Drucker Forum Post Scriptum: “Viva la Vida”
by Isabella Mader

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What have we learned at the Forum that is most exciting, concerning, surprising?


Isabella Mader CEO, Excellence Institute

Conference chair

Eduardo P. Braun

Andreas Rosenfelder Head of feature section, Die Welt/Welt am Sonntag
Ade McCormack Digital leadership expert
Stefan Pickl Professor; Chair for Operations Research, Department of Computer Science, Bundeswehr University Munich
Gabriela Allmi Director Europe, Higher Education, Harvard Business School Publishing France SAS

“The conference was very inspiring.”

“What did people say?”

This is the sobering moment to admit: in fact we don’t remember most of it.

One of the recurring themes at the Drucker Forum is learning. How do we make sure we don’t forget (Maud Bailly)? How do we create new knowledge (John Hagel)? How to ensure implementation?

The Post Scriptum session of the Drucker Forum is such an exercise. Let’s debrief our own mind, jot down notes, reflect and revisit, as we face up to the new challenges ahead.

During the unconference, one of the questions was “How can the Drucker Forum make a difference?” Maybe it is in each of us making a difference when we leave the Forum and tackle our challenges where we are in the world?

Now, what did we learn from this year’s Drucker Forum?

Gabriela Allmi recounted the most moving moments – because these are the things that everyone will remember. The conference started with “Vive la difference!” and ended with “Viva la vida” by Coldplay. Those two sentences can be a good synthesis of what makes us human. Another aspect of being human is to keep on asking questions. Let’s try to answer the question “What is growth?” – when applied to ourselves?

What is the human aspect of digital humanism? Andreas Rosenfelder argued that humans can learn from paradoxes, something machines normally don’t. On one panel with differing views about high performance in the digital age, Adrian Wooldridge suggested learning from low-performance cultures, where talent was the main value and not performance. A high-achievement culture learning from a low-performance culture is just such a creative use of paradox. Another example: escapism. Chafing at the confinement of the real world, humans first “emigrated” to the digital realm because we like to be autonomous subjects. During the Covid crisis, the escapist urge is to stop living so much in the digital world and migrate back to the analogue one. The Drucker Forum is one such perfect escape: as more than one person put it, meeting in real life adds something to ideas that wouldn’t emerge from an audience sitting in a videoconference and participating remotely.

Conference chair Eduardo Braun blended the first ideas together, urging us to keep asking questions but to refrain from perfectionism: “Don’t try to ask the best question. Let’s just have many, the best ones will stand out anyway.”

Ade McCormack argued that today’s uncertainty and volatility are simply a warm-up for what is to come. The synthetic certainty of the industrial era is followed by a world of hyper-uncertainty that forces us to redefine talent to what robots can’t do and to rethink performance, since a faster, cheaper, smarter Titanic will still sink. Performance in hyper-uncertainty likely points to community and collaboration.

Authenticity became almost an imperative, with the danger that our determination to live our perfect self creates microaggressions for others. Don’t confuse authenticity with selfishness, warned McCormack: consider a “graceful organization” instead, practicing respect.

Immanuel Kant contributed the categorical imperative while looking for the universal answer to the lack of respect he saw in society. Stefan Pickl argued that a universal answer may not be needed because there is no single universal solution for any given complex situation. It may be better to ask for different questions and answers and individual perspectives to make sure we learn in the spirit of Peter Drucker.

The Forum discussions kept coming back to ethics. But, as Isabella Mader asked: which ethics? The European notion of Kantian ethics and the categorical imperative (of applied reciprocity)? A kinship ethic as we see in most of Asia and Africa, or a utilitarian one like in the US? Or some other version? How will the world agree which one to use as the foundational principle for ethics in artificial intelligence (AI)? Bringing about a consensus and negotiating international treaties can take decades – so let’s start them now.

A contribution from the audience came from Robin Heilig, who was surprised and happy that leaders were talking about the importance of love and passion. As a civil servant his friends had warned him to be careful, to be cautious, to moderate his passion. His takeaway from the Forum was that he would continue not to be cautious with his passion, saying that this had served him well for the past 20 years.

How can we ensure that learnings are implemented?

Allowing for vulnerability and love may indeed ensure that whatever we do will be done well, Gabriela Allmi suggested. “Viva la vida”, as the re-telling of the French Revolution, but this time from the heart, could be the way forward in leadership.

McCormack recommended viewing one’s career as a path to self-mastery. Curiosity was what drew our ancestors out of their caves; the same quality will be key to our progress now.

Allow for contradiction, escapes and human (!) autonomy. Andreas Rosenfelder: “Machines can never be free, only humans can. Let’s keep that in mind.”

Eduardo Braun first heard about loving your colleagues at work in a conversation with Herb Kelleher: “In that sense loving is helping others become the best version of themselves.”

Aligning with Gabriela Allmi, Stefan Pickl then revised his Forum synthesis from the dialectic principle to “Viva la vida”. As performed by Coldplay at the group’s famous Sao Paulo concert in 2017, the song featured a breathtaking lightshow created by thousands of glowing mobile devices held up by the audience – a stunning visual representation of collective emotional spirit. A similar spirit emerged from the Global Peter Drucker Forum 2021 in Vienna as participants sang lustily along to “Viva la vida”.

The much-missed Clayton Christensen enjoined us to consider how we will measure our lives. In this spirit, we may wish to redefine what we mean by performance – a discussion that we urge you to continue at next year’s Forum under the theme “Performance That Matters”.

About the Author:

Isabella Mader is CEO of the Excellence Institute, Executive Advisor for the Global Peter Drucker Forum and lecturer at universities in the fields of information and knowledge management, IT- strategy and collaboration.

This article is one in the “shape the debate” series relating to the 13th Global Peter Drucker Forum, under the theme “The Human Imperative” on November 10 + 17 (digital) and 18 + 19 (in person), 2021.

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