Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bright Lights At The World Business Forum

Last week I stepped under the lights at Radio City Music Hall in New York, home of the rockin’ Rockettes. It wasn’t high leg kicks but it was the HSM World Business Forum, with a line up of high-profile speakers. It felt fantastic to be on a big show stage, and against the recessionary backdrop I ripped out seven ways to Win Ugly*. Judging by the negative forecasting of the economists and finance guys speaking, this stripped back approach is going to be needed for some time.

The general sentiment was that the recession may be over, but the bad times are far from over. David Rubenstein, founder of private equity firm The Carlyle Group, presented a sobering outlook for most sectors. Among the fast-fire statistics: the US government has $57 trillion in unfunded debt, unemployment rates are rising to the point where 7 or 8% will become normal, and inflation is coming.

With typical verve, Jeffrey Sachs underlined the successive failure of two US administrations (don’t leave a $62 trillion market unregulated!), the great sustainability challenge, and the continuous threat to democracy of public policy being written behind closed doors in Washington (the public debates being a side show). Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman showed that world trade has taken a bigger hit than during the Great Depression. He thinks trade will come back and development is possible again, but – ever the economist – warned trade may not end up as buoyant. Texas billionaire investor T. Boone Pickens, who nowadays backs alternative energy such as wind, underscored that cheap oil is why America has not managed energy in a smart way. If we keep on, he said, we’ll be importing 70% of our oil, and paying $300 per barrel for it within ten years.

On a more animated note, George Lucas (Leia! Vader! Luke! Obi-Wan Kenobi!) distinguished writing from storytelling. Writing is what he likes least and ends up doing most, because “I’m the only one who knows the universe.” He defined art as a way of telling stories that are meaningful in an emotional way. He thought it possible that the primary screen medium could become the iPhone. Lucas admires Spike Jonze as a rising Director, and described Peter Jackson as a genius. On day two business strategist Gary Hamel gave a presentation on how management needs to reinvent from a command and control institution that turns people into robots to an inspirational one where power is granted from below and is contingent on value-add. Hamel points to the Internet to see the future, where power flows to those who add value (think top Amazon reviewers) and away from those who don’t. “You won’t make any progress here if you are benchmarking the Fortune 500,” he said. “The future always starts on the fringe.”

The Blackberry and i-Phone flashes came out for President William Jefferson Clinton as he wrapped the day up. Bill Clinton’s star power was evident, as thinker, performer, storyteller and man of action. His framework for seeing the world is interdependence, not globalization. The three persistent challenges he framed were inequality, instability, and sustainability. The President closed it out this way: “We have to find a world where we can all win, otherwise, none of us will.” All up, a successful show. Congratulations to Eduardo and the team at HSM.

P.S. The Seven Ways to Win Ugly:
  1. Face the truth and act swiftly.
  2. Reframe all your beliefs about value.
  3. Measure only what matters.
  4. Embrace the Participation Economy.
  5. Let Emotion Rip!
  6. Go for High Respect and High Love.
  7. Act True Blue .