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Thinkers50 & Brightline: Agenda 2018

Each year over 2,500 of the world’s leaders, from business, politics, international organizations, civil society, and academia gather at the Swiss skiing resort of Davos to discuss the most pressing global issues of the time. The meeting which was founded by German-born Klaus Schwab, at the time a professor at the University of Geneva, traces its history back to the 1970s when European business leaders first travelled to Davos for a discussion on global management practices. Since then the event has grown in significance with the January meeting shaping the geopolitical, economic and business agenda for the year to come.

Every annual Davos meeting has an overarching theme. For 2018 the theme is “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World”. It is an appropriate focus at a time when fault lines are emerging in many aspects of society. There is greater awareness of the inequality across the globe, as a small percentage of individuals accumulate a significant proportion of the world’s total wealth. This concentration of wealth is at its greatest at any point since the Gilded Age of the early 1900s. In the US, the world’s most powerful economy at the time, that was an era of robber barons and trust-busting, played out against the tensions of laissez-faire economics versus increased regulation under Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft.

Thinkers50 Logo Brightline Initiative

Another similarity between the early 1900s and the modern world is the impact of technological transformation. As the 20th Century sprang to life President William McKinley celebrated the role of the World Fair as the “timekeepers of progress”. “They record the world’s advancement. They stimulate the energy, enterprise, and intellect of the people; and quicken human genius,” he said. Over 75 million people in total flocked to the World Fairs in Paris (1900), Buffalo, New York (1901) and St. Louis (1904) to witness the ground-breaking technologies of the moment.

Automobiles, x-ray machines, the pushbutton adding machine, the cash register with paper receipts, the latest telephone, escalators, the forerunner of the fax machine, electric power, air conditioning, early radio, these all offered citizens a glimpse into a prosperous future. They also heralded profound change and disruption to the traditional ways of doing things.

In 2018 we are at an equally exciting and promising time in terms of what technology can deliver, now and in the near future. Whether it is AI, robots, self-driving cars, drones, augmented reality, virtual reality, the ubiquity of smartphones and apps, advances in biotechnology, the internet of things, human machine interfaces –in every branch of science it seems that progress becomes faster, discoveries more astounding.

As Klaus Schwab, founder and executive president of the World Economic Forum, noted of the many challenges in the world today one of the most significant is dealing with the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” – “the complete ‘systems innovation’ of technological change” currently underway. How can we ensure that all of society benefits from the Fourth Industrial Revolution? How do business leaders ensure that their organization is not the 2018 equivalent of defunct buggy whip manufacturers in the late 1800s?

Back in the early 1900s, technological change was accompanied by new approaches to running corporations. It was the birth of management theory as a mainstream discipline. Frederick Taylor’s scientific management held sway, closely followed by Henry Ford’s mass production and mass consumerism on an epic scale, typified by the 60 acre Highland Park plant.

Management thought has travelled a long way from Taylor’s perspective on an individual’s contribution to the world of work. Fortunately, the domain of business and management theory has become increasingly diverse. At Thinkers50 we celebrate great management ideas. We know that they come from a variety of academic disciplines and cover all aspects of organizational endeavor. We also recognize their importance in helping to capture and disseminate the benefits from the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We acknowledge their role in mapping a path away from a fractured world towards shared prosperity.

That’s why, as the world’s leaders head to Davos, Thinkers50 in partnership with Brightline are featuring ideas and thoughts from a number of management thinkers that have a bearing on the discussions taking place in Switzerland from the 23rd to the 26th of January.

In doing so we are minded of Schwab’s words: “Our first response must be to develop new models for cooperation that are not based on narrow interests but on the destiny of humanity as a whole.”

We hope that this project will grow and become an annual exercise in the run up to the WEF forum at Davos, and we extend our gratitude to all those who have contributed to this initiative.


Des Dearlove & Stuart Crainer