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Bob Jeffrey

Bob Jeffrey

Posted February 6, 2009 | 06:05 PM (EST)

Davos, Twitterville and Me



They say you can't teach old dogs new tricks. But now that this middle-aged CEO has learned how to stop talking about new media and communications styles and start living them, I'd argue the exact opposite.

For years we've talked about the great democratization of information and power, but for a while it was just the sound and fury of theory. It's quickly becoming reality, however, and last month I found myself living this trend as I participated in the World Economic Forum at Davos. It was the second time I attended, but Davos was a very different experience for me this year, in part because I took not just my Blackberry and Airbook but also my team of 10,000 and my hundreds of contacts, thanks to the wonders of virtual social networks.

I've never felt this connected to the rest of the world. It was a game-changing, moving experience, one that left an indelible mark on how I will lead now.

It all started with my embrace of a funny little thing called Twitter. We'd used it to share creative news from last June's Cannes Advertising Festival with our global staff, but I hadn't engaged in it personally. I'm a big fan of text messaging, and I also favor quick, informative conversation--so it makes sense that once I started sending Tweets, I quickly became addicted. I loved the dialogue and the loops of short discussion: 140 characters is perfect for me.

By day two at Davos, I was Tweeting up a storm. I consumed and then shared presentations and discussions on the state of the world, the challenge of the economic reboot, the need for public and private to work collaboratively for change. I took my team to hear what Vladimir Putin had to say, I gave them the lowdown on how Howard Dean sees the state of American party politics, I shared what WPP's Sir Martin Sorrell (my boss and one of the true wizards of Davos) was blogging about on the Financial Times and Telegraph sites.

I got feedback heretofore unimaginable for anyone in my role and for someone at an event like Davos. And I soon felt less like Nick Carroway in the Great Gatsby and more like a CEO and a broadcaster (make that a narrowcaster). Who knew that in my 50s I'd end up with an audience sharing my real-time experiences in brand-new ways?

BobJeffreyJWT: Al Gore said that in White House meetings Obama is the greenest person in the room.


BobJeffreyJWT: Global response to climate change in 09. Freidman chairs talk with Gore, Van der Veer of Shell etc. Streaming now: http://tinyurl.com/brpncm

DEdwardKarp: @BobJeffreyJWT re: Nuclear Volley...France and Iran. Two intransigent nations when it comes to nuclear issues!

BobJeffreyJWT: End of #Davos day 2 - intense and invigorating. Glad to have my family and friends following.

BobJeffreyJWT: CEO of Nike on design (Mark Parker former designer): good design is simple, strong, intuitive.

BobJeffreyJWT: #Davos "What is Good Design?" Brian Collins' presentation on the MOMA-featured prescription bottle and the stories behind storytelling.

reutersgr8db8: RT @venndiagram8: rt @BobJeffreyJWT
#Davos Paypal founder Levchin says "Stop the doom and gloom. Great time to start a company. Steal the best talent."

I'm a lifelong student of Marshall McLuhan, but I never expected to experience so many of his forecasts, from the global village to truly hot media. As I engaged and activated thousands of people in my universe--multiplying my audience as my Tweets flowed onto my Facebook page--one of his famous quotations played over and over in my head: "Only puny secrets need protection. Big discoveries are protected by public incredulity."

Clearly I was not alone. The World Economic Forum reached several million of the world's news junkies through the power of social networks. "@Davos was one of the top 10 trends on Twitter during the past week," the WEF reported. About 3,500 people followed the Forum on Twitter, placing it in the top 1,300 Twitter accounts worldwide.

What an amazing world we're living in. For all the negative news I heard at Davos and have lately consumed on- and off-line, this has been one of the most empowering experiences I've ever had. And it's made me feel better able to lead in these times of unprecedented uncertainty and angst.

Unlike mass e-mails, which I think this is starting to replace, communicating via virtual social networks is about people opting in and truly engaging with one another. What's changed me the most is recognizing the power I have to broadcast my experiences and reactions to my worlds via multiple channels. And realizing the responsibility I have to engage in quality real-time dialogue with my staff about what we're all hearing, learning and pondering so that we can take advantage of these diverse inputs as they happen.

As PayPal founder Max Levchin said during the Forum: "Stop the doom and gloom. It's a great time to start a company." And as McLuhan queried, "Why is it so easy to acquire the solutions of past problems and so difficult to solve current ones?"

My answer after spending this time in Davos and Twitterville: Let's take a short breath, count to 140 and start looking at novel ways to work together. As I Tweeted toward the end of the Davos week: Embrace the change and lead the revolution, with optimism and a recognition that nothing good comes without sacrifice.

BobJeffreyJWT: #Davos Had lunch today w/reps of mobile, tech, VF, MSFT, Google: everyone agreed all of our businesses are going through revolution.