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Reimagining Davos

At the recent World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, participants made the same mistake they always do: extrapolating from the recent past rather than looking genuinely into the future. Three key changes would enable the event to fulfill its considerable potential.

NEW YORK – I do not attend the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos. But my sense is that, as in previous years, this year’s participants ended up extrapolating more from the recent past than genuinely looking into the future for pivots and tipping points. This was true both at the macro level and in terms of the key individual issues that attracted the most attention, according to multiple media reports (and the media are extremely well represented at this event). As a result, this globally renowned gathering of influential government and corporate leaders appears to have missed, once again, an opportunity fully to realize its considerable potential.

There is a reason why Davos tends to be backward-looking. Leaders naturally come to it focused on what they have experienced most recently. If others have experienced the same thing, the Davos echo chamber amplifies the themes so that they dominate conversations about both recent developments and future prospects.

The two meetings before the 2008 global financial crisis had a rather optimistic tone, dismissing the warnings of the few who sensed that the “great moderation” and the era of unfettered finance were likely to come to a painful end. The January 2009 meeting was the complete opposite, projecting crisis and global recession well into the future.

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