WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM
JANUARY 21, 2004
© Copyright 2004 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P
All rights reserved. Do not use without written permission from HP.
Let me begin actually by going back all the way to the very first set of participants in this panel discussion, which were the two astronauts in the space station, because I think that little one minute illustrates some very important things that we’re all talking about. It first demonstrates how much technology has changed our lives fundamentally. Here you have people literally from outer space engaging in a dialogue, and I think it illustrates the potential for increasing dialogue and connection; the possibilities that technology enables to increase dialogue and connection literally all over the world – and out of this world.
I am the chief executive of a technology company, but I actually was not trained as a technologist. My university studies were in history and philosophy, and I find that looking back at history, even in a very fast moving industry like technology, is frequently helpful.
There were two social scientists, John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern, who about 50 years ago, wrote a fundamental theory that if you looked back at the arc of human history, you could divide human history into two kinds of periods – what they called zero-sum games.
Zero sum games were situations in which for one party to win, another party had to lose, and there are many moments in history that have been zero sum games.
Non-zero sum games are periods where everyone can win, and interestingly, the periods in history that were characterized by the most non-zero sum games were when some new technology burst upon the scene, or some new event – whether it was the invention of the wheel, or the Silk Road, or as President Khatami mentioned, the discovery of the New World, or the invention of the airplane or the automobile, and today, the invention of technologies such as the Internet that allow all of us to communicate and dialogue in a much richer way.
We can be in a non-zero sum period in history, but it of course takes the subject of this discussion, which is true partnering for security and prosperity.
To truly partner, then all of the kinds of institutions that are represented here at Davos, and represented here on this stage, must understand the contribution – not only of themselves, but of the others, and there is no question that business has a hugely important role to play.
It’s also unquestionable that business, particularly big business, is viewed by many with suspicion, if not outright hostility. And in many cases, perhaps that suspicion has been in some peoples’ minds justified by the greed and lack of ethics that several scandals demonstrate.
But it is clear that business must play a role if only because, as you mentioned, we are so large; we have so much impact in the world. Just as but one example, Hewlett Packard is a company that participates in 176 nations around the world and has one billion customers.
But business also has to recognize that its fundamental objective is to do more than make a profit; our objective must also be to perform, to participate as a good global citizen, and being a good global citizen means more than doing no harm. Being a good global citizen means – at least the way we think about it at HP – that business must do well and do good.
Now, as the greeting from the space station illustrated, technology can create vast new opportunities for participation, and connection and dialogue, but technology also can divide. And one of the things that companies know is that as technology changes our world, we have to change ourselves to keep up with that world.
Companies know well that to keep up, we must constantly invest in our own competitiveness, and I think this is a lesson actually that countries can learn from companies. Just as business must learn from multi-lateral agencies, and NGOs, and social entrepreneurs and governments, just as business must learn that our objective must be broader than simply making money, that our objective also must be to do good. So I think countries can learn from businesses that competitiveness is a required investment in order to be able to participate.
And what security and prosperity require is as much participation by as many members of society as possible, whether those are women, or children or impoverished people. And so, participation in this new world requires investment in competitiveness. What constitutes investment in competitiveness? I think it’s sort of three things, and it’s the same things for countries as it is for companies. It is first an investment in education, training. This is a knowledge society now, and for a people to participate in this knowledge society, they must not only have access to credit, access to opportunity, they have to have the tools to take advantage of that opportunity, and that means education and training. And it is true the world over, including in the United States, that we are investing less in education and training today, not more.
Second, companies now – and countries as well – must invest in honesty, transparency, accountability, meritocracy. Honesty, which is always based in ethics and values; transparency, which means that our decisions must be open to scrutiny; accountability, in the sense that we do what we say we are going to do and deal with the consequences; and meritocracies in the sense that, in the end, it is about talent, and any company knows that the company with the best talent wins, and the package that that talent comes in is irrelevant, and countries as well, I think, know that.
So competitiveness requires education, training, honesty, transparency, accountability, meritocracy. And competitiveness, which is the ability to participate in this new world, also requires the use of technology – the embrace of technology. Technology can be a tremendous equalizer, just as education can be a tremendous equalizer.
We will not take advantage of the power that technology unlocks without real partnership. We will not build a more prosperous, secure world without a real partnership, but real partnerships require all of us in the equation – business, government, NGOs, everyone here – it requires all of us to make those investments necessary that allow us to participate. In business, we call it competitiveness. I think increasingly as nations, we need to call it competitiveness as well.
And I guess finally I would say because these are difficult topics, and as many of the preceding speakers have said, we can look at the statistics and become very discouraged. I think progress – continued progress – requires an equal measure of realism and optimism. We have to be realistic that this is very difficult. We have to be realistic that many suspicions and obstacles have to be overcome. We have to be realistic as well that sometimes, it is two steps forward and three steps back before it can be two steps forward and one step back.
But I think without optimism, there is no progress. Without optimism and a focus on the possibilities, nothing changes, nothing gets better. And so, in answer to your very first question, is there more that can be done? Absolutely, but as HP works with governments, and local communities, and social entrepreneurs and institutions like the World Bank all over the world, I see great reason for optimism as well.