The largest and most lasting idea that I’ve taken from the Drucker forum is the words of a fellow challenge winner, Nayyara Rahman: “We can make business competition extinct.” That short, bold statement contained an idea that I never thought was possible. As most do, I viewed competition as a fundamental aspect of business. Competition certainly isn’t always negative, and there are plenty of examples of competition being the driving force for progressive improvement. But it is critical to remember that change is possible, even at the very foundation.
I heard these words against a backdrop of red curtains in a theater, a few hours before the 9th Global Peter Drucker Forum officially opened. I had confidence that the bright, determined challenge winners around me were powerful actors prepared to do something with their words. But on this very literal stage, I wondered if we would be seen as actors in a different sense; playing the part of idealistic dreamers to an audience of established business people who had already decided how the future would be.
So I entered the forum wondering if the ideas from the diverse ages, experiences, backgrounds, opportunities, and perspectives of the challenge winners would be compatible with those of a more traditional business or academic career. But just as I was shocked by Nayyara’s words, I was shocked at how willing the business and scholarly elite in attendance were to match our wild ideas with revolutions of a radically different relationship with AI (Rahaf Harfoush, Erica Dhawan) or a new social contract for the digital age (Don Tapscott). I was in a room full of people itching for action.
Nayyara reminded me that the definition of business is not set in stone, and the Forum’s speakers and participants showed me a willingness to be disrupted. This leads me to believe that the evolutionary elimination of competition is already well underway. We are not outliers to think that the world can be run on different fuel than profit, we are simply fashionably late by 75 years to the conversation that Peter Drucker was already having. And he was probably late too.
The forum was months ago. Where are we now? The possibility of business separated from competition has continued to evolve for me: could carefully crafted supply chains be a key to growing prosperity? A recent change in my hometown’s ability to recycle plastics led me to research possibilities for opening community-managed centers, and linking 3-D printers with locally recycled plastic “ink”. Nayyara herself is in Pakistan, working tirelessly on issues of transparency. Another of the challenge winners, Shagun Tripathi, posed a poignant question that leads us to the future of the discussion: “What will robots do when humans take over?” The 10th Global Peter Drucker Forum centers on exactly this question, the human dimension of the automation-human relationship. There is urgency in this question, from resentful laid-off workers and those fearful of putting too much trust in automated solutions. What we decide now as humans, managers, and businesses will create the future of the human workforce.
As this conversation continues to evolve, I particularly hope to find a way to allow the community at large to participate in determining how these radical technological changes will shape our future. The conclusion of every conversation I have about AI is, “I can’t change what will happen, so…”. Each individual has their own feelings of acceptance, excitement, fear, or revulsion at the inclusion of ever more intelligent technologies. But there is a unified sense of helplessness, which is not a healthy way to settle into a new era. Practically, this comes down to democratizing decision-making in organizations and across power divides. This problem of leaving people stranded in helplessness is at the center of what human centered management should address; each technological step forward is framing the lives that humans will live. Why do it without their consent?
About the author:
Anne Twombly is the winner of the 9th Global Drucker Forum, student division. Previously from the NGO sector, she continues to seek different perspectives by which to understand the world. She is working towards her masters in International Business Management at Lauder Business School, Vienna AT.