World Business Forum 2010
#wbf10

Our longtime friends at HSM put on their annual World Business Forum in New York last week. Tom has spoken at this event in the past and this year they invited us to attend via the Blogger's Hub, a special section monitoring the event.

The roster of speakers was impressive, to say the least. To name but a few: Al Gore, Jack Welch, A.G. Lafley, Joseph Stiglitz, Steve Levitt, Jim Collins, James Cameron, and Charlene Li. The presentations ran the gamut from economics to innovation, but there was no lack of commonality of message with what Tom has been espousing for decades. So what were the major themes and takeaways of the event?

Talent
The first day of the event seemed to have an underlying theme of talent. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, asked, "How many key seats are on your bus? How many have you filled with the right people?" Carlos Brito, CEO of Anheuser-Busch InBev, offered the equation, "Great people = Great companies." He advocated for creating a culture of owners, avoiding the "don't be gentle, it's a rental" mindset (you'd do things in a rental car you wouldn't dream of in one you own). Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, put it simply and definitively: "You get the best players, you win."

Experiment
Welch went on to say that "you have to create entrepreneurial innovators within your business." Renee Mauborgne, coauthor of Blue Ocean Strategy, went a bit more deeply into this argument. She said, "The more we benchmark, the more we become like the competition." And that certainly isn't going to inspire game-changing innovation. She emphasized the importance of shifting your focus from day to day productivity into creativity and thinking about the future. As A.G. Lafley, former CEO of Procter & Gamble said, "Great innovators constantly disrupt themselves."

Lafley encouraged the audience to cocreate products with their customers. Charlene Li, coauthor of Groundswell, gave a specific example of how Starbucks cocreated a new customer experience (self-serve drip coffee) using social media, and despite the failure of the feature, strengthened customer relationships by including them in the process, start to finish. Steve Levitt, coauthor of Freakonomics, also highlighted the importance of experimenting. "'I don't know' is the least common phrase in business today. ...Try to utter that phrase at least once a day." But he cautioned to not forget to measure the results of your experiments, as this happens all too often.

Storytelling
Spending two days watching such an impressive lineup of speakers provides ample opportunity for comparison and critique. What makes for the most compelling speech? Whenever Tom is asked for advice regarding speeches, he never fails to mention the importance of storytelling. Joseph Grenny, coauthor of Influencer, spoke of this outright. Cool Friend Martin Lindstrom showed the power of brand storytelling. The slides that speech-veteran former Vice President Al Gore used were almost completely text-free and only served to enhance his case for action against the devastating effects of global warming. James Cameron, director of Avatar and Titanic, described his journeys in storytelling and the techniques he used to make stories come to life. But it was a survivor of a plane crash in the Andes, Nando Parrado, that captured the audience's full attention and garnered the only standing ovation when he took us on his incredible journey, providing a compelling reminder of what really matters in life.

Aspiration
Tom frequently asks, "If not Excellence, what?" Several of the speakers shared this message of aspiration. Vijay Govindarajan of the Tuck School of Business and Renee Mauborgne presented clear arguments for lifting your focus from the daily churn so that you can take the essential step of plotting strategy for the future. Carlos Brito used the example of a high jump when discussing leadership. He said you must set the bar high, because like athletes training for the high jump who only just make it over the bar, people will only jump as high as is required to achieve the goal. And to leave you with the words of the last speaker of the World Business Forum 2010, James Cameron said, "The biggest risk is not to be bold."