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Fifty thoughts from davos 50

January 23, 2020 - 477 views

Fifty thoughts from davos 50

From the Promenade to behind the velvet rope, here's what it's really like at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos.

It’s the 50th anniversary of the founding of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. In its honor, here are 50 observations from this year’s event. (50?! Don’t worry – I’ll keep it quick and painless.)

  1. It’s balmy – colder back in Massachusetts.
  1. POTUS came – and hardly anyone noticed.
  1. The global elite are becoming more inconsiderate – more standing in the middle of the sidewalk, pushing past you in doorways, etc.
  1. Diversity and inclusion has kicked in big time – more women and minorities on panels. “Manels” are a thing of the past.
  1. No one is talking about the impeachment process.
  1. Greta Thunberg came but didn’t have a follow-up hit. No “bass drop” this time!
  1. The Promenade is at least a quarter-mile longer than last year. Or, maybe it just seemed that way – the “corporate showrooms” stretch on forever.
  1. There’s still not a good Chinese restaurant in town!
  1. Speaking of which, Chinese attendance seemed a little down (to my eye) this year.
  1. The number of Russians and Poles is up significantly, however. And Ukrainians. Probably some “perfect calls” going on.
  1. Manchester United was here very visibly. Not Marcus or Jesse or OGS but lots of the business-side folk. A sports team being represented here is a first, methinks.
  1. Marc Benioff marked the passing of Monty Python’s Terry Jones by saying that capitalism “is no more,” has “ceased to be,” is “bereft of life, it rests in peace,” is “an ex-parrot.” Well, not really, but I hope you catch my drift.
  1. The (free) cocktails get fancier and fancier.
  1. As do the “words from our sponsors” at the beginning of media-hosted events. Just say “great to see you here, thanks for coming.” Don’t make a fancy (but boring) 10-minute speech about your wonderful (but boring) company that literally nobody is listening to. Please …
  1. The Davos “Fringe” agenda of the last few years – green, inclusive, stakeholders over shareholders, etc. – has made it inside the velvet rope of the “Official” WEF Davos event.
  1. Nobody is talking about making money anymore.
  1. Nobody is talking about how to save money anymore.
  1. Re 16 and 17: well, at least not on the record.
  1. Tech regulation is the talk of the town. Our very own @Malcolm M_Frank spoke at the @nytimes #nydebate on whether or not #bigtech can regulate itself. He was on the side that came in, ahem, second, but went down swinging!
  1. Davos 50 shows (only too clearly) that we’re at the very early stages of figuring out what “tech regulation” really means. Davos 51 through 60 will see more meat start to appear on the bone.
  1. The bagpiper that a certain Scottish financial services company brings every year is getting really, really annoying. And I’m a Scott, so I’m allowed to say that!
  1. “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” was on hardly anybody’s lips.
  1. And as @raywang0 tweeted, nobody outside of German-speaking Europe uses the phrase “industrie 4.0,” so why do German-speaking Europeans keep using it?
  1. “Wellness” advisors from Beverly Hills have started showing up. Expect meeting rooms to be scented with exotic candles next year. Gwyneth Paltrow will surely be here soon. Then the candles will get really exotic.
  1. There is a “cannabis-tech” expo on the main Promenade for the first time. You may think this is cool. Or funny. Or weird. Or all three. I think it’s just wrong.
  1. The inside of the main convention center (past that velvet rope) is seriously underwhelming. (They made the mistake of letting me in this year.) If you’ve done 15 Gartner symposia (that would be me) you would think you’ve stepped down a division.
  1. Europeans continue to dress much more sharply than Americans.
  1. The only people wearing fur are men. Well, some men. Very confident men.
  1. Imran Khan had a dozen bodyguards around him as he strolled down the main drag. David Cameron wandered along on his tod.
  1. The #intercontinentalhotel does not get any easier on the eye with repeat viewings.
  1. The @blackrock meeting space is the scariest looking in town. Slightly spoiled by being next to a co-op supermarket though.
  1. The co-op supermarket is, for a supermarket, charming.
  2. @PalantirTech continues to take a huge space in the middle of the Promenade. I can’t figure out what this is trying to signify. A company that for 51 weeks a year operates in the shadows is right bang in the middle of everything for one week of the year. A better shrink than I is needed to decode this.
  1. Speaking of which, @amcafee said at the aforementioned #nydebate that he didn’t want to live inside the head of @peterthiel. You might need to have been inside the room (or Andy McAfee’s head) to figure that one out.
  1. There is an inverse relationship between Promenade walking speed and importance. Lots of people here walk very fast. (Talking to their wives on their iPhones no doubt.)
  1. The large India-based outsourcers are more and more prominent.
  1. IBM had a quantum computer in its storefront. All the way back to my digs I hummed, “How much is that doggie in the window?” Then “a bicycle built for two” came to mind.
  1. Only 12 to go …
  1. WEF Davos hardly feels like a business event anymore. It’s a gathering of people who work (primarily) in businesses talking about how to deal with broad societal issues.
  1. Somebody on a panel rhetorically asked when there's going to be a panel at Davos discussing menopause. Cue awkward silence.
  1. Finance companies, whose branding used to be very visible, are now very much “sotto voce” visually (if that wording makes sense).
  1. Tech companies have filled the visual void left by the finance companies.
  1. My guess? Big-tech companies will become less visible going forward. Your guess as to what will fill that void.
  1. “Fringe” Davos now far outstrips “Official” Davos, just as the “Fringe” festival far outstrips the “Official” festival in Edinburgh. I was in Edinburgh en route to Davos, and the parallels are too obvious to ignore.
  1. Another guess? “Official” Davos will become more and more the opera to the comedy of the “Fringe,” i.e., less relevant, less popular, more marginal. “Fringe” Davos will get bigger and bigger. Wealthy, powerful people still go to the opera (and run the world) but folks at the Fringe have more laughs.
  1. White, middle-aged males have lost control of the global narrative – the narrative that “Davos Man” has shaped for the last 50 years. The only thing they have left is lots of money.
  1. It really is very mild here.
  1. Another guess: Next year’s agenda will focus on spinning President Trump’s dig at the “prophets of doom” (i.e., Greta) into the “profits of doom.”
  1. The Alps are (still) really beautiful.
  1. If you get a chance, you should come.

There you go. That wasn’t so bad was it?! Thanks for sticking with me (assuming you did). A Davos wrap-up in a few days. Until then, ciao!

Visit us here for more Davos coverage and commentary during and after the conference. 

Ben Pring

Ben Pring leads Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work and is a coauthor of the books What To Do When Machines Do...


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