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World Business Forum Starts Out Strong But Passes On Green

RP Siegel | Wednesday October 6th, 2010 | 0 Comments

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the 7th Annual World Business Forum at Radio City in NYC. The forum is billed as responding to “what is happening in the world now in these critical areas. Whether it’s the global financial markets, social media, healthcare or the future of globalization, get the very latest thinking directly from those who are setting the agenda.”

What was notably absent from the agenda on day one was literally any mention of anything green, other than one question posed to David Gergen in the closing moments of the day. This could serve as a reality check for those of us living and breathing green who take solace in the idea that green is finally mainstream. The folks getting down to business here in NY today didn’t seem to find it worth mentioning. When asked what he thought about the impact of environmental sustainability on the economy, David Gergen, a key figure in four presidential administrations, replied that the Chinese are eating our lunch in renewables, creating a million new jobs in the process.

That being said, it was a terrific day with lots of profound thinking of great value to anyone concerned with any kind of enterprise, be it business, non-profit or grass roots activism. But the implicit target audience was your traditional CEO, many of whom were in the audience and on the stage.

Jim Collins talked about sustaining great results, displaying a number of gems from his books, Good to Great, Built to Last and How the Mighty Fail. Collins has compiled an enormous database of corporate reporting. A master of data mining, he recreates the stories of successful and doomed companies alike, much as an archeologist would, in picking through the shards of an ancient culture, only with much better resolution. His primary tale was a cautionary one, going through the five stages of decline, with numerous illustrative examples of leaders including Darwin Smith, Anne Mulcahey, Herb Kelleher, Adm James Stockdale, David Packard, and his mentor Peter Drucker. The stages are:

  1. Hubris born of success
  2. Undisciplined grasping for more
  3. Denial of risk or peril
  4. Grasping for salvation

Bill McDermott of SAP declared that mobile is the new desktop. He also said, “the soft stuff is the real stuff,” reinforcing the idea that getting the right people on the team is of utmost importance.

Jack Welch echoed many of the same precepts. “Don’t manage, lead change before you have to. Smell it sense it, anticipate, try to stay on offense. Be candid, face reality, see the world the way it is. My main job as CEO was developing talent.” He wasn’t at all shy about taking several swipes at the Obama administration, calling them “anti-business.”

Carlos Brito of Anheuser-Busch talked about the same things calling them Dream People Culture.

Charlene Li, author of Open Leadership and Groundswell, gave a rousing talk on “Creating Winning Social Media Strategies.” She said the the key contribution of these new social media technologies was getting management to focus on relationships and giving them tools to do so. They key, she said, was in learning how to give up control while maintaining command.

Martin Lindstrom, author of Buyology—Truth and Lies About Why We Buy gave an entertaining talk about how recent advances in brain imaging was providing extraordinary insights into consumer purchasing decisions (neuromarketing), including the importance of the non-conscious mind extending the seminal work of Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays, with far more precision.

Joseph Grenny, author of Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, shared a number of thoughts on influence. His key message that attempts to influence people will be far more effective if all six modes of influence are addressed. These are:

Pleasure or pain

The influence of skill (we grossly under-invest in skill building)

Peer pressure (social influence)

Modeling & mentoring

Cost, incentives (avoidance of loss is far stronger than impulse to gain)

Structural ability

This only the briefest overview of a very full day. Please check online in the coming days for more material being released.

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RP Siegel is co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails.

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