Davos Diary: Day One – The challenging new world of work and a smile from Clay Christensen

Davos-morningBy Alec Hogg

You only get to realise what works after you’ve tried it. I spent ages yesterday attempting to publish pictures into the Davos Diary posting. It worked out OK – but have since realised that a much better option for everyone is putting the pics onto my Facebook page. And adding captions so the photos make sense. Go have a look. They’re at http://buff.ly/1dVnr51

Lots of focus on CNBC Africa today. All three of my half hour crossings went really well, although the last one needed all the professionalism of the team to happen. The crew needed to erect a studio in minutes. They somehow managed to do so and still get everything synched back in SA. There are so many moving parts in television. Sometimes I marvel that anything ever gets aired. So much can go wrong. Remember that the next time you’re playing couch potato in front of the “kassie”.

This was also a day when my brain got seriously challenged. As always happens in Davos.

The theme for me today was employment. Or, rather, the way the world of work is changing. It got going when I heard WEF veteran, the  venture capitalist Joe Schoendorf of Accel Partners, explain how in 48 years of living in Silicon Valley’s Palo Alto, he has never seen so much innovation. Or such a shortage of the needed skills. His daughter, he said, received 22 job offers before she stopped taking headhunting calls. He was introducing a one-on-one with Erik Brynjolfsson, MIT Professor and author of a groundbreaking new book  The Second Machine Age.

They shared plenty of stories with us, but two that stuck are worth sharing. The first involves my favourite animal. Brynjolfsson reckons to take a cold hearted economic look at the way technology is changing our world, you’d revisit what happened during the last great transformation. That was the Industrial Revolution or First Machine Age. Before Henry Ford came along, horses had the private transport monopoly. And what happened to the population of horses since tells us what is likely to occur to the employment prospects of humans who do jobs being replaced by machines.  I’m off to an early breakfast tomorrow with Brynjolfsson to learn more.

This scary scenario is emphasised when you listen to a guy like Jeffrey Joerres, chairman and CEO of Manpower Group and sometimes described as the most powerful man in recruitment. Jeff was my first CNBC Africa interviewee from Davos and was as cheery as he could be. But he was just as direct about the way we all need to re-assess. Because so much is now being done by robots and machines, manufacturing can’t be counted on to absorb job entrants the way it used to. I really hope the architects of SA’s Industrial Policy are hearing the same message, One which tells us that today’s new plants employ as little as one tenth of what similar plants did a few decades back.  The full transcript of the Joerres interview and a similar one on the breakthrough new online Forum Academy are elsewhere on Biznews.

To reinforce the message, Korea’s petite lady President Geun-Hye Park enthralled a Plenary session with the way her country is addressing this challenge. For Korea there are no half measures. The nation is going all out to build what she calls a Creative Economy. A place where people are encouraged to risk, to become entrepreneurs, and if they fail, are given the support to try again. It was eye-popping – made all the more so when the Korean was followed by Liberia’s President Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson. Sadly, my fellow African, without having to spell it out, epitomised the old style political thinking of keeping business in its place – subservient to Government. 

Clay ChristensenDespite all this brain food and broadcasting-driven adrenaline, the day’s highlight was spotting my hero, author and Harvard Professor  Clayton Christensen. I asked for a pic. He generously and courteously obliged (it’s on the right). Am hoping to squeeze into one of the three sessions he is participating in here. Although the “House Full” signs went up a long ago, sometimes when you arrive early and wait, there is the occasional no-show. Either way, I do have that pic.

An amazing day. But they always are in Davos. Can hardly wait for tomorrow.

* Alec Hogg is the founder and editor of Biznews.com   

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