Text was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.

The Five Greatest Highlights

These are the five greatest highlights, seen from the perspective of a man who's mission is to bring design-driven innovation to new frontiers:

1) Chris Kutarna - on gaining perspectives

After an energetic but somewhat fear-infusing introduction by Richard Quest, Chris' big picture articulation felt like a fresh breath:

We are taking the most abundant element of our planet (which is information), to transform it into the most precious thing for people (which is life).
Chris Kutarna

This quote was triggered by his opinion that we are generally lacking perspective. We should get better at asking "why" and look for purpose. If we go back in time, we can look at the present with more depth.

By looking at the technological revolutions through history, he pointed out that only the fourth technological revolution has been populated by such an avalanche of changes simultaneously. Even though these changes might represent a mountain of interesting new raw material for innovators, Kutarna said that Leadership is the answer to deal with this great clash we are facing. This is a kind of leadership that cannot be taught, because there are too many unknowns. We just have to put our hands on the wheel and take responsibility.

Today is the slowest day in the rest of our lives.
Chris Kutarna

The next speaker, Silvija Seres, also had a good point supporting this outlook; "Lifelong education is a new professional hygiene". True, true!

2) Kimberly Lein-Mathisen - on dealing with AI

Coming from Microsoft, you would perhaps expect an Azure-biased sales pitch. But Kimberly's talk had several neat and objective perspectives on the challenges and opportunities of this technology.

A significant part of the presentation was dedicated to the ethics of AI, as this becomes present in our everyday lives. A good example is facial recognition, which strikes us in the core of human rights.

We must make a new social contract and make sure we follow the ethics of AI. We must remain accountable to the impact we make on humans.
Kimberly Lein-Mathisen

Towards the end, she raised the question of defining new laws that represent a global consensus. Microsoft is donating loads of money, to contribute to what they call "AI for good." Way to go, Microsoft!

3) Andrew McAfee - on trusting algorithms

What geeks and algorithms have in common is that they base decision making on data rather than gut feeling. This is contrasting some of the traditional leadership styles, which McAfee completely debunked as an option for the future.

Machines are demonstrating excellent judgement.
Andrew McAfee

While being very optimistic about the positive impacts of machine learning, McAfee also proved why we should embrace crowd sourcing. "Don't miss out on tapping into the power of the crowd".

However, there are three dimensions which will remain a human skill for a long time:

  1. Asking the right questions. "What?" and "why?"

  2. Ethical judgement

  3. Social interactions and negotiations.

McAfee's ultimate recommendation to the audience is still echoing in my mind;

Search for the ones that are seeking the truth. Run from the ones who have found it.

Andrew McAfee

4) Barack Obama

It seemed like a normal, and rather slow day at work for the ex president, who warmed up by cheaply charming the crowd; "I love Norway and Norwegians." But with his hard-to-match level of wisdom, my notebook ended up full of quotes anyway:

  • "Sustainability is the single most important issue for this planet today."

  • "Dangers arise from the perspective of believing that we are not all equally worthy. 80% of all bad in the world comes out of this."

  • "Let us hang on to what makes us human. Hope, dreams, fears and blind spots."

  • "To sustain the good of globalization, and efficiency of tech, we must build stabilizers - for example through a social welfare state. Norway has done well."

  • "When things are moving fast, there are people feeling left behind. These are representing not only inequality, but also dangers. For example nationalism."

  • "If you are not cultivating new talent, your organization will fail."

  • "Diversity is the key to succeed in the long term. Different points of views will help you identify blind spots."

If you are not making mistakes, you are probably not pushing boundaries. You are missing out on opportunity. But it is also important not to make a cult out of failure.
Barack Obama

What's not to love about Obama?

5) The digital playground

The conference hall was full of sponsor booths that generally held a high level of interaction and demos. This was far more engaging than the average conference cubicles you might expect. In my opinion, "The Startup Village" was particularly inspiring. I stopped by Voicable's booth, where I met my friend and tutor for public speaking, Rick Salmon.

"Try to speak like Obama", he said, and get your voice analyzed while you're at it! I surprised myself by achieving an impressive 93% score! ...but some dude before me managed 95%. Wait... maybe that was actually Obama himself!?

My Conclusion

It is necessary for designers to have peep-holes like these into the discussions of business leaders. And it was definitely worth the ticket. However, to push an element of criticism into my reflection too, I want to point out three opinions:

  1. Most main-stage lectures were high-level to the point of being philosophical. I missed some strong contemporary business success stories, which could deliver more hands-on inspiration.

  2. I missed design thinking completely. True, some speakers mentioned empathy, and Obama had several points about the people perspective. But shouldn't Norwegian business leaders talk more about people-centered methodology in these speedy tech-times? It is our anchor, guys!

  3. For a conference with Sustainability in the title, I would actually have expected even stronger, hands-on, this-is-how-you-roll-up-your-sleeves kinds of take-aways.

Let me wrap up by congratulating Christoffer OmbergMarius Røed Wang and their crew to pull together this success story in such a short time. Their media and marketing strategies have actually been an inspiration on themselves. They are demonstrating the appropriate attitude to contrast their own opening remarks;

Traditional thinking is holding us all back.
Paal Holter