Today the fifteenth edition of the SABF started with a day full of new ideas, inconvenient perspectives and awesome people to meet. Without further ado, let's debrief and review what happened on Thursday the 25th.
To start the day, the SABF Directors, Catalina Varela Ballesteros and Roberto Chá, gave everyone a warm welcome to the newest edition of the South American Business Forum and wished for the participants to not avoid the inconvenience of being exposed to distinct perspectives, but to learn from the differences. Following the Directors, the Dean of ITBA, José Luis Roces expressed the connections between the main theme related to the ITBA university and the search for knowledge and truth rooting back to Socrates and Plato, asking the students:
"Do not demand simple formulas, they don't exist, but let's set in motion something important, let us not make artificial intelligence prevent us from seeing the importance of collective intelligence."
Following the Dean, Fernando Straface, Secretary General of the City of Buenos Aires, welcomed the students to the building, designed by Norman Foster, and highlighted how initiatives like SABF are key in inviting new international students to the city.
Plenary Session: Inconvenient Perspectives
Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab and One Laptop per Child, introduced us to this year's main theme. He highlighted how name of the main theme grabbed his attention, not because of the word Inconvenient, but actually by Perspectives.
Perspectives are worth more than IQ. You can be smart but having multiple perspectives is what is going to set you apart.
For him, the theme could also be called how everybody can be wrong, to illustrate this point, he presented the public with 3 inconvenient perspectives. The first being that competition can be a bad idea, he clearly exemplified by comparing education systems and capitalism in opposition to democracy.
Learning is not memorizing facts to spill out in a test. That is the opposite of learning. Education is what we do to people. Learning is what you do to yourself.
Start-ups are a brain drain, was the second. A gasp-provoking affirmation for many of the start-ups enthusiasts in the room, but definitely expressing some very interesting truths. Last one, climate change: stop whining. Nicholas expressed its undeniability, even recognizing the existence of deniers and urged the participants to stop trying to persuade deniers and do something about it. He amazed the audience with some examples already being investigated, we will leave the details for the lucky few, (or maybe in a future post, as Moody would say permanent alert!)
After that amazing start, Guadalupe Nogués followed suit. She clearly explained the characteristics of the tribal "democracy" we are currently living. As a key feature she gave us some good pointers on how to overcome our own tribalism, mainly through tough work doing introspection and questioning whether we are working in tribal mode and study the ideas behind the discourse.
Next up was Alexander Laszlo, explaining how tribalism affects us in a VUCA (Volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. The key for him is in achieving connective intelligence in order to create a network, and ultimately get collective wisdom. First, you will need empathetic intelligence, which in fact will get you connective creativity.
To finish the Tribalism session, Daniel Leslie gave a plenary on Tribalism in a hyper-connected world (check out his article about it here). As he pointed out, tribalism is "one of those topics that cuts through the core of the human experience". Tribalism is a tendency we have clearly inherited, it’s a tool. In its best form it can promote community-building, but nowadays it is most commonly used for selling. This century in particular has fostered the worst kind of tribalism through the decay of the main institutions that reigned our behaviour. This is clearly seen by the exploitation of loyalty, a positive value, but easily corruptible.
Together in stage, moderated by Jaime Feeney, the participants could take advantage of the huge experience of the speakers in the field to explore ways of overcoming our own tribal behaviours. Let's continue the debate on social media with the hashtag #SABF2019.
2. Effective Governance
After lunch and an inspiring musical piece by violinists Hugo and Alicia, the plenary sessions on Effective Governance began with the keynote of Axel Kaiser. A lawyer and Executive Director of Fundación para el Progreso, Axel expressed how the tribalism in politics, represented by "identity politics", has made it impossible to focalize in our common ground, instead of in our differences. In that sense, for Axel it is a pressing matter for us to focus on making everyone play by the same rules. It may seem simple on writing, but his keynote was definitely one of the most controversial of the day.
Following up, Godber Tumushabe, expert on policy of developing countries, flew out from Uganda specially motivated by the fact that students were the organizers of the SABF. He declared good governance was easy to find in literature, but it is effective governance what we really should be aiming for. As an effective government, they should be able to deliver public services and a state of rule of law. As inconvenient perspectives, he remarked democracy is in retreat, with many democracies being reduced to just voting regularly. Finishing his keynote, he highlighted that the youth, are both the problem and the possible solution, being the biggest demographic in most of the developing countries.
To close this session, Delfina Irazusta introduced us to Francisco Salamone, a famous architect that designed public buildings for some of Argentina's biggest administrative offices. He built them filled with extravagances and with references to palaces, with huge offices for the most powerful officials. In contrast, the city hall of Palo Alto is built around conference rooms and communal spaces. For Delfina, this difference is definitive:
"When something is embodied in a building, it has become completely assimilated."
This assimilation is exactly the kind of work she is doing with Red Innovación Local, by helping recently elected local servants to make effective decisions.
As soon as the debate started the participants where keen on asking how can we all play with the same rules if we have inner biases or how to actually avoid discrimination and promote inclusion. Fernan from Mexico, also wanted to know: how can we actually measure the effectiveness of a government, and how much time should we wait before evaluating it? Indicators are key, but the final answer is still up for debate! One of the last questions was for Godber, and the answer was final, politicians capture and kill institutions and the state in order to remain in power. The curse of Africa is truly mismanagement. The key to counteracting this is a strong civil society and institutions.
3. The Attention Economy
After an interpretation by Juanita Michelle Donati y Marcos A. Remon, Xavier Alexandro Díaz Cataño was ready to start the discussion on the attention economy, right away! Illustrating his point while performing a "stabbing" on stage, he got the audience talking right away. After a few live experiments that showed our limitations, Xavier left the participants wondering
"If you don't know why you are doing what you are doing, why are you doing it? Do not do something if you don't really feel that need to do it."
Carlos Perez jumped right in testing our awareness. With his extensive experience on advertising, he remembered his starting years doing commercials looking for that jaw-dropping impact. Now, scrolling dominates the culture, and he has to work in stopping that thumb. How many videos have you encountered with you won't guess what happened! or something similar? Curiosity drives impact. In that new paradigm you have to start really up, because the people are in control of their attention. "What now matters most, is a good story".
To close this plenary session, and all the sessions of the day, Joaquín Sanchez Mariño took to the stage to share his experience doing journalism in times of the attention economy. Through 10 years of experience covering all kind of stories, serial killers, disappearances and interviews with stars like Penelope Cruz, his most impactful story was a homemade video of supermarket gondola. One small detail, it was in Caracas, Venezuela.
"So, what should worry us in this attention economy? Everyone is looking for the magic formula, but it doesn't exist. I believe you have to live the story, and be, maybe not a protagonist, but definitely a participant in that story."
In that sense, Joaquin encouraged the audience to really take control of what kind of stories and information they consume, and try to choose the meaningful ones.
Centennials have an attention span of 2 minutes, while millennials had 12 or 15. With that fact, Jaime Feeney opened the final debate of the day. "How can we combine this contradiction with the need for developing more thinking ability?". Xavier took the word to explain that it is the responsibility of education institutions to stop trying to give information for children to learn by memorization, and really start listening to the children demands for knowledge and answers. In further questions the participants asked about how does the media companies chose what stories to cover (short answer: money), how to manage the negative attention that can come up with a lot of impact, fact-checking and the ethics of an attention economy.
Because all that is good has to end, suddenly it was already time for the last activity of the day. Federico Cimini, SABF 2017 Director and currently working at Endeavor, was in charge of helping the participants arrive to the day's conclusions. To start the process, Federico expressed:
The SABF is inconvenient. It sounds bad, but it is actually good. We were all uncomfortable to be here today, the participants by completing your application, the organizing team by giving their time ad honorem, our sponsors, our speakers by coming to Buenos Aires.
After this example, it was the turn of the true protagonists of the day, the participants! We will share some of our favorite insights:
Knowledge is inconvenient. When you know something, you have to do something.
If we start from the premise that"we are all equal", we are starting from something completely incorrect. Particularly in the Latin American reality we live.
We have to understand that we are all different people and with different realities.
I do not agree with tribalism being a completely negative thing. Tribes are the only reason we can accomplish big things as a society. We only need to distinguish which tribes are toxic from those that are good, the vast majority of them in my opinion.
Following many more great insights by the participants, the day finished with a reflection by Rick Dow. After a much deserved thank you applause for the organizing team and Federico for the session, Rick gifted us with a profound and exhaustive summary of the day.
We could keep talking about this day for weeks, but we would leave it at that for now. Do not miss the updates on the official social media of the SABF and definitely try to meet the 2019 participants if you can, they are an awesome bunch!
See you tomorrow!