Michael J. Wolf

Davos: Gearing Up to Stay Geared Up

Much of what we read about Davos comes from the official panels, speeches and interviews.

The real discussion, however, is unplanned, with people you get together with or meet at private events. And it’s in that casual atmosphere — among a mix of people that range from government officials to company heads to private equity investors — where I get a small glimpse of what people in the media and technology world are thinking.

More generally, throughout the conversations I had this year, the common themes were: the economy, health and sustainability and overall optimism about how technology will impact all of these.

People in the media and technology businesses were upbeat and believe that the recovery underway will boost advertising sales. And, they’re excited about the opportunities from social media, tablets and cloud computing. All of which I would hope and expect.

What’s new and exciting is that they now realize that they’re going to need to gear-up to stay geared-up. They now understand that media and technology companies are never going to get back to a place where their businesses will be at “normal” state. Conversation after conversation, they’re coming to a point of view that they just can’t buy someone else’s innovation, that they need new ways of generating content (capturing professional and user-generated content) and that piracy is a reality they’re going to have to manage (versus just demanding governments enforce copyrights). They know that their organizations are going to need to keep moving and they’re not going to stop. That was my most exciting takeaway from this year’s Davos and a sentiment I think we’re going to see playing itself out in our industry.

At the same time that media and tech execs were excited about social media, every dialogue somehow turned to the condemnation of a government turning off the Internet. But there was also lot of debate about what’s going on in Egypt, and a possible Facebook-enabled rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.

One of the most curious things about Davos is how you get to meet and talk to people. Whether it’s at a dinner or a standing up at an event or just hanging around in one of the cafes in the congress center, there’s a consistent way people introduce themselves. My friend Kal Patel, who runs international and new ventures for Best Buy, aptly describes it as ‘physical tweeting.’ Essentially you tell your name, your company and what you do in less than 140 characters. Then you can jump into a discussion about a topic relevant to the ‘tweet.’ While it does feel a little bit like speed dating, for me it ends up as the best way to get insight from every conversation.