As business leaders, we’re facing bigger challenges than ever before. Rocked by a global pandemic, shaken by social and political unrest, and threatened by imminent challenges like climate change, we’ve never felt more uncertain of what the future holds.
The environment we’re working in today demands change. And change requires new ways of thinking, behaving, and leading.
Oslo Business Forum 2022 gathered over 10,000 leaders from more than 30 countries over two days. Eager to take their leadership to the next level, these executives embraced insights from some of the greatest minds in business today. The event illuminated challenges, shifted ways of thinking, and inspired change.
Here are 11 of the most impactful leadership learnings from this year’s Forum.
Learning #1: Overreact to adapt
Nassim Taleb, world-renowned statistician, trader, and author, discussed uncertainty and shared lessons from the widely popular theories he’s cultivated.
Nassim reminded leaders that how we respond to uncertainty can strengthen our businesses for the future. He believes responses commonly thought to be harmful—overreaction and overcompensation—can actually enable adaptation. The mechanism of overreaction is an example of the antifragile effect he experienced as a trader. “You overcompensate by concentrating when there is noise around you,” he said. That noise heightens your awareness of the need to take action and often results in a more robust, less fragile solution.
"The world post-Covid is vastly more robust and less fragile".
– Nassim Taleb
Learning #2: Learn how to master new skills again and again
Yuval Noah Harari, author of international bestsellers focused on macro-historical questions, shared insights to help leaders prepare for the future of work.
Yuval confirmed what may be many leaders’ greatest fear: emerging technologies and advancing AI are disrupting the job market. As we consider how to adapt, we must challenge our assumptions about the skills that will survive. “The most important skills for flourishing in the 21st century are not specific skills,” Yuval said. “Instead, the really important skill is how to master new skills again and again throughout your life.” Just as AI hasn’t achieved its full potential, neither have humans; the best way to prepare for the future is to develop our untapped potential.
Learning #3: Strike a balance between standards and psychological safety for high performance.
Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, led Oslo Business Forum participants on an exploration of interpersonal fear at work—and how to combat it by building psychological safety.
“We can’t play it safe if we want to create fearless organizations,” she said. Fear inhibits us from speaking up, putting our businesses at risk in a complex and uncertain world. Leaders who want to reach the High-Performance Zone must ensure their teams are driven by ambition and permission to reach new heights. That culture is created when leaders balance high standards with a sense of psychological safety.
Learning #4: Don’t let your values become distorted by success.
Steve Wozniak, a Silicon Valley icon and co-founder of Apple Computer, shared his perspectives on the future and the personal philosophies he lives by.
Early on, Steve Wozniak’s intent was not to start a company or revolutionize an industry—he simply wanted to be an outstanding engineer. When Steve Jobs persuaded him that computers would change the world—and Wozniak’s talents could make that instinct a reality—Apple was born. But on his way to revolutionizing the world we live in, Wozniak never lost sight of his core beliefs. He recounted his greatest accomplishment: “Knowing who I was, what my values were, and not having my values distorted by the success of Apple.”
Learning #5: Be fearless in bringing difficult topics to the table
Lise Klaveness, a former Norwegian footballer and current president of the Norwegian Football Federation, bravely explored her fears and dreams for her sport and drew parallels for other future-focused leaders to consider in their businesses.
Every leader has experienced uncertainty at a difficult juncture, and solutions require collaboration. Sometimes, this means engaging in difficult conversations. Lise believes that future-focused leaders must be fearless in bringing difficult topics to the surface. Equating the challenges facing leaders today with the equality and human rights issues that football faces, she beckoned leaders to act now or risk losing appeal in the future. "If we don't, our stadiums will be empty," said Lise. “What's your empty stadium? How will you lead to avoid the empty stadium in your business?”
"Our stadiums will be empty in the future if we overlook the current circumstances"
– Lise Klaveness
Learning #6: Lead intentionally and with courage
Carla Harris, a former Morgan Stanley vice chairman, managing director, and advisor, shared with participants at Oslo Business Forum her hard-earned and heard-learned pearls of wisdom to become a more intentional leader.
The old leadership context valued production and execution over inspiration and motivation. Our new leadership context has shifted radically, with the next generation valuing transparency, inclusivity, and feedback. “Intentional leadership is the key to success in this new context,” said Carla. Cultivating an intentional approach to leadership requires courage—and courage is the thread that connects all the most critical traits of an effective leader: authenticity, trust, clarity, mentorship, diversity, innovation, inclusivity, and voice.
Learning #7: Adopt empathy to transform your business
Martin Lindström, one of the world’s leading business, branding, and culture transformation experts, believes leaders can eliminate bureaucracy and complexity with one common sense tool: empathy.
Martin admitted that change is difficult, but transition in business is necessary. Today, we are faced with a new market that has new needs and requires a new playbook—and empathy is the most important page in that playbook. Leaders who effectively infuse empathy into their organizations will shift their approach and unlock untapped potential to transform their businesses. The key, he believes, is to “Act your way into new ways of thinking, rather than think your way into a new way of acting. It is that simple and that difficult.”
"If you want to get ahead of the leaders, don’t follow their tracks in the snow"
– Martin Lindström
Learning #8: Just ask, “What would it take?”
Dr. Zoe Chance, a teacher and researcher obsessed with interpersonal influence, shared intriguing insights and practical steps to help leaders take their impact to the next level.
“Influence doesn’t work the way we think because we don’t think the way we think,” said Zoe. We process messages in the emotional parts of our brains and not the logical centers, which often results in resistance to our attempts at influence. But overcoming that obstacle is easier than many of us believe. Zoe encouraged leaders striving to unlock employee engagement to just ask the magic question: “What would it take?”
Learning #9: Reverse your approach to empower innovation
Duncan Wardle, Head of Innovation and Creativity at Disney, revealed why leaders are the number one killer of ideas and how they can change their company’s culture overnight.
In a lightning-speed presentation of several innovative tools for creative thinking, Duncan persuaded leaders at Oslo Business Forum to expand their rivers of thinking. Asking audacious questions, breaking the rules, and constantly seeking out fresh stimuli are some of the most effective ways for leaders to embed a culture of innovation in their teams’ DNA. “Think about how you can reverse the challenge you’re working on to get people to think differently,” Duncan said. “You’ll be empowered to own the space.”
Learning #10: Embrace mind, body, and soul to become a virtuoso leader
Felipe Gomez, an accomplished executive with a passion for music, took leaders on a music-filled journey through the mind, body, and soul of leadership, sharing the conditions necessary for leaders to become masters of their craft.
“We are all called to act in an extraordinary way, to become virtuosos in what we do,” said Felipe. He likened our leadership journey to one of a would-be virtuoso and the three conditions they live by: method, attitude, and passion. These conditions parallel with mind, body, and soul and are essential to our leadership practice. “These three pillars will lead our stakeholders to give us a standing ovation for what we do,” said Felipe.
Learning #11: Don’t try to change the world. Change your world
Steven Van Belleghem, a global thought leader in the field of customer experience, helped leaders understand how to make customers an offer they can’t refuse by evolving their relationships from transactional to emotional.
“A good product is no longer a company’s ticket to win,” said Steven. “It’s just a ticket to ride.” Today, as customer expectations evolve at a rapid pace, creating an exceptional customer experience requires companies to succeed in many dimensions. But when it feels impossible to meet the ever-increasing demands, Steven wants leaders to remember one thing: “Customers don’t want you to change the world; they just want you to change your world. Look at what you can do, where your influence is, and how you can change things for the better.”
Want to be a part of the OBF community? Join Oslo Business Forum 2023: Thriving in Chaos now!