WEF 2013: Connecting voices to inspire new dynamism

With the theme "resilient dynamism," this year's World Economic Forum drove home the inspirational sentiment that now is the time to focus on reinvention, innovation, and engagement as a way to drive our economies and societies in the post-financial crisis era.

With the theme “resilient dynamism,” this year's World Economic Forum drove home the inspirational sentiment that now is the time to focus on reinvention, innovation, and engagement as a way to drive our economies and societies in the post-financial crisis era.

I've attended WEF annually for more than 10 years. This year, after the sessions, and as everyone headed to trains, planes, and other means of getting down the Swiss mountains, I came away with more context and a deeper understanding of how we as communicators can help to shape a more dynamic future.  A few thoughts:

Moving beyond complacency
There was widespread agreement this year that the global economic outlook is on the mend. The debt ceiling in the US was pushed down the road, with an improved economic environment, China shows promising signs of recovery, and the European Union has avoided collapse. But there is much worry that we are becoming complacent. As Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel noted in a speech, the worst possible economic scenario has been averted, “But can we safely say that we can prevent further crises from happening? Do we have the necessary mechanisms in place to ensure sustainable growth globally? We have laid down the groundwork, but we are not there yet.” Now is the time to invest in growth.

We need to consider in our corporate communications how we put a spotlight on investing that helps solve some of the pressing global challenges: infrastructure, sustainability, aging populations, and healthcare costs. It's vital that we continue to find new ways to shape the opinions of our stakeholders and meaningfully impact these conversations around how to drive change. We all need to work toward rallying the social community to ideate and join in the call to action.

Further, we must never stop looking to improve our global community. The globalization trend, underpinned by global information flows, has placed new emphasis on the importance of being a good global citizen. This brings increased responsibilities for corporations to impact communities; it also means greater emphasis on values, and being networked to a broader set of stakeholders globally. We live in an interconnected world, where information knows no boundaries, and consumers look to establish personal connections with the corporations that impact their lives.

Creating opportunities from failure
“A resilient system,” said Columbia Business School professor Sheena Iyengar in a one-on-one session I attended, “is one in which you…give people the opportunity to try out different ideas, allow for most ideas to fail, but the good ideas will bubble up.” Iyengar called out Silicon Valley as a place where failure is applauded as a “badge of honor,” and argued that the Valley should become the global model. Imagine if you could anywhere in the world apply for a job and cite your failures as an asset and a measure of your experience.

Communications is a key tool for fostering the kind of resilient corporate culture Iyengar sees as necessary for innovation to flourish. We need to encourage bold thinking, internal entrepreneurism, and personal accountability. Failure should be framed as a learning opportunity, where employees are resilient and bounce back when an initiative doesn't work out. Internal communications need to imbed the corporate culture with the potential to stimulate, recognize, and capitalize on game-changing new ideas.

Connecting voices
Final notes at Davos focused on building societies with values and growth that is inclusive. A basic tenet of human interactions – dialogue – is getting a new life with online channels. With China back on the growth track and a rising middle class, and Africa on a path to 5% to 6% growth this year, new voices are being heard. Technology, especially mobile, is enabling faster access to healthcare, banking, and consumption of the products that improve living.

Bringing the power of a unified virtual community of voices to a new reality, the choral closing of the 2013 session profiled Eric Whitacre, a conductor and composer who created a virtual choir when he invited singers on YouTube to send him their renditions of his score, which he then posted online. The invitation resulted in thousands of responses from more than 100 countries. Whitacre commented on the magic of connecting the voices of individuals alone, together in a transcended experience. The WEF attendees joined in song with Whitacre as he played the choir of global virtual voices.

Kathy Bloomgarden is CEO of Ruder Finn.

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