Lessons from the World Economic Forum


I returned from Geneva last week, after attending the Annual Curators Meeting (ACM) of Global Shapers, an initiative by the World Economic Forum to promote local change for global impact.

It was wonderful to meet so many driven and accomplished individuals, who had many insights and experiences to share. The conversations varied greatly, from business to religious extremism to international politics.

There were many valuable takeaways from the event, and I’ll share with you my favorites:

The meaning of consensus: We often assume consensus means complete approval of a decision, and many startup teams tend to argue endlessly over minor details. A useful definition I learned in the ACM is that consensus means: “You can live with it, and I can support it.” It doesn’t mean a decision reflects your vision 100%, but you can go along with it to move forward. A very liberating outlook.

Be a realist, then an optimist: Mark Pollock lost his vision, and after falling from a two story window, he was paralyzed. This hasn’t stopped him from competing and contributing (he’s the first blind person to make it to the South Pole). He learned that many individuals don’t accept the circumstances they are in. Instead, they remain unrealistically hopeful that their circumstances will miraculously change. If your life (or startup) circumstances aren’t what you want them to be, you have to begin by accepting the reality you’re facing, then make the changes from where you currently are, not where you wish you could be. The friction between our expectations and reality can lead to unnecessary mental strain and emotional tension. Accept reality, then work to make the most of it.

Aiming for sustainability: Many family businesses and large corporations collapse because they didn’t plan for the next generation of leadership. Mary Galeti, the Executive Director of the Tecovas Foundation, asked us this thought-provoking question: What we’ve accomplished was the result of standing on the shoulders of the giants that came before us, but who are we preparing our shoulders for?

Turning a constraint into a conduit: One of the exercises we did was to replicate a painting, given certain constraints. Our group’s challenge required us to only use the materials we were given. Mary realized the definition of “given” can be loosely interpreted to suggest that it’s not only the materials given by the organizers, but we can ask other groups to give us materials they had. We often limit ourselves by constraints, when we can use them as a springboard for creativity. As the saying goes: Turn your stumbling blocks into stepping stones.

You’re limited by your own self-image: Svante Myrick, Mayor of Ithaca, USA, shared with us his own realization that he can reach high places as an African American after reading a book by Barrack Obama. It made me realize that Svante was always capable of running for mayor, but his beliefs about what’s possible for him was what held him back before. This is a pattern I see in many individuals, who assume they can’t achieve great things because of their race, gender, family, being an expat, or lacking some skill that isn’t truly essential to their success (or they can develop along the way).