Humanity Inc. … social innovation, enabled by next tech, is the new agenda for business leaders

June 22, 2017

At the recent European Business Forum – held in the fast transforming Danish city of Odense – I hosted a series of “big talks” with around 400 of Europe’s CEOs, supported by some of the world’s top business academics.

Together we explored the challenges and opportunities in a world in the midst of incredible change, fear and division, but also incredible opportunities in the form of new markets, technologies and aspirations. In particular, we focused on Europe – what is the future of business in Europe, where should it focus, to be different, to progress, and to profit?

What emerged was a new “agenda” … a new direction for business, that was wholeheartedly endorsed by the CEOs attending (including Lars Rebien Sorensen, the world’s #1 business leader according to Harvard Business Review), and the academics (including Michael Porter, the world’s #1 business thinker, who unveiled his new passion for social value creation).

The agenda was built on new insights from leading thinkers about future trends, economics, refugees, environment, strategy, exponential technologies, innovation, culture change, psychology, leadership, and more holistic value creation. The business leaders brought these factors, and their own passions and priorities together, to shape a new vision, a new path forwards.

Here is the new agenda:

The situation: Fast change has left business out of touch with people.

Globalisation feels undemocratic, AI and robotics have created fear. Short-termism creates a blinkered obsession with financial gain rather than value creation that supports financial and social progress, that makes the world a better place. As new markets surge forwards, with lower costs, bolder ambitions, and fast action, Europe is squeezed and left behind.

The problem: Leaders are complacent, and innovation is wasted.

Companies have grown lazy and arrogant through stability and success. They live on the success models of the past, rather than creating new. They avoid risk, big ideas are mocked (except Elon Musk’s), leaders avoid real change. Innovation is trivialised, incremental not exponential, not focused on the big challenges and opportunities that move the world forwards.

The question: How can Europe rediscover its place in the world?

How can fast change be the catalyst for accelerating growth? How can our assets, from geography to capability, cultural diversity and social beliefs, be creatively applied to industry 4.0? How can we harness creativity, intangible assets, for more value? What do business leaders themselves need to do better? How can Europe lead and win the future?

The answer: Business should be the leader of social progress.

It should drive social innovation, harnessing the potential of new technologies, from digital to robotics, to make life better. Tech should not threaten us, but enhance our lives. It must be profitable too, a premium to invest and share. Social innovation – welfare, healthcare, green and diverse, communal and cultural – are embedded in Europe’s make-up, and can be its advantage, its export and its future.

The full paper is available on request.

Denmark’s fairytale city of Odense was a perfect place to write the future story of business. Birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen, and now one of Europe’s leading robotics hubs, and rapidly becoming “the Davos of business thinking”.

It is a city in the midst of rapid change – socially and technologically. €5.5 billion investment will create a smart city, local businesses like Universal Robotics are growing rapidly, drones dominate the local airport, it has the world’s most innovative sports track, one of Northern Europe’s top music festivals, and Facebook has just announced a huge local investment.

On 9-10 May, Odense hosted this year’s Thinkers50 European Business Forum, bringing together the world’s top business thinkers with Europe’s business leaders. I had the privilege of hosting this incredible event, probably the highest quality business forum in the world this year.

Watch the best moments at the European Business Forum 2017

Download all the best ideas from the European Business Forum 2017

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