Is the Scene At Davos Getting Old?

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Davos has always been maligned for being a playground for elites. The ambrosial London Mayor Boris Johnson described the event this year as “a constellation of egos involved in orgies of adulation.” Of course, exclusivity can work in your favor when trying to build an intellectual global brand. But could the old-world elitism that Davos thrives on be losing its allure?

Accusations of hollow hobnobbing were no big deal a decade ago when the conference ruled the roost and there were few alternatives. But in recent years the competition for ideas conferences—TED, the Aspen Ideas Festival, South by Southwest, and the Clinton Global Initiative, to name a few—has heated up. As a result, one of the biggest questions among the under-40 crowd this year isn’t “Are we changing the world here?” but “What is Davos about?”

Few Davosians would argue that this event, or any big conference for that matter, can really jolt the needle on mammoth issues like China’s growth problem, global warming, or the grand mission of “improving the state of the world” (which is the conference’s stated goal). But seasoned Davos-goers in the business world tend to justify the $40,000 price tag of attending as the cost of efficient networking. “I can meet with half my CEO clients here in half a day. At home that would take me at least half a year,” one executive told me.

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That may be the case if your clients are mature blue-chip corporations like Coca-Cola or Unilever, but not if they’re wunderkinds like Facebook, Twitter, or Google. Top executives from all three companies are notably absent this year. No doubt Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, was irked by the decision of Davos regular Eric Schmidt to skip out and cancel his company’s usual blowout bash, a marquee event at the Steigenberger Belvedere Hotel where the literati and glitterati share the dance floor. Without bright faces to set the scene at Davos, the fresh corporate blood needed to pay the conference’s bills may start to fall off in years to come.

That’s why, about a decade ago, WEF started importing a subsidized set of “tech pioneers,” young promising start-ups deemed to be disruptive in their field. In 2005, WEF moved on to recruiting an under-40 set they call Young Global Leaders. Last year, they upped the ante with an under-30 crowd they pay to fly in called “Global Shapers.”

Whether the recruiting campaign will pay off remains to be seen. During a flurry of cocktail receptions attended by influencers like JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon and London’s Mayor Johnson, Kickstarter CEO and WEF Tech Pioneer Perry Chen looked thoroughly bored and unimpressed. Salesforce’s Marc Benioff complained about the lack of women and youth on panels. A global shaper walked out of the Forbes cocktail hour brandishing Steve Forbes’ latest book, Freedom Manifesto, saying he hadn’t heard “such conservative thinking since the 19th century.”

Still, others are optimistic. “I thought it would be stuffy,” design director of IDEO Tom Hulme, a WEF Young Global Leader, told me. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised. But I’d try putting the incumbents [of industry] and the disruptors on the same panels. Otherwise you get stuck talking about the past.”

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For now, Davos is holding on to some lingering competitive advantages: political might and location. Thirty-seven prime ministers and presidents were expected this year. And being cooped up with the world’s most powerful in a tiny Swiss town “means there’s no escape,” says Joe Echevarria, U.S. CEO of Deloitte, which tends to focus the mind. So, perhaps, does hobnobbing at private parties with token celebrities like Charlize Theron and tech icon Sean Parker, who—lucky for Schwab—both showed up.

5 comments
mrbomb13
mrbomb13

...so, in other words, Davos is still The Biggest Deal For Business On Planet Earth.

This article contains nothing more than description of the past (i.e. "hob-nobbing"), and speculation about the future of the importance of Davos.  

In other words, I (with no professional training in journalism) could have written this high school newspaper-worthy puff piece in 30 minutes flat without breaking a sweat.

How I miss the days when TIME Magazine was a news source of substance...

goodvibeagency
goodvibeagency

Everything in our world is getting old -- 2013 is the beginning of an entirely new phase for humanity -- a phase of significant renewal.

2013 will be the year we begin to look at ourselves from a completely new perspective. On the outside we will look at the world as a much more integral cosmopolitan place promoting new global citizenship awareness. On the inside we will go deeper inside ourselves to discover what makes each of us so unique and such a vital part of the big picture. All this will generate an entirely new era of global thinking that will hopefully overtake the mindless self-centered discourse taking place in our world today where we are all mainly focused on increasing our own personal pleasure.


mrbomb13
mrbomb13 like.author.displayName 1 Like

@goodvibeagency 

Any evidence to support your claim for what 2013 will bring (i.e. cosmopolitanism)?

goodvibeagency
goodvibeagency

. @mrbomb13@goodvibeagency thanks for asking! I wrote a big post about it http://www.goodvibeagency.com/ushering-era-global-thinking/   #wef #davos @davos 

Here is an excerpt:  "A suitable response to the crisis requires an educational, moral and conscious shift among the citizens of the world. Each person must recognize that his good destiny is dependent on his relations with others, meaning anyone outside himself. When we place openness and concern for others at the top of society’s agenda, when that openness and concern for others will be the defining principle through which for example school reform will be examined, we will immediately feel how society has begun a process of healing. People will form an open approach to the world inside themselves – some kind of cosmopolitan prism through which they can judge their actions toward fellow people. And the type of systems we hope to see in the political, social and financial arenas will be created as well. We are facing a genuine multi-faceted global crisis and therefore only a cosmopolitan education can provide a solution. We need to teach ourselves to look at everything in a global manner, from the perspective of the system, and even look at ourselves and our actions objectively as parts of that vast system."

adelina_weiner
adelina_weiner like.author.displayName 1 Like

Davos, is a scene where everybody knows everybody. Is not very simple to dealing with egos