Davos Day One: Reasons for cheer despite the long faces

Heidrick & Struggles boss Kevin Kelly blogs exclusively for MT on day one of the World Economic Forum...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Wednesday at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting is over and I am beat. My day began at 6.30 a.m. and finished a few minutes ago. It’s just as well we start preparing for this in September, because you barely draw breath for five days.

The problems faced by Davos 2009 are so monumental that we’re all having trouble calculating their size, let alone figuring out the solutions. There are plenty of long faces here because there’s plenty to worry about, but I find some of the commentary exaggerated. There must have been a run on thesauruses here: I’ve never seen so many synonyms for funereal and sombre. Google ‘Davos 2009’ and ‘gloomy’, and you get 2,000 hits. If I’m not pessimistic I must be missing something, right? But I think it’s still a little early to predict Armageddon.

Day One wasn’t gloomy so much as serious, and hesitant. Davos has yet to find its mojo this year, but there is an open-mindedness I found encouraging: 2,600 world leaders listened in respectful silence today while two premiers from the former Communist bloc gave the developed world a hard time for its recent excesses. They have a point, but imagine the same reaction this time 20 years ago when the Berlin Wall was still up.

You might say we don’t have much choice, but it’s easy to forget that everyone’s presence here is voluntary. The delegates all come, including Mr Wen and Mr Putin (who I met tonight at dinner), because it serves their interests. For my firm, the World Economic Forum provides several big opportunities a year to preserve and extend our business. At Davos I have seven or eight formal meetings a day, and at least 20 ad hoc encounters which are just as important. Three CEOs gave me briefs while I was waiting in line for my plane home after the Forum's Tianjin meeting last September. As ever, the most important questions (like 'can I trust you?') are answered in the broken play between the set-pieces.

And whatever the naysayers tell you, there is a big appetite here to investigate joined-up, long-term solutions to a crisis which so obviously implicates all geographies, sectors and income brackets. We are a strategic partner to the World Economic Forum, with a special brief for the talent agenda. How we lead our people is pretty fundamental, and not just because there were 80,000 layoffs globally on Monday. You don’t find good solutions to complex problems on your own. Fostering collaboration is no easier than it ever was, but Davos 09 is helping to remind leaders that it was never more important.

Around 30 meetings a day x 2,600 delegates = 200,000 conversations between some of the world’s most influential people. If one-half really listens while the other talks, there’s cause for the ‘o’ word that dare not speak its name. All we need is a little humility. It was in the air on Day One, so let’s hope it’s contagious.

In today's bulletin:

Shell profits fall on lower oil price (kind of)
Davos Day One: Reasons for cheer despite the long faces
Nintendo and Sony suffer in the Land of the Rising Yen
Bank lending: not ending?
Editor's blog: Sky's no limit

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