the right ways to do it. For those thinking about innovation in China the point is that our assumptions are not necessarily accurate.

In another session on health, moderated by Esther Dyson, we heard how health will be driven by user generated content and consumer applications. Products in the future will be a collection of therapies, monitoring, applications, communities and incentives. In other words they will be experience systems.

Finally, the CEO of Deutsche Post, the world’s largest logistics company as well as the German post office, talked about innovation in his industry. One thing that is interesting is that Deutsche Post is quite profitable unlike its counterparts in the US and UK. He was quite critical of the banking industry because he believes that business has to be based on meeting the needs of customers and taking responsibility for employees. He believes that much of the banking world has lost touch with both of these ideas and in many cases no longer serves customers with its activities. I agree with the essential nature of meeting needs but I might expand the idea of taking responsibility beyond employees to include the community in which business is practiced which for the largest companies includes much of the planet.

The Girl Effect

February 8, 2009 — 8 Comments

One of the most optimistic and exciting sessions at Davos was named The Girl Effect. After much effort by the Nike Foundation, run by Maria Eitel, and the UN Foundation the folks at Davos were pursuaded to have a plenary focused on how unlocking the potential of adolescant girls in all parts of the world could have tremendous social and economic impact.

The session was an interesting lesson in experience design. Conventionally Davos sessions go straight into introductions and statements by the panelists. This time two videos were shown that powerfully communicated the potenial of this movement. Before one word had been said by the panelists the audience was engaged. This made a big difference to the energy in the room and the sense of momentum that came from the session. Once again it was an example of the power of storytelling to open up opportunities. I hope the folks at Davos take note and make more use of good storytelling to set the scene for future panels.

You can see the Girl Effect video here.

Fishing in a storm

January 12, 2009 — 29 Comments

There is an Eskimo proverb that says the storm is the time to fish. We are in the middle of a pretty big storm at the moment and organizations are asking questions about how committed they should be to innovation. I am moderating a session at Davos on this topic and would love any thoughts you might have about ways to think about innovating in a disruptive economy. What is the justification for innovating now? How is it different from innovating in good times? What are the challenges that may prevent even the most optimistic of leaders from investing when belt tightening is the order of the day?

There has been plenty of conversation, some of it here, about the importance of sticking with innovation but I am hoping to get beyond the homilies and abstract perspectives to the real issues and tactics that leaders should consider. What are the best examples we have of successful innovation in difficult times?

Design for Ageing

October 3, 2008 — 7 Comments

One of the workshops I was involved in at Summer Davos was on ageing. I was quite shocked by some of the data that the World Economic Forum had printed in a report that was released at the session. While I was well aware that the western nations, along with Japan, are experiencing a rapid ageing of the workforce, I had not appreciated the actual figures. The number of working age people supporting those over retirement age is going to drop from 4:1 to 2:1 over the next forty years. This halving of our ability to support the cost of social services and health care is dramatic and is clearly going to have significant ramifications on both the quality and quantity of support we can expect. The other big surprise for me is that the same thing is going to happen in China. It took France 115 years to double its number of 65 year-olds. It will take China just the next 27 years.

The point of the workshop was to get industry executives to start thinking about the issues now and to begin to imagine what kinds of innovations might be required if we are to manage this change. One example that came up is the commitment that some Japanese technology companies made several years ago to invest in robotics in the belief that Japanese society would not have enough people to provide for the elderly. I remember many commentators scoffing at these efforts when the first products like Sony Aibo appeared. Now a few years later when the issue is becoming more mainstream and the technology rapidly advancing Sony and the other manufacturers don’t look quite so silly. Paul Saffo claims that the 21st Century will be the century of robotics and Japan is certainly betting on that to help with its ageing problem.

Interestingly, although several of the ideas that came up in the workshop were for products, the most popular idea was for a service that helped lonely people stay connected. What resonated about this idea was that it served a need that people have long before they get old and so it seemed like it may be possible to persuade people to join up before they are expensive to support. This led on to ideas about insurance and financial services. Service innovation, as well as technology, is going to be key to dealing with the ageing problem. It seems to me that there are still very few companies looking at this issue and very few examples of interesting innovations making it to the market. Hopefully the workshop got at least a few CEO’s thinking differently.