What do Bono, Eric Schmidt, Matt Damon, Jamie Dimon and David Cameron all have in common?
No, U2 are not auditioning for a new band member. The answer is even more thrilling – the World Economic Forum 2014 is convening for their annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland. The tired, the poor and the huddled masses can rest easy because these luminaries, together with Benjamin Netanyahu, the CEO of Wal-Mart and the King and Queen of Belgium have arrived in full pomp and splendour, to do…whatever it is exactly that they do there every year.
From the WEF homepage:
Profound political, economic, social and, above all, technological forces are transforming our lives, communities and institutions. Rapidly crossing geographic, gender and generational boundaries, they are shifting power from traditional hierarchies to networked heterarchies. Yet the international community remains focused on crisis rather than strategically driven in the face of the trends, drivers and opportunities pushing global, regional and industry transformation.
“The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business” is therefore the thematic focus of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2014. Our aim is to develop the insights, initiatives and actions necessary to respond to current and emerging challenges.
If this sounds to you like something you might hear in a second-tier business school lecture or the opening paragraphs of a particularly bad Tom Friedman column, you would be forgiven your mistake. It’s the year 2014 and our moral, intellectual and financial betters have apparently only just come to the realisation that technological forces are transforming our lives, communities and institutions.
Thank goodness for the sagacity of these wise men (and they still mostly are men), who alone among us have perceived that some kind of shift has taken place in our national economies and personal behavioural patterns since the internet and these fancy cell phones popped into being. It is astounding to witness how some of the brightest, busiest and most successful businesspeople, politicians and artists can sit and listen to so much meaningless garbage, and then come back a year later under the powerful spell of collective amnesia to do it all over again.
And seriously – “networked heterarchies”? All outward evidence suggests that there is but one solitary networked heterarchy that has gained and consolidated power in recent years, and that is the one currently booked into a Swiss convention centre to discuss just how wonderful networked heterarchies are, and to divide up the spoils of another bumper year.
In sessions with meaningless titles such as “The New Digital Context”, the world will be put to rights in Davos 2014 – and any outstanding items from the Bilderberg 2013 agenda will no doubt followed up and neatly resolved by those people privileged to be invited to both.
Here’s Klaus Schwab (what better name could there be for the leader of such an event?), the Founder and Executive Chairman of the WEF, welcoming the distinguished delegates to the annual shindig. And yes, he does have a symphony orchestra on the stage behind him. Pity them.
At least Schwab has the decency to admit at around the 1 minute 20 second mark that the whole affair is really about providing an opportunity for the global super-elite to relax, do business deals and network. He puts it somewhat more prettily than this, but the meaning is quite clear. This alpine convocation is like a gold-plated version of LinkedIn, with extra snow.
Cardinal Peter Turkson of the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice also traveled to Davos, and read aloud a message from Pope Francis. Given the Pope’s well known thoughts about conspicuous displays of wealth and false displays of public piety, one must wonder whether poor Cardinal Turkson found himself having to ditch his prepared remarks and speak extemporaneously for fear of being run out of town for speaking truth to power.
On a personal level, I just don’t quite get it. For most of my career I have worked as a management consultant and project manager. But when I went on vacation, I left my work and all the trappings of my professional life behind at home. I didn’t walk the streets of Paris or the hills of the Lake District pretending to still be running IT projects or anything else to do with my line of work. And so if the shining people in Davos wants to have a good shindig in snowy Switzerland, I would have a lot more respect for them if they would just say so, and spend their time skiing rather than propagating the farcical myth that they are bringing their unique professional skills to bear on the problems of the world.
And yet every year we go through this worn-out pretense that the greatest minds of our generation are sequestering themselves in the mountains to hatch new plans to save the world, when really we all know they are there to slap themselves on the back for another successful year, drink glühwein and try to avoid being isolated in a corner and engaged in interminable, pious conversation by Gordon Brown.
So I have a proposal. Let’s test the mettle of these great, good and benevolent people who claim to care so much for us small folk. Let’s hold the World Economic Forum 2015 somewhere different, somewhere cheaper, calculate the difference in cost and give that sum of money to a front-line charity picked at random from a hat.
Let’s hold the World Economic Forum 2015 in my hometown of Harlow, Essex.
I’ll see you there!