Globalisation, innovation and social progress … What is the new “context” for business innovation and growth?

June 2, 2017

How do you make sense of a colliding world? From migration to a new populism, a new machine age with a social purpose, the rapid growth of robotics and biotech, the fusion of geographies and sectors, cultures and religions, what are the consequences and opportunities for business? This “debate-style” session brings together three experts to explore what matters most, and what business should do next?

At the recent European Business Forum – held in the transforming city of Odense, Denmark – I hosted an incredible series of sessions with some of the world’s top business thinkers (including the world’s #1 business leaders, world’s #1 business guru, and world’s #1 business coach) and an audience of many of Europe’s CEOs.

We kicked off by exploring the new “context” for business … what is the environment in which leaders should be thinking about how to innovate and where to grow? What are the big issues that should be driving their strategic planning, issues that go beyond their normal product and service discussions, but shape the way they work and impact they deliver?

I brought three of the world’s top thinkers together, with very different perspectives. Through a series of “fast-thinking, idea-stretching, priority-defining” debates, emerged a fascinating set of insights that connect together, and provided great provocation to debate further, and to continue in the boardrooms and innovation labs of every business.

Here are the three big insights:

Insight 1 … Business must take responsibility for our future.

“We will see more change in the next 10 years than in the last 250 years. But these new opportunities come with new responsibilities, to address in new ways.”

Mona Hammami, from Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince’s Court, gave a global perspective on the biggest challenge for business:

  • Global change is accelerating in speed and scale. More crowded, older, migrant and urban, putting huge demand on scarce resources.
  • Public and private sector need to collaborate to find the $2.5 trillion investment required to fund the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals.
  • How can we all act as global citizens to solve these problems? In particular, how can business contribute to society in smarter, more strategic ways?

Insight 2 … Globalisation is undemocratic.

“Globalisation has been promoted and enabled by business, but society is not comfortable with many of its consequences. We need to rethink how it works.”

Professor Alexander Betts, leading thinker on refugees and migration, sees the fault in our progress, and the problem with globalisation:

  • Globalisation is fundamentally undemocratic. Citizens lose influence, decisions are compromises, the strongest nations dominate.
  • We need to rethink the nature of work, including the important role of migration in this, as well as the fast emerging role of AI and robotics.
  • Social impacts should be a major discussion in the boardroom. CSR is not a peripheral issue. It should be core to the business model.

Insight 3 … Innovation needs more ambition.

“Innovation needs to refocus on what matters most, harnessing the potential of new technologies to enable business to have more impact, to make life better.”

Irreverent Finn, Alf Rehn, reflected on these challenges, saying that innovation needs to refocus in order that business can have more impact:

  • Together we spend around $3 trillion each year on innovation. That’s about 22 “moonshots” (the Apollo mission cost $137bn). Most of it is misused.
  • Most innovation is frivolous, wasted on things like smart socks, rather a positive force for progress. Instead it should focus on the big challenges in our world.
  • Time to use your brain, to reclaim innovation with ambition, get serious about exponential technologies, and unleash our cognitive surplus.

Denmark’s fairytale city of Odense was a perfect place to write the future story of business. Birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen, and now one of Europe’s leading robotics hubs, and rapidly becoming “the Davos of business thinking”.

It is a city in the midst of rapid change – social and technological. €5.5 billion investment will create a smart city, local businesses like Universal Robotics are growing rapidly, drones dominate the local airport, it has the world’s most innovative sports track, one of Northern Europe’s top music festivals, and Facebook has just announced a huge local investment.

On 9-10 May 2017, Odense hosted this year’s Thinkers50 European Business Forum, bringing together the world’s top business thinkers with Europe’s business leaders. I had the privilege of hosting this incredible event, probably the highest quality business forum in the world this year.

Watch the best moments at the European Business Forum 2017

Download all the best ideas from the European Business Forum 2017


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