Davos Newbies Home

***The new year
This year is dawning for many people with considerably more trepidation than the last. The economic outlook in the US is uncertain, and, as the old saw has it, when the US catches a cold, the rest of the world sneezes. Political uncertainty also clouds the American outlook: we may know who the new president is, but there is very little clarity on what his administration is likely to mean. Europe has a more optimistic feel, with the euro beginning to climb back in value against the dollar, and most estimates of growth at a reasonably cheery level. Latin America, with the exception of US-oriented Mexico, seems cautiously confident. The outlook in Asia is generally grim.

These will be the dominant tones in Davos at the end of this month, generally defying the announced theme, Bridging the divides. (Late-breaking note: my former colleagues at the Forum aren’t blind. In finding the URL for that last link, I see they have changed the theme to “Sustaining growth and bridging the divides”. I think that still misses the reigning anxiety.) I liked the Financial Times’s start-of-the-year injunction: “hope for the best; prepare for the worst”.

There are good things about the change in mood. Dave Winer has pointed out “downturns are a perfect time to dig in, listen to users, learn what they want, and create the technology that scratches the itch, and plan on selling it for money”. The perpetually sour Charlotte Raven suggests in The Guardian “the upside of living in a state of permanent flux is that nothing can go on forever… At least boom and bust were honest. They looked like what they were. The thing about sustained stability is that you often can’t see what’s really going on.”

***Everything you know is wrong
I don’t want to encourage further new year depression, but if you can stand more analysis of the Florida count, read Micky Kaus’s Slate column. On this analysis, almost any way you count Florida — if the count had been allowed to continue — would result in a Gore victory. I, too, think talk of supporting a “healing process” is nonsensical, even if I also recognise the (compromised) legitimacy of a Bush presidency.

***What’s in a name?
You may have noticed the ads for Accenture, which is the new name for Andersen Consulting. I am hugely sceptical of the value of naming exercises (although this one was forced on AC after its lengthy legal dispute with Arthur Andersen). Most good names either come naturally, or they are now seen as good because they identify a good company. Would any naming consultant suggest WalMart or Cisco or Google? I realise this process has been complicated by the desire for a memorable URL, but as my friend Dave Winer endlessly points out, all the best names are still out there.

I do think, however, that good design and good writing matter. I have no objection to the Accenture logo, but I have read the following advertisement headline several times without a glimmer of comprehension: “In a bid to seize the future, Andersen Consulting redefines its field as Accenture”. Does it mean that its field of operations is now accenture, a meaningless word? I think it means “Accenture, the former Andersen Consulting, redefines its field”. That is still a fairly meaning-free statement. How many great minds sat in conferences to agree this copy line?

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