Creating A Cultural Shift

"People don't resist change. They resist being changed."
—Peter Senge

Since the premier of the WorkSpace at the World Economic Forum 2005 Annual Meeting, it has hosted well over 50 sessions and workshops, traveled from the Alps to Egypt and South Africa, and brought several thousand participants into an unprecedented depth of collaboration and co-design. From climate change to the creative imperative, ending chronic hunger to ending intellectual property rights, tribal dynamics to information epidemics, WorkSpace sessions have taken on issues that touch about every individual, community and society on the planet.

Individually, many of these sessions have been a highlight of participants' experience, and have done as much as any other session to shape the Forum's annual agenda. More importantly for the Forum, the cumulative impact of the WorkSpace has been a cultural shift within the Forum community.

Over these two plus years, the level of engagement in the WorkSpace has grown from all aspects of the Forum - participants, session moderators, staff and partners. Once deeply skeptical, the Forum is now showcasing the WorkSpace. Session moderators have returned, and many now engage weeks or even months in advance of the event to design with the WorkSpace team. Many participants in this year's sessions referenced sessions they had attended in '05 and '06.

When asked to rate the quality of interaction in the 2007 WorkSpace sessions, 117 of 171 participants gave it the highest possible rating (++) and all but two of the respondents gave a positive response. All but three said they were likely or very likely to participate in future WorkSpace sessions. One person I spoke with went so far as to speculate on a time when all the workshops and interactive sessions will be done "like they are in the WorkSpace."

Perhaps most revealing, 83% said they were likely or very likely to take new action as a result of what they learned and discussed. I can tell you that these responses are not coming from folks who are easily impressed or are prone to take action without careful consideration. Given their positions in the world, their actions are widely scrutinized, often imitated and always influential. I believe what this shows is a hunger for real, relevant, and meaningful collaboration and co-design with their peers. And to do it in a neutral forum like that offered by the WorkSpace — a setting where they can explore edges of possibility honestly, vigorously and playfully.

As cool as it is to get this kind of feedback on the participant experience, the real reward has been the experience of working with an incredible collection of people - designers, knowledge workers, artists, facilitators, teachers. Matt and Gail, of course, but so many other practitioners of their Group Genius process, as well.

"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."
—Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (1532)

Though the Forum is now primed with a capability to take on many of the WorkSpace roles, it has been a long, hard road to here. Afterall, the Forum has been putting on a show in Davos for over thirty years, and deserves its reputation as the crème-de-la-crème gathering of the global business and economic communities. It is the most immense effort of logistical and technical coordination I have ever experienced, and demands incredibly high performance by a behind-the-scenes cast of hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

True, the Forum approached MG Taylor and Tomorrow Makers because it heard the cries of members for less sit-n-get, more collaboration, more interaction, more design thinking. But when a flock of knowledge workers from half a dozen organizations spanning seven countries set down in Davos never having all worked together as a team, showing up with an environment radically outside the experience of anyone at the Forum in order to facilitate a design process that aspired to "release group genius" and surface "emergent solutions," the Forum didn't know what to make of us, and didn't hesitate to let us know. This is Davos. Switzerland. Emergence and ambiguity are not what the natives are known for. The WorkSpace was a threat to this impeccability.

Frankly, there were many occasions in those early days that it got downright nasty. And personal. Blood. Sweat. Tears. The full catastrophe. And yet, even then the WorkSpace was a raging success. Only by the passion of this tight network of twenty or so knowledge workers was this success any sort of possibility, and only through their persistence was the window held open until the Forum was willing and able to step up.

Two years on, a sub-group of this network has leveraged its work with the Forum to birth a new venture, The Value Web. Simply put, this is one of the most extraordinarily talented clusters of designers I've ever been a part of. I am humbled and inspired to be able to play within it, to be a part of it from its conception to its birth, and beyond.

"Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organization is transformed; the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day." — Frances Hesselbein, The Key to Cultural Transformation, Leader to Leader (Spring 1999)

I've no doubt the WorkSpace will continue to create a legacy for itself in Davos over the coming years, and every expectation that the Forum will find many other places and ways to employ its untapped capabilities. Ideally, the WorkSpace will find a home base in Geneva, where it can be practiced and utilized as a design center on a daily basis between deployments.