Another year, another Davos conference where the global super-elite gather to meet to discuss the worlds’ problems. Or at least do some great networking… Because how much innovation truly originates from those at the top?
In the UK, a controversially-titled TV show is dominating local headlines – Benefits Street – examining the lives of residents living on one street in Birmingham, the majority of which are dependent on benefits.
Paul Taylor has an excellent article – 3 lessons we should all learn from Benefits Street – highlighting the more positive aspects of the programme. Like Paul, I watched an episode out of curiosity given the news coverage and agree with his perspective. The show shines a spotlight on just how difficult it is to get out of the trap once you fall into it. And Paul highlights the flaw in much of our government systems focused on welfare (emphasis his):
One of the problems across the social sector is there’s too much top down innovation and an over reliance on tech based solutions.
We need to listen to communities , seed fund some grass roots projects and get out of the way.
Time and again, systems that grow bottom-up out perform those that are designed top-down. Top-down priorities are beneficial when you are looking to scale out a successful solution. But finding a solution in the first place is demonstrably easier when starting small: experiment, fail fast, learn and try again. You can’t do that when investing billions on a single enterprise-scale scheme.
Davos may be a great deal of fun and intellectual exercise for the global super-elite. But the mindset invariably focuses on top-down solutions. Attendance is mostly limited to those benefitting from the current systems in the world. Cue Machiavelli:
There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.
To shape the world in a different way is more likely to happen by the actions of those least likely to attend events like Davos. And in this new globally connected age, the balance of power is shifting. Whilst there have always been people across the generations who would rather see a fairer world, the Internet has connected those voices on a far bigger scale in recent years. More and more individuals talk about their desire for meaning and purpose over wealth. For a more collaborative networked culture over one dominated by command-and-control hierarchies.
The following is just one presentation (but a rather good one by Joyce Hostyn) demonstrating this shift:
The theme at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year was ‘Shaping the world’. That’s something we can all now participate in. The smartest people will never all be in one room.
- 3 things we should all learn from Benefits Street – Paul Taylor, January 2014
- Can we design organisations for beauty? – Joyce Hostyn, January 2014
- Machiavelli’s quote taken from The Prince, published 1532
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Flickr image – Peter Brabeck-Letmathe and Michael S. Dell at WEF 2009, Davos – shared by the World Economic Forum