As he prepares for his annual visit to the WEF event in Davos, Switzerland, I caught up with Malcolm Frank, EVP, Strategy and Marketing of Cognizant on what he expects to hear.
I hesitate to even provide a preview of Davos, as such predictions can be wildly wrong, but in doing so I look at A.) what is typically discussed at Davos, and B.) what is in the current zeitgeist and then try to glue those two things together.
Regarding the first, the discussions often focus on the intersection of the economy and the rapid changes in technology. For the past several years that has been the conversation.
There has been tension between those two issues, significant tension. People have been trying to make sense of this weird situation of our current high innovation – low growth economy.
We are in a high innovation market. You just look at what is happening with consumer technologies, and the rapid advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, and it seems like this is a special time of a real technology renaissance.
Yet, you talk to most economists and they are asking “Where’s the beef?” This is a low growth environment, for by most any measure productivity from technology is not flowing through the economy. You look at what's happening with wages, what's happening with GDP and all around the world (with the exceptions of China and India and some of the emerging markets). When you look at the G7, life was certainly better from an economic perspective from 1960 through 1990 than it has been from 1990 through to today. Wage growth and GDP growth were clearly better in that earlier, pre-computer technology era. For the past several years this tension has been a real point of contention at Davos, of just trying to make sense of this low growth, high innovation economy.
I certainly anticipate discussion on that tension is going to continue as we go into this year's Davos, for those two themes, if anything, have only intensified. There's this recognition that growth is even more difficult to grab at a personal level, company level, industry level or at a national level. At the same time, technology, if anything, is getting more interesting and more exciting. I think that conversation is going to continue.
There is a third element that is, obviously, going to get dialed up because of Brexit and Trump, with politics and what's happening with the rising nationalism and how should CEOs start to think about that.
Everybody is still either reeling from or in awe of (or anything in between) of Trump's victory. However, for more thoughtful minds, they're looking beyond the fear mongering. They're looking beyond how the heck did this guy do this, that Mr. Celebrity Apprentice is suddenly president of the U.S. They are drawing a straight line that goes through Putin, Modi, Erdogan, Brexit and then through Trump and, possibly, through Le Pen in France. There is a broad growth of nationalism, and a pull back from globalism. People, in many corners of the globe, are trying to reestablish their identities whatever those may be, and they are looking for a strong man or woman to assist in that process.
If anything, this political trend is a repudiation of Davos, which has stood for an economically and even socially liberal mindset of globalization, free trade, free association, freedom of ideas. Suddenly barriers are going up. People talk about the wall with Trump. I think he was clever, for he wasn’t only talking about an actual wall on the Rio Grande. He was also speaking metaphorically of building these walls and reestablishing a sense of nationalism. I fully expect that investigating the causes, depths and ramifications of this political trend is going to be a significant theme.
The question then to me is how do those three pieces start to relate? I think it's going to be a fascinating Davos because enough time will have passed between the US Presidential election and the event where these ideas can marinate and people can start to figure out what do we do in this new context ... of the economic, the technological and the political.