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It was good to see a strong focus on education at Davos this year. One session at the Annual Meeting that I particularly enjoyed discussed the addition of creative and artistic education to the traditional STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) agenda. John MaedaCarol BeckerJustine Cassell and Tomas Saraceno made a compelling case for the benefits of cross-fertilization between arts and sciences.

Artist Tomas Saraceno showed an inspiring example of how science can help art achieve its creative goals and, along the way, create new science. Carol Becker, Dean of the School of the Arts at Columbia University, talked about how the arts helps develop, what she calls, the “particularity” of the person. The idea of individuality and unique creative contribution would seem to have a role in both the arts and the sciences.

The overall conclusion from the session was that creativity has an essential role to play in education, whether for the purposes of enhancing technical innovation or for creating well-rounded graduates who can truly contribute to society.

For more thoughts on why design is a perfect lens through which to look at the tensions in education, read my World Economic Forum post here.

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

Reflections on Davos 2013

February 5, 2013 — 2 Comments

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I recently returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The overall sentiment there was one of cautious optimism. While there is a long list of major problems to be tackled, the immediate prospects for the global economy seem reasonably good and there is a sense that most economies will grow this year.

The theme of the week was resilience—the question being, how do companies and countries weather the increasing volatility of markets, society, and climate? One obvious conclusion is that resilience requires the ability to rapidly react and innovate in changing circumstances. Creativity and design can help make organizations more resilient.

Another theme was the growing focus on tackling global problems that are associated with basic human needs. I couldn’t help but reflect upon the Designing for Life’s Necessities post in December. Access to healthy food and clean water, achieving active healthy lifestyles, redesigning broken healthcare and education systems, creating new jobs, supporting aging communities, and mitigating the effects of global warming—these were all topics of discussion in Davos. My sense is that in the next year more large corporations, governments, and NGOs will be looking for creative ways to address these issues.

Davos is a place to meet intellectual superstars and I was fortunate to spend time with both Daniel Kahneman (father of behavioral economics) and Clayton Christensen (of The Innovator’s Dilemma fame). They both offered wise words about purpose, success, and happiness—while commenting on the dangers of taking a conventional view of success and happiness. In particular, how companies measure success today in terms of return on capital.

How will you measure purpose, success, and happiness this year?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)


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.

Some design principles

November 29, 2009 — 15 Comments


I had the great pleasure of spending a few days last week with some eminent designers and design thinkers as part of a World Economic Forum event in Dubai. We were participating as one of over 70 WEF Global Agenda Councils consisting of experts from around the world studying how to improve global institutions. As the Global Agenda Council on Design we felt that one of our greatest contributions might be to help other councils embed design thinking in their deliberations. We created a set of design principles that we felt might be a useful guide and I am listing them here:

Design is an agent of change that enables us to understand complex changes and problems, and to turn them into something useful. Tackling today’s global challenges will require radical thinking, creative solutions and collaborative action. Here is a set of principles identified by the Global Agenda Council on Design that could help your Council to develop ideas and strategies to address the complex problems facing us all.

Transparent: Complex problems require simple, clear and honest solutions.

Inspiring: Successful solutions will move people by satisfying their needs
giving meaning to their lives, and raising their hopes and expectations.

Transformational: Exceptional problems demand exceptional solutions that
may be radical and even disruptive.

Participatory: Effective solutions will be collaborative, inclusive and
developed with the people who will use them.

Contextual: No solution should be developed or delivered in isolation but
should instead recognize the social, physical and information systems it is part of.

Sustainable: Every solution needs to be robust, responsible and designed
with regard to its long-term impact on the environment and society.

What is missing? What would you change?

We are interested in distributing these principles further if there is interest.

The members of the council on design who contributed to the principles are:

Paola Antonelli, Carl Bass, Craig Branigan, Tim Brown, Brian Collins, Hilary Cottam, Kigge Mai Hivid, Larry Keeley, Chris Luebkeman, John Maeda, Mokena Makeka, Toshiko Mori, Kohei Nishiyama, Bruce Nussbaum, Alice Rawsthorn, Sudhir Sharma, Jens Martin Skibstead, Milton Tan, Arnold Wasserman.

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.