Davos 2001
Davos 2001 was our first time so we have nothing to compare it to. It was an incredible experience. An experience that I have replayed several times since returning to the US. It raised as many questions as it answered.
What was actually experienced is one question. The implications of the experience create another whole set of questions. Davos is ripe with ambiguity and maybe that is how it should be.
What was actually experienced is one question. The implications of the experience create another whole set of questions. Davos is ripe with ambiguity and maybe that is how it should be.
Will I go back? Yes, if the opportunity presents itself. Will I go back a different person with radically altered expectations than the first time? Definitely.
Davos is not easy to sort out. It is full of contrasts. If you are awake, it will cause you to challenge many basic assumptions.
The political unrest that surrounded the meeting, while not impacting the meeting itself, is not something that can be ignored. The unrest is the result of ignorance and will not be settled by more of the same.
On a personal level, the entire expedience once again reminded me of how little I fit in society and how I cannot relate to the various warring camps that are trying to determine how the world should be. There was a barbed wire divide and I am as uncomfortable on one side as the other.
Maybe this is why I should be inside - and again - maybe not. Davos can be seductive as much of modern life is seductive - and distracting. Inside, it is not easy to remember outside. From the outside, it is impossible to know what Davos is really about.
Davos is a paradox - like a great deal of life.
Like all high stake investments, you just don’t know how it is going to turn out.
There were moments there when I was truly moved by what was going on or being said. The density of people with something important to say was far greater than any large gathering I had ever been to. In a week, I was never bored nor in a dull situation. You can’t say that about your average meeting. The diversity of people was greater than anywhere I have ever been - in fact, far greater.
The sincerity of the the people there need not be questioned. Yet, the paradox remains. And that is probably the great gift of Davos - the paradox.
This was a gathering of elite. A VERY expensive gathering of elite. The focus was on closing the divide. Yet, I spent more money eating this week than half the population earns in a year. The economic/technology system that brought us fresh fruit and vegetables to the Swiss Alps in January is totally unsustainable and can never be expanded to global scale. Many of the people who attended actually had answers to these problems. And they presented them. Will it matter? What is seduction and what is progress? What real changes will actually come out of it? Was this a good investment? Was it an honest investment?
It is impossible to tell from here. And, when it is possible to know, it is too late - the time is spent. Like all investments, it is a risk. Life-time is a risk.
Gail and I conducted four workshops. Over ten percent of those attending Davos came to one of them. The process was well received and the results remarkable given the time constraint of an hour and a half for each one. Will it make a difference? What flows from this? Real change or just a bunch of elite (including us) feeling better about what they do? I am not saying this cynically or critically. I mean it as a real question.
Change is not easy.
The changes that have to be made, globally, stagger the imagination. Recent history does not encourage optimism. We seem to be heading back to angry confrontation on one hand and complacency on the other. The scale of development grows, good design does not keep pace. As always, there are many many projects that demonstrate that better alternatives exist. As before, their impact seems insignificant to a world headed toward self-destruction.
The same old dichotomies hold the imagination of too many peoples in an iron grip. Some of us are free enough to think about these things, Some free enough to ignore them. Most, don’t have the leisure to do either. Can you imagine that the majority of humans still live in oppression, poverty and ignorance, and the ones who do not, no matter the value of their achievements, live in a way that cannot last? This is species failure on a colossal scale.
At Davos, you are in the middle of this paradox.
It took more than 1/25th of my productive year to prepare and go to Davos. I enjoyed it immensely - did I do the right thing?
Davos as a place totally charmed me. I found myself thinking “I could live here.” The scale is magnificent. It is a great venue to think, read and design. The Swiss take care of their country and run it like an enterprise. Very impressive. As a visitor, of course, I do not know what I did not see and experience. There is no question that the Swiss play close attention to the commons and manage cities better than many manage a single enterprise or building. And Davos was managed. This made it very pleasant but I kept wondering what the experience was like for the inhabitants and non WEF visitors - or, the many that were not allowed to travel there. Again, the paradox.
This brings me to the the unfortunate demonstrations and riots. There was little at Davos, of course, because transportation to it was controlled. I understand that there was a brief confrontation between police and about 200 demonstrators. I was in the building at the time and never knew it. Other than a few painted signs and a glance or two in town on the day of the demonstration, it was like it never happened. One can take comfort - and not - in that. We were safe from threat. And, like much of life, it was like it never happened.
How much of life - the real human experience - for most of us never happened?
Would we make the same decisions if our experience was more direct [link] - more intense - less managed and filtered? Does personal success bring with it immunity from knowing and, ultimately, caring? Does it bread ignorance? Yet, will getting mired down in all these details help to change these circumstances? Did my salmon plate at Davos have any direct relationship to starvation half a world away and the decimation of fisheries? Does direct aid really help or is it another form of imperialism? Does it take leisure and an elite to gather the forces of change?
What do we have to do to make a fair ecologically balanced world?
The Davos byline is “committed to improving the state of the world.” I believe that the vast majority of the people who were there are committed to that. The question is what constitutes improvement? The view inside the fence? the view outside the fence? The view of the many alternatives that have never had the exposure of a Davos?
Clearly no one, alone.
We come, in this discourse, to the question of legitimacy and methods. I do not support McDonalds - I do not spend my dollars there. I am not ready to trash one out in Zurich either. However, I can understand the feelings of someone who does. The sad fact is, without dissent and social disobedience, society rarely changes.
The majority of Americans who, today, would never propose rolling back civil rights, do not condone street demonstrations and activist Supreme Courts. Yet, that is how those civil rights came into being.
I do not believe that in the USA, it would be even possible to cut the transportation to a city because of the threat of disturbance. And if it were or become so, what would that imply?
Some of us believe - hope - that the new distributed technology of the Internet will provide an alternative to this ignorance/conflict/social compromise cycle. That a new legitimacy will emerge from a new market of ideas and tools for action.
Up to now, the elite rule no matter the political system. This is a fact. The elite set the terms of how to join their club. These rules vary in different cultures and political economic systems. In a market economy (our partial practice of it) there is greater mobility and many more ways in the door than less free societies. Nevertheless, there is a door. If you have ever been “out” you know what I mean.
In the US today, consumerism, sports and entertainment seem to serve the same function as the old Roman Circus. People have freedom of movement and great freedom to consume - freedom to work where they want and live where they desire. Yet, how much of this is distraction? How easy is it the change any of the fundamental systems-in-place of our society? Such as the school system. Or, how a President is elected? Or, who really is a candidate for CEO or high office? What became of your life last time you tried? Is true freedom and participation being traded for toys, vicarious experience and comfort?
When someone does break in to a governance role where they are not wanted, how are they treated? How long do they last? How effective is the social immune system? We should think about these things - no, we should act about these things.
What filter determined who attended Davos? What was the algorithm? Everyone there was accomplished, committed, intelligent, successful. Who was not there? Making this doorway - determining this filter - is not an easy task. It is a supremely important design decision. One we all make every day.
I suspect this years Davos was one of the most open ever - and deliberately so. A response to criticism. I doubt that Gail and I would have been there otherwise. World business leaders did get an earful and not all of it pleasant. There was great tension between the WEF and the NGOs that attended. Two different worlds trying to share and make common space. Both reaching out - both trying to keep their integrity. Both describing the elephant from a different vantage point.
I asked one of the WEF organizer’s why the dissidents were not invited in. He said it was the judgment of the WEF that these groups did not want to dialog. He pointed to prior failed attempts to be inclusive. There is clearly truth in this. It is also true that people rarely start out radical - they become so through experience. Is it possible that this was “too little, too late?”
When leadership ceases to have legitimacy to you what choices do you have? Disconnect, retire, yell - or fight. Is it possible that, to those who took to the streets, all the peaceful means had been exhausted? Is their point of view really NEWS [link]? After all, a few more years of debate over fresh salmon about old growth forests will be mute. The forests will be gone and the salmon with them. OOPS, Sorry. Next problem please and pass the caviar.
Well, we can all shed a tear and look at old films. At least we have a bundle of nature films to show our decedents how we blew it. Problem is, the experience [link] of a redwood forest cannot be captured on film.
How do we get rules of engagement in place that will promote a true dialog before there is further escalation? My personal answer to this question is using (now) the tool we (at MG Taylor et al.) spent 25 year making to address these questions [link] and promote legitimate action.
The focus at Davos, and many other meeting of it’s type was on how to “fix” what is wrong, expand what is “good” and include more in this emerging global experience. Worthy objectives. However, there are deep systemic problems [link] with our entire approach to economy. If these are not addressed, our successes will create conditions that will make our failure look like good timess.
If I return to Davos, it will be to report that a bridge across the divide can be constructed. Hold the salmon, please.
Davos Return - 2005
The return to Davos was accomplished in 2005 - at least partially. This time we came with an RDS [link]. Certainly our work was better represented and the impact greater. It remains to be seen if it was significant and if real change will follow. One of the sessions I facilitated was focused on socially responsible investment - a thorny problem. This is a problem I do not have. Mine is different. I have only my time to invest. Where to do this? Was Davos 2005 a good investment? Did I build my portfolio, act responsibly, preserve intellectual capital and do some good. Same questions as when investing money and there are no clear answers.
A quarter of a century separates these two pictures. Al Gore 25 years ago, I think, was still in congress. He wrote his thesis on the impact of video on the human brain. Ultimately, he wrote legislation to enable the “virtual super highway.” Today, he is forming a company that can deliver video through the Internet. There is a consistency in all his work in this realm. Patrick, who Brilliantly organized the Davos WorkSpace this year, would have been, perhaps, in the first grade when the second picture was taken. The majority of his work life investment is before him. Gail and I were in our early 40s and starting MG Taylor based on a network model of organization [link] - what today we call a ValueWeb [link]. In the bottom picture, I am sitting in our Studio at Instead a few miles from a wall of solid ice above Boulder, Colorado - an environment much like Davos although more modest in scale. This room was heated by solar energy and an old wood stove. At the right of the picture is an Apple II Computer with 96 k of memory - the pc at the time - it connected to the EIES system (an extension of the DARPA net for universities and precursor of the Internet) by a phone line that ran at at about a 150 baud rate when it worked at all. We thought that this was super technology and had already designed the next generation of it [link]. In this room, I planned and wrote much of what became the conceptual basis of MG Taylor, our patent and what we are doing today [link].
In the top picture, Al Gore is talking about the relationship between various media, how the brain works, the structure of information distribution services and the business he is creating today [link] designed to balance out some of the distortions that exist in the existing “communication” system. Such different lives we have lived and such similarity of purpose. Would our paths have crossed to facilitate this dialog except at Davos?
What makes a good investment of a lifetime? This is a serious question that all should ponder.
link: photo • link: story
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Matt Taylor
Palo Alto
February 7, 2001


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Posted: February 7, 2001

Revised: February 1, 2005
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Copyright© Matt Taylor, 2001, 2005

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