As businesses prepare for the year ahead, and beyond, those that are working to solve the immediate challenges of people today and the major social and economic challenges of the future will be the ones to survive and grow. The future is going to be about creating value for everyone.
These ideas are central to “The Interaction Field”, and they are at the core of the World Economic Forum, an independent international organization that engages leaders across the business, political, and cultural sectors, with a mission to improve the state of the world.
In advance of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, January 16 – 20, 2023, Vivaldi spoke with Sandra Navidi, Founder and CEO of BeyondGlobal, and bestselling author of three books, including “$uperhubs: How the Financial Elite and their Networks Rule Our World,” to get her insight on the most pressing issues.
This will be your 14th time attending the World Economic Forum (WEF) — what do you think will emerge as the biggest discussion topics for 2023?
We have dealt with several crises at Davos in the past, for instance the great financial crisis of 2008, but this year we’re confronted with unprecedented concurrent crises and risks which exacerbate each other. We never had to deal with a war as big as this in Europe, a pandemic that short-circuited the global economy and escalating China tensions. Apart from these pressing issues, some of topics that will be discussed are the disruptive effects of technology on jobs, inequality, gender inclusion, pandemic preparedness, and globalization.
In the US there is a lot of concern about economic downturn — are there any things that you’re seeing companies start to do in preparation, which might be different from things they did before previous downturns?
At the last WEF in Davos in May of last year, I spoke with quite a few CEOs and CFOs and was surprised to hear how agilely they had reacted to fundamental changes, like disruptions in supply chains, rising energy costs and geopolitical risks. Those companies who had the most agile and adaptive management have turned out to be the most resilient and so far have done quite well. Despite ever increasing digitization, the human factor remains the most important.
Knowing that things will have to be restructured, including combatting supply chain issues, are there any areas where you think there are big opportunities for businesses to step in or to create something new?
Wherever there’s change, wherever there’s upheaval, new opportunities emerge. Times of crises have historically been times of great innovation. For instance, Uber, WhatsApp, Groupon, and Square were founded at the height of the crisis. Although the technology sector performed dismally last year, its overall medium to long-term outlook remains solid. Tech companies are ideally suited to continuously disrupt themselves and, due to their deep pockets, can just buy competitors. Promising areas include cloud computing, semiconductors and cybersecurity.
Healthcare is another interesting industry as biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and computing power converge and reinforce each other. A manifestation of this mutual amplification was the incredibly speedy development of COVID-19 vaccines. The energy sector is also set for disruption and innovation as we transition to renewable energy sources.
There are so many areas where we’re feeling unique impacts. You mentioned tech emergence in certain spaces, and you’ve written about how that’s changing the nature of work and people’s careers. Knowing that people will need to work with AI and machine learning, are there certain qualities that make someone a more competitive candidate today?
This is actually a topic I discuss in my book “Future IQ: Your Success Strategies in the Age of Artificial Intelligence.” Shockingly, it is estimated that by the end of decade, up to 800 million workers globally will lose their jobs due to automation. All these people need to be reskilled. Some of the predictions regarding automation, such as that millions of truck drivers’ jobs will be lost to self-driving cars, have turned out to be a bit premature. For the foreseeable future, machines will primarily be labor augmenting, meaning that we will have to cooperate with machines to increase efficiency. That will initially put primarily lower and middle-skilled jobs at risk. Also, CEOs feel that it’s a safer bet to invest in automation rather than in more expensive and unpredictable human capital.
Thus, it is imperative that all of us keep up with technological progress in general and in our area of expertise in particular, even for those of us who work in “non-tech” jobs. Skills that will be in demand are those that cannot be digitized, at least not in the near future, such as emotional intelligence and social skills, creativity, agility, communication skills and learnability. One of the greatest competitive advantages will be the ability to form deep and resilient relationships. All these intangible human skills will remain valuable for most jobs.
It’s important to recognize that in this new world of work, we are all to some degree our own product. Hence, it’s crucial for each and every one of us to build our own personal brand, define our narrative and market ourselves. It used to be that companies preferred for their employees to keep a low public profile. However, I recently read in connection with Goldman Sachs’ firing spree, that those employees who had established their own brands with a significant following on social media had a leg up.
You focus on the financial world in your book “$uperhubs.” Can you elaborate on what the mechanics of “superhubs” are?
In “$uperHubs,” I view the financial system through the lens of human behavior and explain it with systems thinking and network science. All networks, whether natural, like an ant colony or our brain, or man-made, such as the electricity grid or the internet, behave in the same manner. Network science mathematically substantiates that a greater number of connections increases the chances of individual survival. Hence, all nodes prefer to attach to other nodes with the most connections in what is termed the law of “preferential attachment.” The nodes with the most connections move the network’s center. They are called “superhubs.”
In human networks, our position is determined by the number and the quality of our connections, and our fates are very much determined by the place we occupy within networks. Examples of human superhubs are the chair of the Federal Reserve, Jay Powell, who is probably the most powerful person in the US besides the president, the CEO of J.P. Morgan, Jamie Dimon, BlackRock’s CEO Larry Fink, and Blackstone’s Steve Schwarzman. They are all powerful individually, but their ultimate power results from their ubiquitous networks. Yet, while in complex, self-organizing systems, the interactions of individual superhubs can produce large-scale effects, they have no control over the system as they themselves are subject to its laws and systemic forces.
In my analysis, I use a cross-disciplinary approach, factoring in sociology, anthropology, psychology, politics and economics, to show how human nature and systemic forces impact the course of history. A current example of a powerful network is the World Economic Forum in Davos, which is the backdrop for much of the book and runs through it like a red thread.
Networks can be a force for good and for bad, but it is generally constructive for people to congregate, communicate and cooperate. In that sense, the WEF renders an important contribution to the overdue realignment of our system, particularly in view of dramatically increased geopolitical, economic and health risks.
You’ve written on so many different topics, what are you working on now?
I just published my third book, “The DNA of the USA,” in German, so right now I’m still busy giving interviews and delivering speeches, in addition to my day-job. After months of isolation in “book lockdown,” I’m now delighted to switch from “send” into “receive” mode. The WEF Davos is a great forum to receive input, inspiration, and stimulation. So I’m sure that at some point in the not-too-distant future, I’ll be overcome with the desire to create something new, possibly another book.
Sandra Navidi is the Founder and CEO of BeyondGlobal, where she provides macroeconomic and strategic positioning advice. Previously, she worked closely with economist Nouriel Roubini at Roubini Global Economics. She is admitted to practice law in the Federal Republic of Germany and the State of New York, and is the author of “$uperHubs: How the Financial Elite and their Networks Rule Our World.”