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Ken Adelman

Ken Adelman

Posted: January 25, 2011 11:45 AM

The world's movers and shakers come to Davos with high expectations, feeling, as Shakespeare's character put it: "I am giddy. Expectation whirls me around. The imaginary relish is so sweet that it enchants my senses!" (Troilus and Cressida).

The mega-hype partly comes from the World Economic Forum itself, whose motto is "committed to improving the state of the world" (note it's not merely improving the world, but "the state of the world").

But most hype comes from outside the WEF. Everything seems more powerful and exciting when looking in, than being in. As the Bard says, "All things that are, are with more spirit chased than enjoyed" (Taming of the Shrew).

This I learned from 12 years in government (seven in the Reagan administration). Outsiders considered this terribly powerful and exciting (though it was often frustrating and discombobulated). It's similar here in Davos.

The Davos meeting may be powerful on the micro level. A corporate executive needs to meet with another executive or government official. Such session might normally take months to set up; here, it takes minutes. (But it may seem powerful on the micro level, since I'm an outsider to that).

Yet on the macro level -- "improving the state of the world" -- which founder Klaus Schwab narrowed down to 37 critical issues (climate change, and on from there), I doubt it. Most government officials state their government official views here, much like elsewhere.

Others present their wares, like us presenting modern leadership training using the ancient wisdom of William Shakespeare. We're showing our stuff, rather than improving the state of the world.

So rather than considering Davos a great decision-making forum, consider Davos a nice idea-dispensing forum. Granted, ideas do have consequences, but their consequences are neither immediate nor pegged to one presentation or one locale.

Hence the here-concocted "Adelman Principle" for Davos -- or any conference, really: Only attend sessions where you know nothing.

Stay away from topics you know well, except if you're presenting, since most of that will be the same-old, same-old. There might be tidbits of new information. But it's better to realize whole vistas or new information to take in.

In that sense, then, does Davos become powerful and exciting. Again, the Bard put it best: "Ah, this learning - what a thing it is!" (Taming).