Davos, Solutions and Human Resistance

Do we stick with problems long enough in order to truly solve them?

I had a meeting cancelled last week because a colleague prioritised a trip to Switzerland rather than spending an hour on a Zoom call with me. Although I’m aware of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and their annual January conference in Davos, last week I spent more time than I should have looking into this gathering of global politicians and business heavyweights.

Davos, Solutions and Human Resistance

Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the WEF is an international not-for-profit organisation that is focused on bringing the public and private sectors together to address global political, social, and economic challenges. It was founded by the German engineer and economist Klaus Martin Schwab in 1971. Their annual flagship event held in Davos, which is clearly more alluring than a virtual meeting with me, is designed to “solve the biggest issues facing our world.” The theme for their recent jamboree was “cooperation in a fragmented world” and this year’s event had the following five sub-themes:

  1. The energy and food crises

  2. Inflation

  3. Technology for innovation

  4. Social vulnerabilities 

  5. Geopolitical risks

Even after a minimal amount of research, I recognised similarities and overlap with work that I’ve engaged myself with over the past couple of decades, albeit on a much more modest scale. However, my desk based detective work didn’t delve much deeper after checking my own archives for any touch points I may have inadvertently had with the WEF and their grand endeavours during this time.

One of the first links I found was the following article from the WEF’s “Human Enhancement” theme back in 2017. It was written by Álvaro Fernández Ibáñez, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of SharpBrains and someone whose work I’m very familiar with:

Five reasons the future of brain enhancement is digital, pervasive and (hopefully) bright

Despite the compelling statistics, I’m not sure that the status of “Brain Health” in 2023 looks much better than it did in 2012, at least here in the UK where I’m based. Yes, Elon Musk has made progress with his brain-computer interface platform, which now even has its own name (see Neuralink), and Tom Brady went on to win even more Super Bowls. However, I don’t think that I’m being overly pessimistic or controversial with any of the following statements:

  1. Very few people have annual brain check-ups (if you exclude when your GP asks “How are you feeling today?”)

  2. The NHS does not agree that addressing brain health is one of their healthcare priorities

  3. There is still a lot of ignorance, misconception and negativity about using digital technology as any form of human enhancement

To get a little more personal:

  1. Are you currently taking charge of your own brain fitness?

  2. Has your doctor ever discussed brain fitness with you?

After pausing to consider the details within the infographic, my progress through the article is thwarted again, this time by the first of five trends that were supposed to pave the way for a new era of unleashed neurological potential. 

7.5 billion human brains need help to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

We are now clearly in my lane with this Future Skills agenda, something that I often speak about. I recently posted about “mental clumsiness” and how I’m helping employers to develop onboarding programmes that plug some of the cognitive gaps between formal education and the workplace. In particular, how they can ensure that their new recruits have the four key competencies of critical thinking (+problem solving), creativity, communication and collaboration that the WEF identified in their New Vision for Education in 2015, often referred to as 21st Century Skills or the 4Cs. 

This Vision was reinforced with the launch of the WEF’s Future of Jobs report at Davos in 2016. Chief HR and strategy officers from leading global employers identified the skills they will value most in 2020 and compared them to their current needs, as they were in 2015. Now in 2023, we are able to see how well we did in responding to this research with equipping young people with the skills they needed to succeed. Again, I don’t think that I’m being controversial here by saying that we didn’t quite solve that one.

Future of Jobs

My limited but recent experience of listening to the needs of HR and L&D leaders here in the UK suggests that developing complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and people management skills is still a work that is very much in progress. Rather than rely solely on my anecdotal feedback, I checked to see if my instincts were correct. To which I was pleased to discover that the WEF published an updated Future of Jobs report in 2020 that highlights perceived skills and skills groups with growing demand by 2025.

Future of Jobs 2020

Three of our original C’s are omnipresent (complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity) but these have now been overtaken at the top of the table by a slight variant of the same theme – analytical thinking and innovation. In second place we also have another new entry of active learning and learning strategies, i.e. how to learn and not necessarily what to learn. Good luck to colleges and universities with this one!

My overriding thought after a short time delving deeper into the Swiss Alps is this. Do we stick with problems long enough to truly solve them?

Einstein Quote
Einstein Quote courtesy of @InspiringThinkn

In 2017, Alvaro suggested that the priority should be to develop a framework to evaluate new technologies so that they are ethically acceptable. I propose that there is something else that gets in the way of change, whether it be embracing new concepts, technology, or ways of working. 


Qualities such as cynicism, pride, laziness, envy and selfishness have served us well as a species over a far greater time horizon than 10-15 years. However, these often ingrained features contribute to our reluctance to change and openness to new ideas, both as individuals and society. I would love to see this topic explored as an overarching theme at Davos 2024, with a possible title of “Are we (really) solving the biggest issues facing our world?”

If we are really going to solve any of these grand challenges, having more do-ers and fewer thinkers around the table might lead to more complete solutions. Before we move on to the next big issue of the day. In terms of the skills gap example, maybe it’s time for a collective of education leaders, headteachers, college principals, and university deans to get their heads together on this one.

Global politicians and business heavyweights have very eloquently, and repeatedly, described the issue. Let’s now pass the baton to real changemakers who are better placed to identify, articulate and implement solutions.    



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