Having attended WEF for the past several years, it still amazes me how, despite the frenzy of headline-making world leaders and blurry-eyed delegates racing between non-stop meetings, there is a remarkable openness among attendees to share their views during one-on-one conversations.
It’s during these moments that top corporate leaders shared their personal views on the big topics making headlines. They revealed the sense of urgency they feel to help their organizations face weighty issues ranging from digital disruption to geo-political uncertainty to climate change to cyber security.
And, these executives added that often they can’t choose to tackle this “or,” that, but rather they must address these complex topics in tandem. For example, imagine a company – that has invested massively in digitizing its production lines to leverage new trade agreements – is suddenly impacted by usable water scarcity and new regulatory restrictions.
Although these are multi-faceted issues, I’m encouraged by a significant shift that permeated conversations at WEF this year. That is, an increased realization among participants that, to overcome these challenges, we must take more of a team approach. Leaders of companies, governments and society-at-large are accepting that we must all work together towards common, mutually beneficial goals, rather than advocating solely for individual – and often conflicting – agendas. There is now widespread realization that this must be a true team sport, so we move forward together, rather than individual moves forward and backward that gain us no ground.
For instance, to ensure that cyber security concerns don’t derail the vast digital opportunities for companies, governments and society at large (when you think of the endless health, educational, social and environmental solutions emerging in a digitized world), we need shared, guiding principles for data protection that don’t stunt this innovation. To do so, governments must coordinate the rules, technology companies need to offer tools and individual companies must heed these standards.
Similarly, to succeed in confronting the climate change and sustainability challenges, we need all parties to agree to move forward in the same direction, with each contributing their individual strengths. I already see this process unfolding among business leaders, including those in our global alliances ecosystem. For example, Microsoft’s bold pledge to become ‘carbon negative’ and Salesforce’s dedication to renewable energy and delivering a carbon-neutral cloud to customers. These organizations are coming to the table with tangible responses to global challenges and offering solutions to help other organizations construct sustainable futures.
Although questions certainly remain about the optimal way to set priorities among multiple, competing issues and allocate the right resources, I believe that this team approach – to create an ecosystem of solution-makers – is the key to our shared social, political and economic challenges.
After returning from Davos, I’m back to helping companies reconnect with their customers amidst digital disruption, improve their operational efficiency, or chart the path to responsible growth. Committed teams focused on a common goal can take on - and succeed in the face of - any lofty challenge in their path.