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Davos 2014: A View from the World Economic Forum

Note: This post is cross-posted from our Public Policy blog.

WEF 2014

I recently returned to California from a fantastic visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. It was my first time at Davos, and everything you have heard is true—it is an opportunity to cram a year’s worth of conversations into a few days, and talk directly to amazing thinkers. I am still digesting the discussions, with European and Asian government officials, representatives from the nonprofit and educational sectors, and other business people like me. The news media did a nice job of reporting the major themes that came out of the discussions at Davos. However, there were several interesting themes I picked up on that weren’t widely reported. Let me share a few.

First, Tom Friedman may have taught us all that The World Is Flat eight years ago—an eon ago in Internet time—but the insights in his book are as fresh as ever. Even the bankers were talking about the opportunities presented as the population of the developing world gets online and educated at an unprecedented rate. What this means for Adobe: we need to make sure that we are offering products and services that perform well in all countries where we are able to operate, and not just in our traditional developed-world markets. We believe Adobe provides the world’s best tools for creative people to express their ideas, and we have a responsibility to enable as many people as possible to have access to our tools, via whatever devices and Internet connections are available. As my colleagueDavid Wadhwani has described in the past, Adobe’s role is to help people tell their stories. And, of course, the Cloud and the lower price points of the subscription business model gives Adobe a mechanism to reach customers in the developing world that we couldn’t before with a traditional sales model and the drain of software piracy.

Second, as I took in lectures and presentations, I was struck by the importance of communications skills. One can have the most jaw-dropping research findings, but, unless the ideas are conveyed with impact and creativity, they fall on deaf ears. Really, the whole Davos experience, in which government officials are mixed with artists, explorers, academics, and musicians, is a recognition of the power of creativity. I had a number of conversations with government officials about STEAM – how the addition of the Arts to STEM (a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math curriculum) can pay huge dividends. Research shows that adding that “A” can help cultivate better problem solving skills, more academic engagement, and, of course, better communication.

Finally, governments around the world are increasingly aware of the need to engage citizens online. Many government officials realize the unprecedented opportunity at their disposal in assisting their constituents electronically. Whether it is the astounding technological advances in being able to serve up real-time, relevant content, or engaging content that can now be rendered to large majorities of citizens on mobile devices, government officials are now seeing the tremendous value of electronic engagement with citizens. Citizens are also consumers, and they carry into their interactions with governments expectations fueled by their interactions with best-of-breed commercial apps and Websites. As these citizen expectations increase, the new demands on governments to effectively engage their audiences is extraordinary.  To citizens accustomed to apps and online services that iterate continuously, a government Web portal with the capabilities of even two years ago misses the mark.  Thankfully, there is no lack of leadership and ideas when it comes to reaching more citizens with more information in ways that have never been available before.

We all know the positive impact that can happen when diverse groups work to solve problems. This year’s Davos had no shortage of problems to solve, but I was encouraged by the number of creative ideas being discussed and the appetite to work in earnest to solve them.

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