Five reflections from the World Economic Forum Global Future Council Annual Meeting
The World Economic Forum is perhaps best known for its annual meeting in January that is held in Davos each year. It brings together many senior world leaders and influencers who are committed to improving the state of the world by considering some of the most pressing challenges the world is facing.
But how are those issues identified? And how is the programme of Davos developed and produced? That’s where the WEF Global Future Councils come in. The Annual Meeting of the Global Future Councils is held in November each year and is designed to be a meeting that fosters debate among 600 (ish) experts from across the world to help shape the global agenda – in other words, it’s one heck of a brainstorming session. There are 41 different councils that each have a specific area of focus ranging from agile governance, the circular economy, the media. During the meeting a huge amount of time is devoted to bringing the members of each council together to define that council’s vision and objectives and develop the work streams that they will be delivering over the course of the next 12 months. There are also cross council sessions that bring together members of different councils to consider and discuss topics that represent big shared challenges to allow cross pollination from across the network to be developing a truly systemic approach to develop broader and deeper understanding of a challenge and explore potential solutions.
This year, I’m part of the Virtual and Augmented Reality GFC, and here are my reflections from spending the last few rather intense days with our GFC as I head back to the UK from the annual meeting:
1. Diversity is a much-used word, but seeing it in practice is magical
Diversity is a hot topic – and rightly so, there are a growing number of studies that show that increasing diversity generally leads to increased creativity, greater innovation, faster problem solving, better decision making; and in companies, increased profits and better reputation. But just because we use the word a lot doesn’t necessarily mean that we are very good at achieving it. One of the most striking things about our GFC this year is the diversity in the room, and not just on the basis of nationality, race, gender and age. We had world experts in VR and AR (as you’d expect) but we also had artists, business leaders, government leaders, entrepreneurs, policy leaders, and even a forensic science academic! We also had big picture thinkers and amazing detail orientated thinkers, we had hedgehogs and foxes [LINK]. Everyone brought something different to the room, and I don’t know if it was just that each person was remarkable in their own field, but everyone also brought a different type of enthusiasm, energy and vision. It was an incredible example of how diversity enables something extraordinary to happen. In two days we articulated a vision for the council for the next 12 months, and identified the key activities and deliverables without a single argument. We also (and I think I can speak on behalf of the group here) learnt a huge amount from outside our ‘home domains’ that sparked 1000s of new ideas and potential collaborations. People have different views of magic – but for me, this was magical.
2. The power of humility
When you bring together 20 or so individuals from across the world who are all experts in their respective fields, you could be forgiven for thinking that could be a recipe for rather a lot of egos in too confined a space. If I had to describe the last three days working with our GFC in one sentence, it would be hard, but I’d probably say ‘the power of humility’. Humility is an underrated and undervalued quality that is often confused with weakness. That couldn’t be further from the truth. If you want to change the world, if you want to see things get better, don’t underestimate the power of leaving your ego at the door, being curious about what others think (and how they think), listening before you speak (serious wisdom in that old adage of ‘two ears one mouth’), and looking for the extraordinary. You’ll be embarking on the most incredible quest that will leave you a changed person – but it’ll also probably make you part of a movement that achieves something great.
3. Great leadership has many guises but is always fuelled by passion and vision
Leadership looks different in different people and in different scenarios, so don’t be fooled by those traditional characteristics of leadership that every culture and sub-culture has. When you’re working as part of a team you need different types of leaders, they will look very different but the thing that they have in common is passion for the goal, and a vision to be part of achieving it. Leadership comes in all shapes and sizes - those that can ask great searching questions that help to distil out the key goal, those that capture the discussion points and collect them into a clear structure that defines the next steps, those that can see the pathway to getting to the next milestone, and those that observe and quietly spot gaps and make connections - and when they do speak they may have spotted the missing link that brings things together for the next action. Value different types of leadership.
4. Facilitation is an art form – rare and precious
The council is made up of extraordinary members but we were under no illusion that without amazing facilitation we wouldn’t have got to where we needed to in 2 days. Each council has managers who are WEF staff, who make sure we’re on track, and who facilitate the brainstorming. Facilitation is not just about having the map and making sure everyone is on the same path. It’s about creating an environment that breaks ice, that builds bridges, makes connections between a group of people who haven’t worked together before. It takes a lot of skill, it brings together art and science, and great facilitators are the unsung heroes. Thank you to our brilliant council managers, and for your inspiring facilitation that not only got us from the start to the finish, but created a space that was not only fascinating to be, but fun too, a space where everyone was able to share with and learn from others, and a space that created a team that are excited to be working together. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t happen all that often.
5. Be good ancestors
One of the things that has struck me from my time with our GFC is how important legacy is. AR and VR have huge potential for creating huge value and transforming our world for good. There are also a lot of unknowns and potential for creating situations that aren’t so good. Maximising the benefits of VR and AR in a way that is inclusive and thoughtful is a lofty goal, but if we remember the people, the individuals, the communities, and bring them all into the considerations on that journey, we can aspire to be good ancestors, leaving the world a little better than we found it.