An agenda for Davos

As the World Economic Forum’s Annual General Meeting approaches, Professor Costas Markides, one of four London Business School faculty members attending, gives his take on what should be on the Davos agenda.


The theme for the 2012 meeting is “The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models” and taking part in the debates will also be Sir Andrew Likierman, Lynda Gratton and Francesca Cornelli. 

For Costas Markides, Robert P Bauman Professor of Strategic Leadership, the role of ordinary individuals in solving big, complex social problems should be on the agenda. 

 “Most people naturally assume that it is the job of elected politicians and governments to solve such complex and global problems as poverty, disease and crime,” said Professor Markides.  “Unfortunately, the recent track record of government-led initiatives does not fill us with confidence that the task can be accomplished through public policy alone. 

“We need something more and individual entrepreneurship might be the answer.  However, given the complex nature of social problems, it is highly unlikely that a single individual will be able to change social systems singlehandedly.  God-like creatures able to achieve such a feat do not exist!” 

Nor is it logical, he believes, to expect that these systems can be changed in a centrally-planned, top-down process.  He suggests that the systems that give rise to big social problems require a different change process.

“This would not be a top-down process driven by one heroic individual, but a bottoms-up, decentralized process, driven by hundreds of individuals.  In such a process, rather than push change through, the change agent ought to put a system in place that pulls multiple change-agents into the fray.  Through constant experimentation (within parameters developed by the change agent), deep change is brought about not by a single agent but by multiple agents. 

“In short, social problems require a change process that replicates how the capitalist system operates.  This is a fundamentally different change process from the one described in most books on change.  It should a priority at Davos that we explore how such a change process can work in practice.”

The World Economic Forum takes place from 25 to 29 January in Davos, Switzerland.