The Many Davos
It is worth taking a moment to reflect on the many faces of the Davos experience. Each person attending has many options to choose among, and you can't do it all. Here are just a few of the Davos' I saw in action last week.
Deal Davos (aka bilateral Davos)
You come to Davos to meet with a handful of specific people who are also there at the same time. Your time is dedicated to a moderate room in some Davos hotel, as your team runs a steady stream of key customers, suppliers and potential partners through. Davos as nexus for minimizing global travel.
You see Davos as a place to get exposed to leading politicians from around the world, where you can hear Tony Blair, Angela Merkel and King Abdallah of Jordan and a hot of others. A place where American politicians get exposed to world opinion and protest, not so much from the folks outside the gates of the WEF, but from leading businesspeople around the world.
You get educated on the big issues facing your business and society (often the same issues). Top experts explain these issues with a depth and sophistication you rarely get elsewhere. You have interactive workshops and role playing with 40 other CEOs, digging into issues from completely different vantage points. I especially enjoyed the Digital Piracy workshop where a handful of us had to develop and present the "Commercial Pirate's Manifesto!"
You get to drive fast cars. Ecologically friendly fast cars. Skiing and sledding and snowboarding and cross country. Parties of every way shape and form, especially tuned for customers. Music and arts experiences.
(Global) Society Davos
You can spend all of your time on social issues, hanging with the heads of NGOs (the international name for nonprofits), major labor unions, religious leaders and of course the social entrepreneurs. You can learn more about the environment, about human rights, about development aid, about the digital divide, about microfinance, about healthy food and about disaster response. I was excited to be part of two sessions about improving disaster response through technology and corporate engagement with NGOs.
You get to see lots of inventions and new company ideas: a huge variety. I saw a 3 Watt LED light bulb as bright as a 60W bulb but cool enough to hold in your hand. I saw a pair of adjustable eyeglasses for kids in the developing world that cost less than $1 a pair to make. I heard about medical advances to combat strokes and diabetes. My favorite of these was an invention that you swallow and it takes pictures of your digestive tract, instead of needing the dreaded sigmoidoscopy. It was nicknamed "the light at the end of the tunnel!"
You get to meet up and coming business, media and political leaders: the people who will likely be at Davos in the future. I enjoyed seeing Mayor Gavin Newsome and his girlfriend, who I thought was just a gorgeous actress but also turned out to be a top Stanford Business School graduate. Plus, the WEF is staffed by an army of brilliant young people eager to change the world, people like Jesse Fahnestock who used to run Bookshare.org for us.
You get to spend lots of time with people you know through Davos over the years or other aspects of your life. The pressures of day-to-day work aren't there, and you can spend an hour impromptu with someone you had always wanted to meet. In a past year, I got to spend an hour chatting with David Baltimore, Nobel Laureate and then-president of Caltech, my alma mater. At an alumni event, I would get 60 seconds!
You can't do it all, as I said above. The hardest decisions to make are what to not do. What blend of the Davos cocktail will you have is a big challenge. For example, I decided this year to avoid political Davos because I thought other things were more important to my work. The richness of the experience lets you give up on some parts and still feel like you didn't shortchange yourself. But, it's very hard to get enough sleep!
I walked away with easily 60 business cards of people with whom I should be following up. Some of them will get involved with Benetech and that will be great. Some will send new people my way and vice versa. Some of them are on similar paths to mine and I know we'll be helping each other advance. Davos is just another branch of the great karma bank.
Hope I get to go back again!