WOBI (and the world) goes Social

WOBI is the nickname for the World Business Forum, traditional appointment organized by HSM that sees Milan as the global protagonist and two-day venue for a strategic panoramic window, rich in spurs on the present and the future.

Perini Journal

It is the new shortened name, because we all know that in a world where even very complex concepts must be expressed in 140 characters or less, a short name helps! This 2012 edition was very “social”. And despite their age, all the gurus who attended never stopped twitting and collecting new followers during the 2-day event. And this goes to show that even an “older” format like a forum with its physical presence in one spot of the world, a very traditional (and at the same time technologically advanced) conference center, can be renewed and attain a global dimension through the viral and practically gratuitous transmission of the same information that the paying audience in the conference hall receives.

But in small pills of less than 140 characters.

Actually, there was also a virtual presence: Guy Kawasaki (we will speak about him later) through a comfortable video conference from his home in California, interacted with the audience. Of course, being photogenic helps!


Just a brief comment on the “social” interac tion with the audience: usually, an auditorium full of people can intimidate, and the questionsasked to the speakers - intimidating per se - are always few and difficult to force out of people’s mouths if not perfectly prepared in advance. The possibility of sending in questions and comments also through alternative means surely helped even the shyest (but “socially” active) persons. So there were plenty of questions and presumably many answers arrived after the related interventions.


People, people, people and sustainability. It would be a long, ambitiousand pedantic task to try and summarize in one article all the speechesof WOBI Milan 2012, while I think it is surely worth it to mention the themes that caught the attention of the speakers and the audience. And the winners in this sense were above all those who focused on people in a positive sense, but sometimes even intended as a natural and wonderful “limit” before whom all the great powers must bow. People can invent objects and re-invent themselves, they can handle power in ways that are always different, more effective and more socially acceptable. People can be intelligent, active consumers capable of making their opinion stand out instantaneously, and in so doing, influence other opinions, too.

Sustainability is increasingly assuming the same importance as people. The concept can be defined in many ways but it is always connected to ensuring people a form of mutual, shared wellness. Other themes that will perhaps remain less memorable in the speech agenda because they are more traditional were innovation, marketing, strategy. Also leadership and global trends but ifyou really look at it, these are just other themes closely connected to people and to sustainability.


People who have left a mark. Notwithstanding the presence of a large and very interested group of European speakers, a general comment that we can make is the United States is still the country of modernthought - once defined “western” but perhaps today less respondent to that categorization. Lots of gurus who are not necessarily American-born (their names and accents give them away) have found a home in the USA.Many were the memorable speeches and in trying to distill the main messages in perfect Twitter style, Rosabeth Moss Kanter immediately comes to mind both because she was the first to speak and so to break the ice, and also for seniority. She is considered one of the 50 most influential women in the world. She amazed the audience with the freshness of her analysis of the new power and the ability that the new powerful figures must have in order to influence, persuade and very often also to become interested in something. In a world that bestows great importance on what is communicated, leaders must be able to complete a list of competencies in identifying talents, know how to give and inspire confidence, with a good dose of entertainment.

And speaking of the concept of entertainment, as frivolous as it may seem, the “magical” speech by Andy Cohen - modern marketing expert who has worked for companies that have written the history of marketing - immediately comes to mind. I think that no one in the audience can easily forget his speech. Besides rather traditional magic acts, he freed himself from a straight jacket exactly like Houdini did at the beginning of the last century, to teach us another meaning of power through a practical example, i.e., the ability to continually challenge one’s own assumptions and limits that are often self-imposed. And so the apparently entertaining invitation to play, try and explore is a serious and tangible result of the Forum.


“Enchantment”, a wor d of many nuances that makes us immediately think of a fair y tale.

Its real meaning may actually be to give customers the sensation of a fairy tale. After having satisfied their demands and delighted them, we must astonish them, leaving them enthused, “enchanted”. Of course, it isno simple task. And the person who speaks to us about this is Apple’s former Chief Evangelist Officer, Guy Kawasaki. Steve Jobs strongly believed in the figure of “evangelists” in the company because they knew how to inspire customers and employees like in a sacred, religious experience. In reality, like in every selfrespecting American story, there is a great sacred aura and lots of pragmatism: Guy accompanied us through his 10 tips to “enchantment”. The “can-do” philosophy and lots and lots of practice, we can all aspire to becoming evangelists.

Guy Kawasaki is also one of the most pleasant and useful persons tofollow on LinkedIn or Twitter: just try it, you’ll like it! And speaking ofsocial networks, evangelist Guy quotes God in a way that I like to remember: “It’s as if God supplied the mechanism to reach each individual customer in an instant. And there has never been a better time for this” (for those involved in marketing, of course!).


Still considering memorable presentations, I remember two Spanish speakers - Catalan the first, Argentinean the second.

Manel Estiarte is not a very well-known name among sports enthusiasts, as I’ve discovered. Former water polo coach who led his national team to the Olympic gold, he made a speech that concerned a very different phase of his life, the one where Pep Guardiola (a much more renowned name among soccer fans in particular) asked him to assume the role of curator when he was in charge of the great F.C. Barcelona soccer team that with him (please forgive this rather banal description given by a non-soccer-fan) became one of the strongest teams in the history of this sport.

Estiarte spoke about the Guardiola method and about modern leadership styles, about how this humble coach knew how to place the team of players before anything else, even before himself, succeeding in understanding how to get the best out of each individual player. We saw film footages, listened to stories and examples of locker room situations and situations on the field, and I really think everyone in the audience became emotional. And many of us later went on YouTube to see the goodbye party that the Barcelona team held for his Pep (it’s unusual to organize an event to say goodbye to a coach, right?) and his speech as leader of the 21st century.

Claudio Fernandez Araoz wins the prize for congeniality: despite the fact that, from what has been said thus far, it is difficult to name the speaker who was most capable of capturing the audience’s attention, this man will surely be remembered for some time to come. Senior advisor of Egon Zehnder, hence an optimal connoisseur of people, he spoke to us in a very entertaining way about why today, more than ever, it is difficult to identify and keep the best talents. The objective is to distance oneself as much as possible from the same possibility of coming up heads or tails - something that takes place all too often. In describing his methodology, largely empirical and comprised of lots of work and experience and a bit if structure, he spoke about his latest book that quantifies through actual data the value that recruiting the best people entails for a company (it may seem obvious, but the differences are really alarming!). And then explains how to sharpen this ability - one of the foundational features that a good leader must have (yes, another one!).


Grave notes. To conclude, a few “lasts but not leasts”. Important marks were left by Nuriel Roubini and Italy’s own Romano Prodi. Two economists coming from different training processes and generations who painted two very similar pictures, each using his own personal touch, of the global economy scenario.

Due to a time coincidence, the morning that featured Dr. Prodi’s speech it was discovered that Barack Obama had won a second term as President of the USA, and so the opening was on the interpretation of the consequences of this from a European point of view. In particular, Prodi highlighted how during the second and last term, an American president can act with greater freedom, and hence expectations for reform of the social system are high and well in tune with European positions on analogous issues.

And Prodi spoke a great deal about “Europe 2013” using macro-economic data that illustrate how Europe is much healthier that the USA for many aspects, but how the divisions between European states limit quick adjustments and also how, in the absence of competition, the European Prime Minister is now known as “Mr. Spread”. He forecasted a different Europe with a true economy that will become deeply diversified. He spoke a lot about the crisis in Greece (that evening, protests were being held in Greece in front of the Parliament,with great fear of a civil war); of Germany that, he explained, greatly needs Europe, and speaking of it as a winning model (“the real China is in Germany”, he said). And he made a forecast about a two-speed Europe: a more internal, drawing Europe that will require a more cohesive attitude, and an external, slower continent.

In today’s world of charismatic leaders and - to use a term by Moss Kanter - “entertainers”, surely Dr. Prodi - as congenial as he may be - embodies the stereotype of the technical expert of past times, who, amidst the clamor that the new leaders and more adept communicators create, cannot capture the scene and the audience as, instead, his expert opinion would still well deserve.


Nuriel Roubini, on the contrary, is very charismatic. A citizen of the world, a clearly very intelligent and well prepared person, he is the economist risen to fame for having forecasted the collapse of the construction market and the worldwide recession that began in 2008. Professor at New York’s Stern University, he is now one of the most highly regarded economists for his ability to foresee the not-too-distant future, since nowadays economic cycles last only weeks. And all told, he was cautiously optimistic when he said that the global economy can start off again. But he was very clear in identifying many causes of thecurrent unstable balance: from the situations that many giantmultinationals are facing to that of financial markets, to the political crisis in Europe and the USA, to many others.

Since he was a guest in Milan, he began with the European situation, making reference to Italy but above all to Greece and the fact that an excessively radical quest for “restoration” does not help the economy start off again. And he used similar tones in speaking aboutthe current Fiscal Cliff issue and the correctness of having Americans pay more taxes and how. He then spoke about the role of China as the second world economy and how export figures to China are shifting the strength of relations and equilibriums between macro-regions and states. He went as far as to say that the model of Chinese growth is not sustainable, not balanced, internal consumption is still too low.

He spoke of the role of banks and the influence that states can have inbalancing these quick and violent moves that can instead lead to imbalances on a global level. And he also spoke of the Middle East situation, of a potential war between Israel and Iran that in such a weak economy could have devastating effects beyond the use of the atomic bomb. Roubini’s last reference was to the Arab Spring as an example of a viral effect (negative social aspects? Or simply democratic?) from Egypt, Tunisia and Libya to Syria and Yemen, that can involve every Muslim country up to Pakistan, creating a new source of instability in oil prices. He said lots of other very interesting and at the same time preoccupying things, probably allowing some spectators to set a record for the amount of notes taken during a single speech.

In conclusion, this WOBI was a product of its times, of its days to bemore precise. It was exciting to be there and to stop for two days tothink about the “great” themes that have such a strong impact on ourdaily lives. And for a few hours we felt powerful because we realized that there are billions of us and that together we can really change the world if we want to, even with a tweet. •

  • Andy Cohen
  • Rosabeth Moss Kanter
  • Manel Estiarte
  • Guy Kawasaki
  • Romano Prodi
  • Claudio Fernandez Araoz
  • Nuriel Roubini
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