Pushing the Provocateurs: The Best of the World Business Forum 2014

By David Knight |

By Silicon Allee’s international correspondent Roy Malkin at Radio City Music Hall in New York

Any event that draws 4,000 director-level attendees is guaranteed to be good, especially when you add in a roster of keynote speakers including the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, Malcolm Gladwell, Garry Kasparov and Ben Bernanke. The theme of the 11th annual World Business Forum was dubbed ‘PROVOCATEURS’ and was aimed at sharing ideas to better prepare attendees for business challenges in new and innovative ways.

Starting the forum on Tuesday morning, Robinson spoke about cultivating creativity through a methodology in business strategy that pushes people to upend the status quo, rethink outdated assumptions about intelligence and innovation, and launch a creative revolution that will unleash the real potential of people and organisations. Named one of the world’s elite thinkers on creativity and innovation by Fast Company magazine, Sir Ken has worked with governments and education systems around the world. His video on how schools kill creativity is the most popular TED talk of all time.

Based on a belief that everyone has creative potential and that creativity can be developed in every sort of activity and in a practical way, he argues not only that creativity can be developed systematically but that it must be both in education and in business if we are to fulfill our real talents and meet the many challenges that we face.

“To realise our true creative potential in our organisations, in our schools and in our communities we need to think differently about ourselves and to act differently towards each other. We must learn to be creative.”

Thematically speaking, the ethos of the event has been to provide solutions to an often contradictory, multi-stakeholder world. New developments in business require new leadership and ever evolving ways of thinking. Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group expanded on this theme on Wednesday morning by posing the question: “What happens when no one is running the world?”

He believes that changes in the geopolitical landscape are resulting in a lack of global leadership that only provokes uncertainty, volatility and even war. Understanding the global risks that transcend national boundaries in a globalised world with emerging economies he sees as key to determining business success or failure.

Phillipe Starck considered whether it is possible to design creativity, to open the doors of the human brain. The founding of his business, Starck Product, in 1979 was to provide the launch pad for his stellar international career and his reputation as the ‘superdesigner’ of the late 20th century. Starck’s name is associated with innumerable projects in innumerable different fields: from furniture, decoration and architecture; to clothing, accessories, toys, glassware graphic design and publishing.

During the 90s Starck began to promote product longevity and to stipulate that morality, honesty and objectivity become part of the design process. Through his ‘democratic design’ concept, Starck campaigns for well-designed, quality objects that are not just reserved for the elite.

His concept at the World Business Forum was that the very act of existing in business is a covenant with people who depend on us – we must serve their interests as well as our own, and while there is no compulsion for us as individuals to show genius, we are obliged to create new ideas. Without new ideas and new perspectives, he argues, our world stagnates, and becomes motionless. (Speaking of motion and new ideas, Starck was responsible for designing Steve Jobs famous minimalist yacht.)

The event moved on with Garry Kasparov. Since retiring from chess, Kasparov has founded the United Civil Front, a pro-democracy movement in Russia (his involvement in which frequently gets him arrested), and in 2012 he was named chairman of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation.

He spoke with me after his WBF talk on strategies for effective leadership, and unsurprisingly, a chess grand master really knows his strategy. Kasparov discussed at length a critique of the state of strategic leadership today and a set of principles and values for achieving success in a world of accelerating change.

He pointed to the fact that there is more computing power in an iPhone 6 than in all the computers in NASA the day it launched man to the moon, as a sign on how society has progressed – but warned that we should concentrate more on similar innovations as opposed to Angry Birds. More importantly, he pointed to ISIS and Vladimir Putin as the top things that threaten democratic Western norms and society.

The Forum’s final speech featured Ben Bernanke, controversial head of the Federal Reserve System. Back in 2010, senators were spilt on whether Bernanke should be credited with rescuing the economy from complete meltdown, or causing the collapse in the first place. The debate goes on, and Bernanke came out to defend his place in history and to give his thoughts on the future. An interesting way to end an illuminating event.

Image: Screengrab from here