Making Better Choices … Harnessing the power of disruptive technologies for more business and social impact

March 1, 2018

Business leaders face more choices than ever before – there are few limits to the ways in which a business can grow – any geographical market, any industrial sector, any business model – enabled by technology, partners, people and investment. In fact, in a world of infinite possibilities, the hardest part is often deciding what not to do – to make choices.

In the “fourth industrial revolution” it is the new generation of technologies – from digital networks and blockchain, to robotics and artificial intelligence, 3d printing and biotechnologies – that challenge business leaders to rethink what matters, how to embrace the new capabilities, and what creates sustained economic value. They also offer huge opportunities to innovate and grow in new ways. In my view, the next 10 years are likely to see more change to society, than the last 250 years.

Take 3d printing as an example … It has the potential to fundamentally disrupt the whole way in which we make and distribute products, and even our relationships with brands themselves. Gone will be the complex supply chains, factories and warehouses, shipped across the world – and all the time and risk, cost and carbon, involved. Instead you can press “print” whenever you want – a new dress, new food, a new car part. Just for you. Maybe you’ll even subscribe Netflix-style to brands to access their designs on demand.

Yet another challenge – how the business exists within society, and the value it adds to people, local communities and social progress – might have just as much impact on a business’ future success. This year’s World Economic Forum focused on our “fractured world”. The huge inequalities driven by thoses who have and have not. Global or local. Tech or human. Trusted or fake. So what is fair, what is good, what is progress, have become huge questions – particularly for business leaders.

As an example of the growing importance of social impact for every business, two weeks ago Laurence Fink, the CEO of one of the world’s leading investment firms BlackRock, told companies they need to contribute to society if they want to receive his financial support. But this is not about a bit of CSR, giving away a little of your huge profits as a way of almost relieving your guilt. It should be core.

The real opportunity, is to connect these challenges and opportunities – social problems and new disruptive technologies – exploring how business leaders can most effectively apply these new technologies for more impact, for both people and profit. This is social innovation 2.0. It requires us as business leaders to explore new options, make new  smarter decisions, and innovate for more impact – socially and financially.

Making better choices” is the theme of this year’s Thinkers50 European Business Forum.

At the previous forum, Europe’s business leaders said “Fast change has left business out of touch with people. Leaders are complacent, and innovation is wasted.” Collectively we asked ourselves how can European business rediscover its place in the world. There was a strong and overwhelming message from participants: “Business should be a force for positive progress.” This year we build on your agenda.

Agenda Day 1

0900 – 1015 … Technologies that will change our world

The “Odense Moonshot” explores the incredible potential of new technologies to transform every market. Whilst Bitcoin has grabbed headlines, the underlying blockchain technologies could transform the way every market works, and not just in financial services. It could transform business models and supply chains, whilst reinventing the ways in which consumers engage, and their trust in brands. This will be enhanced by other technologies, adding intelligence, speed and efficiency. Which technologies matter most to your future, and how will you embrace their potential?

  • Don Tapscott is often known as Mr Wikinomics, and is #2 in the Thinkers50 global ranking of business gurus. He has become the spokesperson of the network age – explaining the exponential potential of networks when you make them work for you (like Wikipedia, but equally by turning your customer base into a vibrant community). Now he turns his attention to Blockchain, one of the many new technologies that fascinate and baffle most business leaders. His new book is Blockchain Revolution. How will distributed, network-based transaction systems transform the way money works, and almost every other industry too?

1045 – 1200 … Social issues that will change our world

Dramatic change brings new tensions, not least in how business progress is challenging our ways of life, our society and environment. Global and local, rich and poor, fake and authentic, climate and ecology, fairness and ethics. What is the impact of your business on our world, in your local community and far across continents? At the same time, social issues provide new opportunities for business to do good. How could you innovate your business activities in a way that does more for society, engaging people more deeply and maybe even more profitable too? This is no longer about CSR, but has profound implications for every part of business.

1230 – 1330 … Big Talk: Defining the Choices

What are the biggest challenges for us all, as business leaders? The forum works together in roundtables, speakers and participants, to explore the questions, tensions and dilemmas we face in business – the role of technology in driving progress, and the impact financially and socially which they can have. Together we will create an “agenda” for European business, considering which factors are most significant together and individually. By learning from each other, we may uncover choices we didn’t even realise we had, and new opportunities to innovate and grow.

1430 – 1515 … Rethinking Purpose

Entrepreneurs have a clarity of purpose when they set out, which is often lost or confused as their businesses grow and evolve. Finding a purpose beyond profit has become the guiding path of most enlightened businesses today, rethinking “why” the business exists before “what and how” to do. Purpose gives you a north star, and source of enduring difference. By rediscovering the mindset of your founder, businesses can often rekindle their creativity, reneergise their people, and refocus their priorities. This often involves applying innovation to every aspect of the business, and its wider impact.

1545 – 1700 … Rethinking Organisations

Disruptive technologies are unlikely to thrive in traditional organisations built around hierarchies of people and products. Creativity and agility comes from new ways of working together, more flexibly and collaboratively, building new types of partnerships with new capabilities. Organisations need in many ways to mirror the new market models, speed and agility, but also human and responsible. They need to harness their connected intelligence, whilst maintain emotional agility to sustain the delivery of projects and results. How can you build the right organisation for the future? What are the big choices, and best solutions?

Agenda Day 2

0900 – 1015 … Innovation Accelerator

Innovation drives business progress. It has become core to what the organisation does, and all embracing in its scope, rethinking everything from business models to customer experiences. At the same time, the process of innovation has become smarter, faster, more collaborative and more creative. From design thinking to lean implementation, organisations seek to bring an entrepreneurial mindset to the development process. At the heart of all of this sits the business model. And often one that can be expressed on a one page canvas. So how can you develop a better business model, and in particular, one that embraces the potential of technologies for both people and profit?

  • Alex Osterwalder is popular for his Business Model Canvas, a one-page framework in which you map and then creatively explore the opportunities for rethinking every aspect of your business. With post-it notes, and a blank canvas you can play with your future business model, including how to achieve those new choices. Together with Yves Pigneur, and 470 co-creators, the Swiss innovation guru has authored three books, and is now #7 on the Thinkers50 global ranking.

1045 – 1200 … Rethinking Networks

Networks are the drivers of exponential growth – social media, distribution partners, licensing models, business ecosystems, media networks. Every additional member creates a multiplying effect through its added connections. As a result, customers trust customers, businesses work together to share capabilities, and reaching across markets is fast and easy. What are the best ways to make networks work? How can you engage business partners more effectively, and more consumers faster and more authentically?

1230 – 1330 … Big Talk: Making Better Choices

So how can we, as business leaders, make better choices? The forum works together in roundtables, speakers and participants, to address the core theme, building on the ideas of previous sessions, and the experiences of all of us. How can the new technologies help us to make better choices, in a way that delivers success for society, and profitable growth too? What are the new choices? How do we choose? What difference will it make?

1430 – 1515 … Rethinking Leadership

Leaders are the ultimate decision makers. How has decision-making changed in today’s world? With ever greater complexity and relentless change, multiple cultures and dispersed working, how do you make better choices? Information is ubiquitous, analytics are rampant, yet making the right choices requires more than lots of data. It is about understanding the choices – what options are available; and then the impacts – the consequences of decisions. Do you have what it takes to rethink your role as leader, maybe even to disrupt yourself, and to rethink how you think, decide and lead?

1545 – 1700 … European Business Lecture 2018

The European Business Lecture defines the agenda for business across the continent in the year ahead, a seminal moment in the European business calendar. What are the priorities for business, for governments, and others? How will Europe win in a fast and dynamic world? How can smarter choices enable leaders to see their future differently, to focus on new priorities and practices, and to have more impact?  Good judgement is a rare but crucial quality in today’s business leaders. Winners, particularly in a world of new technologies and new priorities, are the ones who make great choices.

  • Roger Martin is the world’s #1 business thinker, and tops the 2017 Thinkers50 ranking of global management gurus. He is a Canadian strategist, formerly Dean of the Rotman School of Management. He is perhaps most famous for his “Playing to Win” collaboration with P&G’s former CEO AG Lafley, which defined the key choices to make in developing a great strategy. He has almost dedicated much of his time to social entrepreneurship, and has a new book just out called Creating Great Choices, which explores how “integrative thinking” can lead to solutions which are not trade-offs or compromises, but adopt a better way.

Keynote speakers

I will be hosting the event again, and working with my Thinkers50 colleagues Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove to design an event that brings together the best ideas in a fresh and though-provoking. Here are some of this years top speakers who will be working together, and with you:

  • Roger Martin, author of Creating Great Choices, the world’s #1 business guru
  • Don Tapscott, author of Blockchain Revolution, the world’s #2 business guru
  • Alex Osterwalder, co-author of Business Model Generation, and #7 business guru

Together with:

  • Matt Brittin, President of Google Europe, on the humanity of technology
  • Jim Hagemann Snabe, Chairman of AP Moller-Maersk, one of Europe’s top leaders
  • Martin Lindstrom, Denmark’s Lego kid, and though leader on consumer insight
  • Whitney Johnson, Harvard executive coach, author of Disrupt Yourself
  • Chris Zook, Bain & Co partner, and author of Founders Mentality
  • Johanna Mair, German social innovation expert from Stanford
  • Erica Dhawan, from Harvard on the power of Connectional Intelligence
  • Casper von Koskull, Finnish banker and CEO of Nordea Bank
  • Alexandra, Countess of Frederiksborg, author of The Sincerity Edge
  • Tania de Jong, Dutch Australian operatic-singing creative catalyst
  • Jimmy Maymann-Holler, EVP of AOL, previously CEO of Huff Post
  • Andrew Shipilov, Insead professor, and author of Network Advantage
  • Esben Østergaard, founder and CTO of Universal Robots
  • Nikolaj Coster Waldau, UN Ambassador and star of Game of Thrones*

Video gallery

Here is a preview of some of their best ideas:

Roger Martin, author of Creating Great Choices, the world’s #1 business guru

The former dean of University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, Martin is a strategy advisor to CEOs worldwide and the author of ten books, including Thinkers 50 award winners Playing to Win (with AG Lafley, HBR Press, 2013) and Getting Beyond Better (with Sally Osberg, HBR Press, 2015). His new book Creating Great Choices (with Jennifer Riel, HBR Press, 2017) follows up on his 2007 bestseller The Opposable Mind (HBR Press).

Don Tapscott, author of Blockchain Revolution, the world’s #2 business guru

The Hammond B3 organist in the band Men in Suits, Don also happens to be one of the world’s leading authorities on innovation, media, and the economic and social impacts of technology. He regularly advises business and government leaders around the world.  He has authored or co-authored over 15 books on the digital economy. His latest book, entitled Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World, is co-authored with his son Alex Tapscott, and is, according to Harvard Business School’s Clay Christensen, “thebook, literally on how to survive and thrive in this next wave of technology-driven disruption.”

Alex Osterwalder, co-author of Business Model Generation, and #7 business guru

Alex Osterwalder and his academic partner Yves Pigneur are the authors of Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want (2014) and Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Gamechangers and Challengers (self-published, 2010). Business Model Generationis based on a tool called the Business Model Canvas. The book’s contents were co-created by 470 Business Model Canvas practitioners from 45 countries, and features a highly visual, four-colour design that explains a range of strategic ideas and tools.

Matt Brittin, the Olympic rower who now leads Google across Europe

Matt is president of EMEA business and operations for Google. He’s also an Olympic (Seoul 1988) and world championship rower (he won a bronze medal). His first job was relatively mundane, a surveyor. Then an MBA took him to McKinsey, and into tech strategy as commercial director at Trinity Mirror. He joined Google as director of sales in 2007 and rose rapidly to become MD for Google UK in 2009 and then vice-president for Northern Europe in 2011. Google, despite all its innovation and success, has faced huge challenge from media and governments in recent times, about everything from tax evasion to responsible content. Matt has been the man at the centre of defending the brand’s reputation, and finding ways forward to drive the business, and engage society.

Jim Hagemann Snabe, Chairman of Moller-Maersk and Siemens

Jim Hagemann Snabe is one of Europe’s top business leaders. He’s Chairman of the Board of A.P. Moller-Maersk and Seimens, and a board member of SAP, Bang & Olufsen, Allianz and the World Economic Forum. His new book “Dreams and Details” is about two things: Dreams are about having a vision – extremely ambitious, but attainable in its nature. It acts as a beacon for the organization and it is the purpose and the goal the employees sign up for. Details is the daily practice that supports those goals. All the single initiatives, that move you closer to the dream. He defines what a dream is and isn’t and why many fail – they forget to dream and instead make financial plans.

Whitney Johnson, Harvard executive coach, author of Disrupt Yourself

Former award-winning Wall Street equity analyst Whitney Johnson is an expert on disruptive innovation and personal disruption; specifically, a framework which she codifies in the critically acclaimed book Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work and expands on in the upcoming book Build an “A” Team: Play To Their Strengths and Lead Them Up the Learning Curve. Whitney’s research and work in disruptive innovation starts with the understanding that the framework of disruption is at a very high level a framework for managing change – beginning with the individual. She developed her proprietary framework and diagnostics after having cofounded the Disruptive Innovation Fund with Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen. Whether scaling a business or trying to get your people to be more innovative, Whitney’s research helps people to harness, rather than just cope with change and become a person people want to hire and a boss people want to work for.

Casper von Koskull, Finnish banker and CEO of Nordea Bank

Nordea, which was formed through a succession of deals involving Swedish, Danish, Finnish and Norwegian banks at the end of the last century, has been praised by investors for emerging from the financial crisis in relatively good shape. In last year’s stress tests of European banks, Swedish lenders led the way with Nordea having 11.8 per cent capital under the most severe scenario, well ahead of the 5.5 per cent requirement. Von Koskull, who started his career at Citibank in Helsinki before working for UBS and Goldman Sachs, is in charge of implementing Nordea’s new three-year plan to boost its dividend and return on equity while keeping costs down.

Martin Lindstrom, Denmark’s Lego kid, taking us inside the consumer’s mind

Martin Lindstrom is a fabulous author and speaker on brands, consumers and innovation. From his early days in growing up in Denmark, where he was recruited by Lego for his childhood insights, to a US TV series explaining the secrets of brand marketing today, Martin travels the world, helping his clients structure their brands, products and services by design, to enhance their sales and productivity throughout their businesses. His latest book is Small Data is all about finding the small clues to understand our futures, and drive big innovation.

Alexandra, Countess of Frederiksborg, author of The Sincerity Edge

Recognizing their role as “corporate citizens,” companies are seeking guidance on how to be true to their missions, principled in practice, and well regarded for their contributions to society. As this book reveals, the key lies in sincerity―the sum of values like authenticity, integrity, and trust. Countess Alexandra (née Manley) is the first wife of Prince Joachim of Denmark,  the younger son of Queen Margrethe II. She grew up in Hong Kong with British and Chinese parents, and was married from 1995 to 2005. In her new book, tracing inspirational tales and scandals alike, she shows how leaders can head up companies that more reliably make good decisions and conduct themselves in a trustworthy manner. She concludes with twelve concrete actions that businesses can take to cultivate “the sincerity edge.”

Chris Zook, Bain & Co partner, and author of Founders Mentality

Chris Zook is a partner in Bain & Company’s Boston office. He was co-head of the Global Strategy practice for 20 years. During his more than 25 years at Bain, Chris has specialized in helping companies find new sources of profitable growth. A best-selling author, Chris published his fifth book, The Founders Mentality (Harvard Business Review Press) in 2016. Based on a decade-long study of companies in more than 40 countries, he shows how leaders can overcome the predictable crises of growth and set their companies on a path of sustainable growth.

Johanna Mair, German social innovation expert from Berlin and Stanford

Johanna is a Professor of Organization, Strategy and Leadership at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin and the Hewlett Foundation Visiting Scholar at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society.  She currently serves as the academic editor of Stanford Social Innovation Review. Her research lies at the intersection of organizations, institutions and social change. More specifically, she is interested in how institutions stifle and enable social and economic progress and the role of organizational activity in this process.

Erica Dhawan, from Harvard on the power of Connectional Intelligence

Technology has made us the “most connected” society… but how do you make the right connections to get ahead? Move beyond smart networking to a deeper wisdom and learn the secrets of a new wave of leaders: how to connect creatively with the most important people you need to know. Erica Dhawan is the co-author of Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence. She is a researcher, strategist and keynote speaker on the new world of work and advises Google, Deloitte, Fidelity and the United Nations.

Tania de Jong, Dutch Australian operatic-singing creative catalyst

Tania de Jong makes the case that people singing together can change the brain. Pushing the idea that creativity is the strategic tool of the 21st century, she says how our voices have been silenced and that it’s not doing us any good. She explains how singing is a survival mechanism, how it makes our hearts beat together and can help heal strokes and depression.

Esben Østergaard, founder and CTO of Universal Robots, a moonshot in Odense

In the future, robots may take over many jobs. What jobs will the humans do? Meet your future job role as a cloudworker. How can you help the robots? With more than 25 years of experience in robot development, Claus is one of the founding fathers of modern European robotics. He has created the successful robot development company and incubator, Blue Ocean Robotics in Odense. In just three years the company has grown from only being 3 employees to more than 110 and world-wide presence in more than 65 countries.

Jimmy Maymann-Holler, previously CEO of Huff Post and EVP of AOL

Entrepreneur, Former Huffpost CEO and EVP of content and consumer brands at AOL, Jimmy Maymann has learnt a thing or two about how content remains king. Maymann started his internet career in Denmark in the mid-1990s after he graduated from the University of Odense with a degree in Economics and International Marketing  His final university thesis – about the commercial opportunities presented by the internet – was inspired by a fieldtrip he took to the USA in 1994, during which he was exposed to the internet for the first time, and which ultimately laid the foundation for his first business ventures. From  2012 to 2015, Maymann served as the CEO of the Huffington Post based in New York during which time he focused on the transition of the brand towards becoming a profitable, global media company. Until early 2017, he was the Executive Vice President and President, AOL Content & Consumer Brands, where he led AOL’s content portfolio, strategy and OTT operations.

Andrew Shipilov, INSEAD professor, and author of Network Advantage

Shipilov is a Professor of Strategy and the Akzo Nobel Fellow of Strategic Management at INSEAD. In 2014, he received a prestigious Emerging Scholar Award from the Strategic Management Society. He is an expert in the areas of strategy, innovation, and networks. His current academic research examines how social networks, strategic alliances, and partnerships affect firm’s competitive advantage. He teaches and directs Executive Education programmes on competitive strategy, collaborative strategy, and Blue Ocean Strategy. From 2010, he is an Academic Director of the  INSEAD’s Blue Ocean Strategy open programme. Here he talks about the new book “Network Advantage” describing how you can unlock value from your alliances and partnerships:


Nikolaj Coster Waldau, UN Ambassador and star of Game of Thrones (*to be confirmed)

Nikolaj  is a Danish actor, best known for portraying Jaime Lannister in hit series Game of Thrones. He has also portrayed Horus in Gods of Egypt and appeared in Oblivion alongside  Tom Cruise. He made hi US film debut in Black Hawk Down. Since April 2011, Coster-Waldau has played Jaime Lannister on HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones.  In his role as UNDP Goodwill Ambassador he focuses on raising awareness and support for the Global Sustainable Development Goals which are a universal call to action to end poverty, fight inequality and stop climate change. “My main mission as UNDP Goodwill Ambassador will be to raise awareness and support for the Global Goals for a better future for all, which cannot be achieved without empowering women and protecting our planet.”

EBF is like no other event. Thinkers50 is all about finding, connecting and sharing the best ideas. Therefore we want you and the thinkers to stop and think … to explore the current ideas, but go further, to challenge each other’s thinking, and do better. Not just on stage. This is not a show. Its about great minds – academic and commercial, working together to think further, smarter and practically.

Here is a short reminder of last year’s incredible two days:

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