Monday, September 30, 2013

Davos Discussion on Leading Through Adversity

It is vital that leaders, especially those in multinational companies, school themselves on pressing global issues.  It is a boon, then, for them and professionals alike, that the World Economic Forum uploaded several videos of their sessions in Davos earlier this year, as as this one - Leading Through Adversity.  I would have preferred that the panelists be more regionally-diverse and that government figures or public officials be among them.  Be that as it may, it's a very instructive, spirited conversation among these top leaders.

The following are some notes about what the panelists discussed, plus my commentary:

John T. Chambers, Chairman and CEO, Cisco, USA

The guiding question was "Are leaders too risk-averse in efforts to bring the economy back on track?"  John Chambers remarked off the bat, You get left behind, if you don’t take risks.  The best returns often come when things are going bad.  The speed of change makes it seems as if the global landscape were on steriods.  Just go for it, he exhorted.      

There is both certainty and uncertainty. So to denigrate, fear or idealize one or the other is foolhardy.
Clayton Christensen, Professor, Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, USA

Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the discussion revolved around innovation.  This being his expertise, Clayton Christensen walked us through his model:
  • Empowering innovation. A lot of people have access it, for example, computer and phone.  It creates jobs. 
  • Sustaining innovation.  It makes new products better, but it doesn’t quite create a lot of jobs.
  • Efficiency innovation. It makes the same products cheaper, and worse yet in certain respects it reduces jobs. 
Christensen remarked that we don't need MBAs anymore.  Such a degree, at least the way many schools teach business, makes leaders scared to death, when they face unknown business models.  They look at marginal costs, and they look at existing models, so students and graduates aren't necessarily prompted or able to create new business models.     

It's a provocative set of remarks, given that Christensen is a professor of a business school.  No doubt, though, Harvard differentiates itself from those schools that he criticizes.  In essence, nevertheless, what he relates is the innovator's dilemma.  

Mike Duke, President and CEO, Wal-Mart Stores, USA

Mike Duke preferred Christensen's old term - disruptive innovation - rather than empowering innovation.  That said, Walmart has been about sustaining and efficiency innovation.  He cautioned against falling into the trap of short-term evaluation. Walmart gathers corporate officials to relate mistakes they made and lessons they learned from these.

I cannot emphasize enough having such regular gathering and conversations.  But Western management seems to focus more on mistakes as sources of lessons learned.  I say, any experience and any outcome is a source of learning.  So I hope that Duke facilitates a wider, more balanced review of what these officials did well and what they didn't do very well.  

Orit Gadiesh, Chairman, Bain & Company, USA

People feel more uncertainty, Orit Gadiesh pointed out. She distinguished between risk averse and unfamiliar risk.  Old business is no longer good. Innovation is tough, even in the best of times. The Samsung Chairman said:  Change everything, except your wife and children.  Reform education from kindergarten to the top, in large measure because it doesn’t quite provide the guidance, mindset and skills for jobs that are needed going forward.

Gadiesh offers a no-nonsense take on what has to happen and the difficulty of actually making this happen.  Moreover, she echoes what I've heard, namely, that the US educational system and philosophy are founded on decades-old, and thus outdated, models.  So there are pernicious, if not emerging, gaps in the talent that companies require.

Anand G. Mahindra, Chairman and Managing Director, Mahindra & Mahindra, India

India and China need to do things differently, Anand Mahindra schooled his fellow panelists.  More for less has been the primary motto. Regulated, autocratic governments are full of certainty. Indians clamored for the uncertain!  Regulatory constraints have fenced-in leaders. But Mahindra encouraged leaders to look at this as a playpen and as a platform for freeing themselves. To solve poverty in India and Africa, you need the most cutting-edge innovation. But not so much iPhones per se, but solutions that people need and that work for them. Today he looks for filmmakers, designers et al. (rf. Google).

I am glad that Mahindra is on the panel, as he represents the only non-Western company.  So as I suggested earlier, we need to account for both certainty and uncertainty, and to acknowledge how different cultures may look at the tension and balance between them.

Martin Senn, Group Chief Executive Officer, Zurich Insurance Group, Switzerland

When taking risks, you have a reasonable expectation of return.  Martin Senn added, You need to rebuild confidence among people.

While it is virtually impractical to expect perfect line of sight to outcomes, assessment of risks ought to discern at least an acceptable or strategic benefit from jumping into them.  It's an insightful thing for Senn to point out.

Jim Frederick, Editor, Time International, USA

Pessimism has set in, so Jim Frederick asked, Is innovation slowing down?  We want flying cars, but got 140 characters, instead. We haven’t mined government-business connection.

It may have been out of Frederick's hands, as far as panelist selection and the concentration of corporate figures are concerned.  But when he pointed out the need to better tap into the government and business connections, I thought, Yes, indeed!  

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

No comments:

Post a Comment