Tuesday, November 10, 2009

World Economic Forum: High Profile Thought

The World Economic Forum is the world's premier gathering of the most influential movers and shakers in business, politics, and international affairs. Each year, the likes of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Bono, Queen Rania of Jordan, Vladimir Putin, and several other high-caliber personalities descend upon Davos, Switzerland to grace the Forum's stage. The event is exclusive (attendees must be invited) and committed to discussion of and reflection on pressing global issues.

We recently watched Bill Clinton at the 2006 World Economic Forum (You can too, here). Clinton spoke for 50+ minutes, in Q & A format, with the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, Professor Klaus Schwab (in the front row sat Senator John McCain, actor Michael Douglas, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and technology pioneer Bill Gates).

These five quotes caught our attention.

1. “If you['ve] got enough self confidence in who you are and what you believe in, you ought not to be scared to talk to anybody.”

This is helpful advice to anyone looking to succeed: Be confident and connect with people; good things will likely follow. The context of Clinton's words takes it even further... that connection with others, open dialogue is the way out of conflict. He was referring specifically to US-Iran relations when he said this. But it's just as applicable to us, as individuals, in our daily lives whether with our boss at work or partner at home. Human connection, through open dialogue, is the closest thing we have to a panacea for conflict.

2. “Insurance losses from natural disasters in the last decade are three times [larger than in] any previous decade, in common constant dollars, which is another argument for the reality of climate change.”

Climate change is bad for business. Some may say this is nothing new. And perhaps it's not. But it's just as true now as it was in 2006. And perhaps, the more we can present the climate change challenge in stark and real terms such as business loss, the sooner we reach the tipping point for lasting change.

3. “Not every failure is a defeat.”

Time and time again, the successful people we talk to and hear from frame failure positively. Bill Clinton is no exception. At the World Economic Forum, he cited his efforts to reform healthcare not as failure, but as necessary trail-blazing for the next attempt at fundamental reform to be successful. Pat Lencioni talked about failure as a necessary course-adjuster and character-builder, that thing which guided him to his rightful path. The examples go on.

4. “America always does the right thing - after exhausting all other alternatives.”

Citing the humorous Winston Churchill, Clinton propagated the view that America is a source of good in the world, even if we don't get it right the first time, all the time. Hearing this in the wake of Iraq and amidst the current reality of Afghanistan makes Churchill's words particularly resonant.

5. "There is nothing so difficult in all of human affairs than to change the established order of things."

Clinton used Machiavelli's words to call out reality in blunt terms. What interested us even more than Machiavelli's quote was Clinton's follow up as to why changing the status quo is so difficult: "... because the people who will lose are certain of their loss and those who will benefit are uncertain of their gain." Certainty. We know that financial markets place tremendous value in it. But so too do political ones.

In Conclusion
Clinton closed with a recommendation to read Max Weber's 1918 essay entitled Politics as a Vocation. In it we'd find Weber extolling the virtues of pragmatism over ideals, compromise over convictions. Perhaps, it simply reflects Bill Clinton's Machiavellian approach to politics. Perhaps, it reflects reality. Perhaps, it's both.

One thing we know for sure is that there's no higher profile a place to hash it all out than at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

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