While Facebook’s IPO filing was the major news last week, young technology leaders were also influencing the global economic and political agenda at the World Economic Forum at Davos, including executives from Facebook and other major technology companies. A key topic of debate was innovation and how it needs to be considered beyond just innovation in technology.
In fact the word ‘innovation’ actually appeared 35 times in the 100-page agenda of the World Economic Forum – compared to 14 mentions of ‘governance’, 24 mentions of ‘war’, and five mentions of ‘poverty’.
It seems Davos was trying to make itself more relevant – according to The Washington Post, it must counter popular perception that it is largely an event for out-of-touch global elite and assorted celebrities to determine the fates of the other 99%. As part of this objective, this year’s participants include new voices from the Arab world as and ‘global shapers between the ages of 20 and 30’ (see below) who can inject new energy into finding a solution to the world’s most critical issues. The event also had a significant online presence, on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
In the ‘shaping new models’ session, the leaders explored how organizations build creative, engaging and energizing workplaces. Participants addressed ‘designing creative environments’, ‘creating a culture of successful failure’ and ‘managing energy and time for resilience and performance’. All are key indications of success of an innovation hub. It also led a conversation around the question of how ‘art and science of creativity’ will change in a century of engineering – in other words, looking at how to build creative ecosystems; and a conversation on how ‘informed and connected consumers’ are reshaping product and service innovation.
Leadership and innovation models
At the leadership and innovation models session, they debated the scope of innovation: “We think of innovation as involving technology,” said Johanna Mair, professor, Stanford University, USA, global agenda council on social innovation. “We need to shift gears and reboot to look at innovation as not limited to physical technology, but involving social technology as well.”
The session concluded that the business world is trying to keep pace with new technology, and the political world is trying to catch up to the business world. The public sees all of this as a kind of creative chaos, and is calling on a new generation of leaders to make sense of it all, and do it quickly. New leaders will need to have a much broader scope than those of the past. To avoid being overtaken, they will need to closely monitor a far more diverse range of social factors and groups than ever before.
Youth – global shapers
Recognizing that youth drive the technological-cum-social change the world is going through, the World Economic Forum invited 70 young ‘global shapers’ to the 2012 annual meeting. According to the official web site, since half of the world’s population is under the age of 27, it was vital that young voices were heard. This group came from 44 city-based ‘hubs’ established by the forum in 36 countries, including China, Egypt, India, Israel, Mexico, the Palestinian Territories, Russia, Switzerland and the USA. The community has an average age of 27 and its representation included 20 chief executive officers, a 24-year-old mayor from the Philippines, a bioengineer who created a cardiac surgery simulator used by over 3,000 surgeons worldwide, and a professor of nanotechnology from Zurich.
“Once, the best indication of success was an individual’s past experience. Now, with the world as interconnected as it is, we find the old models are no longer working and we need fresh approaches to solving the world’s most pressing problems,” said Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum. “The Global Shapers are ‘digital natives’ who grew up with the Internet. They have vision, think laterally, act quickly and make connections across networks in order to successfully solve problems. This community is of vital importance and we see tremendous opportunities for shapers and today’s leaders to learn from one another.”
“Young people don’t need today’s leaders to empower them. They are already empowered through their passion, ideas and access to information and technology. That’s true whether they live in Berlin, Bamako or Ulaanbaatar,” says David Aikman, Head of the Global Shapers Community at the World Economic Forum.
In summary, innovation has become a key theme on the economic and political agenda, and the debate has moved on considerably from just innovation in technology. In this age of social media and a generally young global demographic, it’s also recognized that the young global shapers will increasingly influence much of this global innovation both in terms of business as well as governments – as we have seen both in the likes of Facebook and the changes being effected by the Arab Spring.