How Davos can Become Less Self-Absorbed and More Useful
FORTUNE -- A day before I left for Davos to attend the World Economic Forum (WEF), a TV crew interviewed me for a curtain raiser on the event. “What’s your wish for WEF Davos this year?” the journalist asked me in our warm-up conversation. “I wish it’s a bit more boring this year,” I said. Well, let’s just say she did not cancel the interview but our coffees went cold.
Davos is a crazy place. With more than 200 sessions crammed into five days, over 2,000 delegates traversing the streets, plenty of workshops, meetings in every possible nook and corner of the town, there are too many things to do, too many distractions.
I told this to a friend and he said, “Well, that’s the plan.” The global leaders and platforms like G20, Global Climate Change Conference, and the ASEAN conference are doing everything to take your attention away from the real issues. At Davos too, they make it too hectic, too fast, so loud, and so shiny that no one can pause to question or reflect.
Does that explain why so little gets achieved at Davos every year, despite the fact that all the leaders who control the steering wheels to address the world’s major problems are there?
All the policy makers, rainmakers, and moneymakers: they’re all there. But then again, they’re too busy with the microphone, and let’s not forget that the jet’s already waiting for them in an overbooked bay.
Has the time come to switch off the engines, I wonder? WEF’s been fancy and exciting and fast for too long. It’s time to make it boring and slow.
What better place to slow things down than with Davos delegates like me who need to stop being enchanted with ourselves? One of the biggest problems of WEF, I believe, is that too many people come to Davos to talk and not to listen. If only more leaders came to just listen, reflect, and learn, the forum would then become a more meaningful event.
Today, unfortunately, the WEF is a “Facebook town” instead. People only go to Davos to tell the world how great they are and get instant gratification by getting millions of “likes.” The alpine town has become the most powerful embodiment of Facebook’s “look at me!” syndrome. If only more Davos delegates were interested in others, they would care to learn best practices, share notes, and collaborate to find solutions to some truly pressing global problems.
Adding to the trouble is the over-abundance of the WEF agenda. The event’s 80-page program is too much by any standard. The world’s problems and dilemmas are definitely not that diverse. To test the hypothesis, I asked my social media universe to nominate the issues they want the WEF leaders to focus on this year. Comment after comment cited the same, simple things: employment, sustainability, corruption, terrorism, education, and safety for the common man.
The message was loud and clear. We don’t need 200 lengthy sessions, just a few straight-talking, action-oriented debates on relevant issues. Let’s focus on five issues, five things to change, five actions to take, and let’s ponder over them longer. As the famous American physician Jonas Salk said, if you give enough time and effort to conversations, “intuition will tell the thinking mind where to look next.”
Lastly, we need consistency. The agenda at WEF changes every year while the basic global problems we face are still largely the same. Let’s keep the topics steady year-after year until we make serious progress on any one of these issues. The relevance of a forum like WEF should not come from the newness of its agenda titles or speakers; it’s about the solutions.
So let’s keep it stable, let’s keep it slow, and let’s keep it boring. As columnist Joel Stein wrote in Harvard Business Review last year, “boringness is the new secret to great leadership,” and it’s definitely “a lot more effective than screaming.”
Vineet Nayar is vice chairman of HCL Technologies and the author of Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down.