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Yesterday at Davos - Harvard Business Review / World Economic Forum Ideaslab

Yesterday, I participated in a really interesting session, based on a joint project between the Harvard Business Review and the World Economic Forum.  Each year, the two organizations sponsor a series of discussions among a pretty interesting assortment of people to find ideas that are evident in an early form now, but which have not yet hit mainstream awareness in terms of business impact.  Then yesterday, in a session entitled “Ideaslab,” four of us presented the ideas we had written about.  Here’s the summary from the Davos web site (I’ll have more for my readers on this when I get a minute to catch my breath!):

IdeasLab with Harvard Business Review

Adi Ignatius
Tom Ilube
Rita G. McGrath
Alex (Sandy) Pentland
Peter Schwartz
Facilitated by Richard T. Pascale

Wednesday 28 January

With systemic thinking and collaborative innovation in short supply, the Harvard Business Review invited the authors of four breakthrough ideas for a more creative and holistic look at global issues. Following short presentations by the authors, the organizers invited participants to explore different aspects of each idea were it to become reality, such as opportunities, challenges, policy implications, unintended consequences and resource possibilities. These included:

What You Need to Know about the Semantic Web: Referred to as the “quiet revolution,” this is a Web of meaning and understanding based on data rather than the documents of the “old” Web. It is a new Web, which does not rely on Google or Amazon, but effectively becomes a huge social network. Unlike the original Web, which represents the tip of the iceberg of what is now beginning to happen, the semantic version is based on linked data rather than documents. It is independent of language, which means that it does not matter whether one uses English or Arabic, or reads from left to right, or right to left. It is more global, more inclusive and designed for the user. It depends on how one embraces it, somewhat like the adage of the two shoe salespersons who go to Africa. One sees people not wearing shoes and, therefore, not interested. The other sees an extraordinary potential market.

Beware of Global Cooling: What is the impact of climate change on the world? While some believe climate change is not actually happening because of indications that the next few years may prove cooler, one should not be fooled. Climate change happens in a random way based on long-term trends. These trends are leading to global warming. Participants discussed dealing more effectively with climate change and the responsibilities of governments, companies or individuals. How does one induce a more climate change friendly next generation, or investment in renewable energies?

Institutional Memory Goes Digital: New technology may soon enable total recall of meetings ensuring institutional memory that could be replayed on a CD-Rom and DVD. This means that whatever is said, even a joke or critical asides, could be fully analysed and replayed which would create a revolution of how we store knowledge. For the participants, such a tool could help archive institutional memory. At the same time, however, it suggested Big Brother manipulation and abuse of data, including a legal nightmare for those who seek to indulge in the full recording of such knowledge. Another question: Who owns it? Other downsides might include the intimidation of people, leading them to remain silent for fear of reprisal. How will individuals behave in a setting when they know that their actions are being recorded? How free will discussion be? How will the world at large be affected?

How Social Networks Network Best: How should humans organize themselves to make things happen? As with bees, they use signals to communicate their intentions. This could help with salary negotiations, hiring or dating. However, as the participants explored, how can one make virtual networking more effective? Can communication skills become more cross-cultural? How should feedback be interpreted to avoid aggregate bias or manipulation? One approach might be to hold smaller strategic meetings and then link with groups elsewhere. Another is to incorporate a dancer’s direct communication with the audience, whereby each individual feels part of a two-way connection. More research of the “soft” intuitive side rather than the “harder” scientific one could enhance such networking.

See this month’s HBR for the details on these topics – I think you’ll find them fascinating. 

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