A major theme of the 2016 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting was the Fourth Industrial Revolution, yet world and economic leaders did not anticipate that 2016 would also be a year of immense political disruption and social and economic change.
With 2017 now upon us, business leaders have no choice but to accept the reality of Brexit, a Trump presidency and a host of new actors on the global stage. The anxieties and questions are inevitable. How do companies proceed and succeed in this new, unprecedented landscape? Why are some businesses able to handle change better than others? What will set 2017 apart from the rest, if at all?
Despite the uncertain terrain, I am optimistic about the potential for success for businesses, governments and society. Now more than ever, it is important for leaders to be self-reflective and feel empowered to tread on territory they have never before encountered. Innovative thinking and action is key to survival and growth in changing times like these. It is imperative to capitalize on the opportunities that arise in moments of uncertainty.
With this in mind, I expect this year’s Forum to be a great window into our future. Here are three things to look for at Davos:
Leaders are going to have to make sense of the new political paradigm and inward turn of the global electorate over 2016 and determine what constitutes responsive and responsible leadership. With the disruption of 2016 still clear in our rear view mirror, world and economic leaders cannot be limited by past experiences moving forward. They need to, as Nik Gowing and Chris Langdon have found through their discussions with these leaders, “think the unthinkable” and “plan for the unplannable.” The movements that disrupted the status quo in 2016 require leaders to take bold new steps and think in innovative and inclusive ways. They must set aside the status quo and traditional ways of doing things to guide governments and businesses forward to the future.
Last year’s World Economic Forum, dedicated to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, was followed by an extremely successful year in terms of technological growth and innovation. Technology is omnipresent in our lives. Our shared interconnectedness is limitless, impacting each economic and business sector. I expect world leaders to once again be focused on innovation at Davos, from digital health to financial technology, from blockchain to driverless cars.
To me personally, I find this topic the most interesting. How do we define today’s social compact between business and society? Each year, it seems we have a different emphasis. Recently, we’ve had social responsibility and sustainability as defining themes determining a company’s relationship to society. Now, the focus is on purpose. I think we’re going to see companies redefining their relationships with clients and stakeholders. To do so, they will need to answer this essential question: What is our purpose beyond making profits? How do we make sure our company is successful in the making of a better world? But finding the answers to those questions is not enough. Companies must transparently live by and advocate that purpose both internally and externally.
I’m very excited to see the outcomes of this year’s World Economic Forum meeting. Each year, Davos gives us an insight into our future. After 2016, this year’s Forum will be an interesting time to center and refocus the world’s economic and social goals to address the rapidly changing world in which we live.