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Davos: Approaching Risk With Innovation

By Ideas Lab Staff January 24, 2013

Business, political and academic leaders convened Wednesday at the annual World Economic Forum to discuss a range of ideas and issues.

While resilience – or “Resilient Dynanism” – is the official theme at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, some of Wednesday’s sessions focused on innovation and taking risks.

Leading through Adversity,” a panel hosted by TIME, for example, asked panelists: “Are leaders too risk-averse in efforts to bring the economy back on track?” In a challenging global environment, some political and business leaders tend to be risk averse, “sticking to old models and processes rather than changing course and taking bold steps,” a synopsis of the event states.

Cisco Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John T. Chambers told Davos attendees that leaders whose companies succeed are “very much the risk takers, especially in tough times.” Leadership, he concluded, is about overcoming fear of innovation and failure and moving forward with a risk.

Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, another session contributor, said innovation must be the focus if leaders are going to overcome adversity. According to a TIME article about the panel, Christensen, who is known for his research on disruptive innovation, discussed the three types of innovation:

  1. Empowering Innovations: products that become more affordable and accessible
  2. Efficiency innovations: make products cheaper and reduce jobs
  3. Sustaining innovations: make existing products better but do not create jobs

According to the synopsis of the event, Christensen said we continue to invest as if cash were scarce. “We are not investing in innovations that create growth,” he said.

In a blog post for the World Economic Forum, Karen Campbell, research fellow at the Wharton Risk Center, explained why entrepreneurial thinking could help tackle risks, particularly climate issues. The Global Risks 2013 report identifies five attributes that make a system more resilient, Campbell pointed out: robustness, responsiveness, recovery, redundancy and resourcefulness. An example of using these attributions for a risk of flooding in a particular area could involve leaders investing in raising buildings, constructing dams and putting emergency plans in place. “This is likely to enhance the robustness, response and recovery attributes of resilience,” she said.

More than 2,500 participants at the World Economic Forum include 50 heads of state or government and 1,500 business leaders, according to a USA Today article. Among 50 “global shapers” attending the conference is Peter Corbett, CEO of iStrategyLabs, a Washington, D.C.-based digital agency that engages communities and transforms organizations, the article states. He will speak at a session on how innovative types of collaboration can sidestep partisan gridlock, among other sessions, according to the article.

Read more about Wednesday’s sessions with the World Economic Forum’s blog post, “Top ten quotes of the day from Davos.”