Posted on 18 Jun 2015


By Sylvia Vorhauser-Smith, PageUp Senior Vice President, Research.

Sydney hosted the World Business Forum at The Star on May 27 & 28, 2015 and I went along to sense-check what the business dialogue is currently trending on. Turns out it seems to focus a lot on the people in business, and the business of people.

The 5 quotes below, in no particular order, captured the tone for me.

  1. “Plan to live to age 100 and work to age 80.”

– Lynda Gratton, London Business School

Good news, bad news. Sure we want to live to 100, smiles and nods from the audience – but work till we’re 80? Really? Images of our aging parents and grandparents soldiering on beyond established physical and mental boundaries. Will we die at our desks?

In fairness, this only extends the expectations of our active work life set by government by a further decade. And the reality is that our physical and mental health profiles have never been better. Short of a serious accident or illness, the bulk of people either want or need to continue working – just on slightly different terms.

Gratton sees the future of work deeply integrated and balanced with non-work life. Portfolio careers (many of which will involve self-employment), continuous education (rather than a single concentrated block of learning in early life) and nextgen skill-sets (truly ‘human’ skills that cannot be replaced by computers, robots and artificial intelligence), are the pillars of the future workforce.

  1. “Empathy can’t be automated.”

– Don Peppers, Peppers&Rogers Group

International marketing guru Don Peppers dug deep into the psychology behind the customer experience. Technology has unleashed very informed customers and very automated marketing processes. Could we be losing touch with what’s behind each and every buying decision – a human?

Peppers cited studies that highlight a paradox in marketing: customer loyalty is not correlated with a superior customer experience, but a poor customer experience is directly correlated to disloyalty. It’s all about the connection made or broken with each customer interaction.

What to do? Market to the human behind the customer. Empathy is a uniquely human trait – it can’t be fake and it can’t be automated. Above all, he says, be authentic. Pretty simple, but seemingly remarkably difficult to achieve.

  1. “I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

– Sarah Lewis, Harvard Business School

For me, the winning presentation came from Sarah Lewis, assistant professor of the history of art and architecture at Harvard University and author of The Rise.

In her inspiring talk about creativity and innovation, Lewis’ message was simple: failure is learning and a necessary precursor to innovation and mastery requires a love and pursuit of praiseworthy failures.

At this forum, as in her TED Talk of 2014, Lewis eloquently articulated the distinction between success and mastery: success is hitting the target, mastery is knowing it means nothing unless you can do it again and again. Grit, she notes, is fundamental to creativity and a better predictor of achievement than talent or IQ. So there’s hope for us all.


  1. “Why is everyone targeting Millenials – I’m 72 and I’ve got the money!”

Tom Peters, business writer and speaker

In classic Tom Peters roam-the-floor style, the factual but often ignored reality that the net worth of households over age 55 is 47 times higher than that of those under 35, left Peters stupefied and the audience rapturous.

The purchasing power of the boomers aside, it did make me think about the complex multi-generational workforce we already have, which will only be exacerbated as we retain ever more octogenarians. And to look at Tom Peters, spritely at 72, he’s the kind of guy you’d want around. Seen it all, nothing to prove and a truckload of value to add. Sure, his Powerpoint deck set a new floor for ugly and unreadable, but that’s not what you’d hire him for.  In fact, this is clearly Peter’s cunning method for ensuring the focus goes to him and his stories, which is where it should be, because a lot of wisdom resides there.

  1. “Prediction is hard, especially about the future.”

– Ben Bernanke, former US Federal Treasury Governor

Well Bernanke claimed to be quoting Yogi Berra with that one and more likely it belongs to Niels Dohr –  whatever – but the point is made: it’s a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world out there and attempting to forecast anything based on known models leaves a lot of experts looking a little silly.

It’s particularly topical in a business environment in which more and more emphasis (and hope) is shifting to predictive analytics to guide and advise us on everything from what our customers will buy next to what skills and talent we will need in the future.

Bernanke spent most of his time speaking about the GFC as might be expected and the many lessons that have been learnt from that time. Whether that can save us next time around, well, it’s hard to predict.

Apart from a great array of speakers, which also included techo Steve Wozniak, Hollywood’s Oliver Stone and Melbourne Business School’s Prof. Geoff Martin leading a panel of CEOs from Swisse, Dick Smith & IGSM, I got to meet the life-size Telstra robot and recline in Etihad’s newly launched business studio for its A380 and B787 fleet.

Well worth a visit!


Don’t wait for the next business forum to get your business-related fix of quotes and insights. Just head over to the research section of our resource hub or to our HR blog.