Monthly Archives: January 2000

Davos Newbies Home

I’d like to claim that Davos is a classless society, but it isn’t. Here’s an initial guide to the gradations of Davos society, which is colour coded.

White badges
All full-fledged participants have white badges. Your badge is what enables you to signup for sessions, to get into the Congress Centre and even ride free on the Davos town buses. Everyone wants to have a white badge.

There are several types of white badge, but all of them get the best treatment in Davos. In addition to the plain white badges that most business and public figure participants have, there are media leader and GLT badges, as well as some other subgroups. I’ve been asked whether it’s good to be a media leader. My answer is a resounding yes, since you get everything everyone else gets, plus a special media leaders programme, which is excellent.

Spouses of white-badge participants also get a white badge, but it visually slightly different.

Orange badges
Uh oh. I wish I could be reassuring about your orange badge, but it does serve slightly as a mark of Cain in Davos. The so-called working media have orange badges: the reporters and film crews that have to file daily. They can’t signup, they can’t go to sessions over lunch or dinner, and they are only allowed into interactive sessions in the Congress Centre on a space available basis.

When I first went to Davos eight years ago, it was undoubtedly worse. Then, there were very, very few orange badges allowed, and most of them were to the kind of people who now get white badges (editors, senior columnists, etc). The media were barely tolerated. Now nearly one out of three people in Davos is media. There is some talk of proving the “working media” with an orange T-shirt as a souvenir: it would say, “I had an orange badge, but at least I was there.”

Dark blue badges
Permanent World Economic Forum staff. If you see a dark blue badge, the person should be able to provide you whatever assistance or information you need. A handful of dark blue badges also have a blue top (rather than white). These are the senior executives of the Forum.

Light blue badges
Temporary staff. Given the scale of Davos, the Forum brings in large numbers of people to help just for the event. Light blue badges should be good sources of assistance as well.

Green badges
Accompanying persons. There are very few of these granted, but the most senior politicians and a true handful of CEOs get green badge accompanying persons. Other than scurrying around, green badges have no privileges.

There are more colours for security and some other services. Just be glad if you have a white badge.

Davos Newbies Home

There’s lots of snow and it’s cold and cloudy in Davos. That’s the weather report, and if past experience proves true, it should clear for some magnificent weather next week.

That’s the way I like Davos, with participants crunching through the snow on the way to lunches and dinners outside the Congress Centre. Of course participants from generally hot countries don’t always feel the same way. Each year, I seem to have a conversation with Tarun Das, director general of the Confederation of Indian Industry, about how different the weather is in Delhi. He annually reminds me that India has the Himalayas as well (the Himalayas are to the Alps as the Alps are to the Appalachians).

At the Forum, people are trading last minute advice. Most of the Forum will take the train tomorrow from Geneva to Zurich, and then transfer to the smaller trains that trundle up to Davos. The best advice so far: “Bring your sense of humour.”

What we should do in Davos

Reading Scripting News’s pointers to Dan Gillmor and Dan Bricklin’s weblogs, I became convinced today of how Davos Newbies should work during Davos itself.

The home page should be a log of other interesting reflections on Davos (as I’m sure Dan Gillmor’s will be, for example). One of the items will be (perhaps I should be cautious and say, might be) a snippet of my posting, which will be a story to link to. I’ll try to provide something of the behind the scenes flavour of Davos (without betraying any confidences).

People like Dan and Dave Winer and many others will actually have the chance to absorb far more of what goes on in sessions than I will in Davos — I’ve got to run the thing! It’s kind of like giving a party: the host never gets to eat much of the food or spend much time talking with people because he or she is too busy helping everyone else.

Davos Newbies Home

A late and short posting today, because we had to get the programme to the printer. That’s it, no more changes.

Of course, there are inevitably last minute changes of one kind or another. The big one today was that we arrived at the Geneva offices of the Forum to find that Malaysian prime minister Mahathir bin Mohamed had cancelled his trip to Davos. If you follow events in east Asia, you probably know that Mahathir has his hands full at home. Still, it left a hole in our programme. Mahathir was one of the primary speakers at our Friday morning plenary on “It’s not the economy, it’s the society”.

Some fast footwork meant that within six hours (all we had to get it in the programme) we had confirmed Turkey’s prime minister Bulent Ecevit and New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman for the session. I think it’s going to be an even better discussion now: they’re joined by Kurt Biedenkopf, minister president of Saxony (known in Germany as King Kurt), George Soros and Louis Schweitzer, CEO of Renault. Hong Kong’s Ronnie Chan is in the chair.

Davos Newbies Home

Dave Winer’s question, “What do I do?” is significant enough that it merits a more detailed reply.

First, the practicalities. On Thursday 27 January, sign-up for sessions starts at 8.30am (on Friday and Saturday it starts at 8am). Popular sessions will fill pretty rapidly. On Thursday, you can register for Thursday evening and all of Friday. Saturday sessions are available from Friday morning. The whole kit and caboodle is available from Saturday morning.

You use either the self sign-up facility on the Kiosks (terminals for email and information in the Congress Centre and quite a few hotels), or the assisted sign-up desks. The reason I start with this is that a lot of Davos newbies spend a lot of time on Thursday or Friday deciphering the programme — which is admittedly complex. When they get around to signing up, they find there is no room in their first or second choice. Veterans go to sign-up first, and then figure things out later.

I have given advice before on how to select sessions, but here’s a summary. There is often an inverse relationship between number of speakers and intensity (if not quality) of a session. Fewer people is good. Go for some unexpected things. You may discover something — and you will certainly find that the other participants who choose the unusual are interesting themselves. Pay attention to the Davos bush telegraph. If people are buzzing about a person, make sure you see him or her.

So, at last you have signed up for the sessions you want. What do you do the rest of the time. Davos is great for hanging out, and there are plenty of places to do just that. Within the Congress Centre, there is a lounge (see yesterday’s photo), a couple of café areas and a bar. All are good places to grab a few minutes with someone.

Most evenings, before dinner, the major hotels host numerous private receptions. If you have a participant badge, whether you have an invitation or not, you can generally stroll in. The Belvedere Hotel is where most receptions are held. Late at night, the bars at the Belvedere, Seehof and Post are the most active with participants catching up and chatting. There are some local differences: if it’s Russians you seek, head to the Sunstar Park, for example.

What do I wear?

Rabbi Rick Block has asked for advice on clothing. As much as we would like it to be so-called business casual, most people do wear suits (or at least smart jacket and tie). There’s no problem if you don’t, but you have to ask yourself whether you will be relaxed about talking to a government minister, who will certainly be in a suit. Some people have the confidence to get away with it, others don’t. It’s your choice.

The one exception is the Saturday night soirée, when the standard is black tie, evening dress or national costume. Lots of men wear dark suits, but don’t say I told you.

Queuing for the Soiree: Participants of the World Economic Forum are queuing up to enter the decorated plenary hall, where the famous Soiree takes place.
The reception line at the 1999 soirée

Davos Newbies Home

***A reader writes

Dave Winer asks a basic question: “I have nothing on my schedule other than the 10 Websites that Rock the World.

“I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. Will I have a good time if I show up with my three new suits, casual clothes, alarm clock, laptop and digital camera?

“I did send an email to Bill Gates! (But I don’t expect an answer.)”

The most fortunate people in Davos are those with the fewest commitments. They can go with the flow, and pursue the scent of what sounds intriguing and novel. There’s a definite bush telegraph in Davos, where participants pass on the word about which Forum Fellow is unmissable (and sometimes, I have to confess, which merits a rain check). In the way of Davos, you too often hear of the “greatest ever” session after it has happened, but people and ideas cycle through the programme so you should be able to catch up.

Lounge: Participants of the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting can meet other policymakers and corporate chieftains in a private atmosphere in several lounges in the Davos congress center.
Casual conversation in the lounge. Recognise anybody?

Tomorrow I’ll try to answer Dave’s question about “what I’m supposed to do” in more detail.

***What’s a meal session?

Some people don’t understand what happens at the many lunch and dinner sessions in Davos. There’s no simple formula for meals, but they tend to fall into three categories.

Most meals are organised around what we call table hosts. The people you see listed in the programme will each preside over a discussion over the meal. In most cases, the session is introduced by a moderator, who may set the context of the discussion or suggest questions to raise. Each of the table hosts may offer some preliminary remarks. At the end of the meal, each table generally reports back to the entire group.

A handful of meals are arranged as panels, little different to what you would expect in the Congress Centre, other than you eat while the panelists talk.

Finally, there are some meals in Davos that are largely social. The Saturday dinners, which gather together all of the politicians from a region, are the best example of this genre in Davos.

***Web savvy folk in Davos

Dani Rodrik, one of the Forum Fellows, has sent me news of his website. Global Trade Negotiations Home Page is developing into an extraordinary resource on international trade issues. Particularly in the aftermath of Seattle, Dani’s site should prove valuable for most participants in Davos.

Davos Newbies Home

Should I make appointments with people before I arrive in Davos?

Someone the other day told me that they heard there was no point coming to Davos unless they arranged appointments in advance. It’s true that if you want to have 20 minutes with Bill Gates, Ray Gilmartin, Sir John Browne or Noboyuki Idei, you should have organised it already. The really heavy hitters arrive in Davos with a pretty full schedule of bilateral meetings, as well as an agenda of programme sessions they want to attend.

In my experience, however, most people in Davos are reasonably accessible, either in a serendipitous way or by less formal arrangements. If there is someone you know you want to see, drop them a line before Davos suggesting you hook up. In Davos, rather than relying on a chance encounter, you can use the internal email system. Use of these, on stations called Kiosks, has increased each year. It’s not foolproof: a lot of the Davos crowd isn’t particularly keyboard-friendly (even now!), but my guess is that anyone reading Davos Newbies will only want to meet with other people who will read their own emails.

***Advance congratulations and regrets

We’ve just had notice that Jeff Bezos will not be coming to Davos after all. It isn’t because he doesn’t want to defend the policy on patents (see Scripting News passim). It’s because his wife is imminently expecting their first child.

Davos Newbies Home

The new countdown to Davos on this page brings home how much needs to be done, in how little time. The Forum will decamp from its Geneva headquarters at the end of this week and install itself in Davos. It’s a bit like a travelling circus — we bring everything we need to be self-sufficient. Given that everything we do relies on our database, a significant IT infrastructure is being laid in place for our six days of the Annual Meeting.

As we get closer and closer, I have to admit that our perspective — and that includes mine — gets distorted. We still have to find hotel room for some public figures (particularly those who decided to stay an extra night to have a bilateral with president Clinton). I read of a coup in Côte d’Ivoire the other week and instead of thinking, “I hope everything will be all right”, my first thought was, “That means a free hotel room since the prime minister won’t be coming.”

I intend to remain lucid as the countdown continues.

Davos Newbies Home

I was at a dinner last night with some of the new group of Global Leaders for Tomorrow, or GLTs. One of them asked, “How does the Forum live up to its motto of ‘Committed to improving the state of the world’?” I reeled off a number of instances where ideas provoked in Davos, or initiatives launched there, had lived up to this grand aspiration: the start of the Uruguay Round of the Gatt, the identification of “eurosclerosis”, Mandela’s conversion to market economics, and so on.

But the conversation took a more interesting turn. Other Davos veterans at the dinner said the improvement often came from far less exalted actions that would never be visible on the world stage. Almost everyone who had been had a story of a person encountered, or a session attended, that had truly changed the way in which they viewed the world — or at least some part of it.

The aggregate of these personal transformations has real power to change the world for the better.

Incidentally, although I’ve written in an earlier posting about the variety of constituencies gathered in Davos for the Annual Meeting, I’ve never explained how hard we try to ensure that there is no class system in Davos. A huge percentage of the participants in Davos are used to — the other 359 days in the year — getting precisely what they want, with a crowd of assistants to help them achieve exactly that. In Davos, they have to signup for sessions with everyone else (and sometimes the sessions they want to attend are full, sad to say) and go through the same security checks as well.

Would you let this man into the Congress Centre?

Davos Newbies Home

***WAP in Davos

For those who like this sort of thing, Davos is going to be WAP enabled. Those with WAP phones will be able to get CNN, Dow Jones and Reuters headlines, and the entire programme will be available through WAP. The Europeans reckon they’re showing the Americans something about technology.

***Only in Davos

Question 1 for everyone here this morning is what does the Microsoft announcement mean for our programme. The immediate answer is “nothing”. We will still have the two Bills in Davos — Clinton and Gates. For a good sense of what it means for Microsoft, you’re better off looking at Scripting News.

I’ve written about how we work hard to create out-of-the-ordinary sessions. Our working motto is, “Only in Davos!” The Blair/Dell conversation on leadership should certainly qualify under that criterion. Another session that promises to do the same is the “hypothetical” on Thursday 27 January.

“Are corporations hostages to fortune?” has five panelists “playing” roles, in a scenario designed by Australian philosopher Simon Longstaff. Here’s the setup: “You have been warned that ‘extremists’ might target your company for direct action. However, nobody anticipated that the local government would fail to protect your operations in an environment in which your company’s adversaries have thrown away the rule book. And who invited CNN to cover your every move?”

Rick Menell, the dynamic young CEO of Anglovaal Mining, will have the role of CEO; Michael Elliott, editor of Newsweek International, is the media player; Richard Edelman of the eponymous PR company is the corporate advisor; Geoff Mulgan, who advises Tony Blair, is the fictional government’s voice; and Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer plays the NGO role. I expect few sessions will get participants thinking as deeply.

***Technical note

Quite a few participants have contacted me about getting access to the private area of the Forum website. If your password doesn’t work, try the Forum webmaster. You should understand, however, that everyone is incredibly busy here and response times are slowing down.

There has also been confusion about what you can do on the official website before the meeting. You can register your credit card details (and you should, password permitting), but you cannot sign-up for any Davos sessions before 8.30 am on Thursday 27 January.