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Guest Thinkers

Davos, The Death of Networking?

The Tiger Mom went to Davos; of course she did. And what did she say? And why do we care? Has her Battle Hymn hit a tipping point, and will future historians consider its tipping point finely aligned with the tipping point of Davos itself? Both the book and the event propose philosophies of leadership, and achievement. Both have all the hallmarks of glamorous aspiration. And yet both come wrapped in shiny meritocratic packages, making them tougher to knock. Yet have we maybe reached a time in which we can cease analyzing one small Swiss town for who is good enough to get there, and begin questioning the concept of what getting there means? What is the value of a “global networking event,” and of “networking” itself? Let’s let Chua take a break, and ask the same questions of another pack of tigers.

This is what Larry Summers said in his appearance with Chua at Davos (Summers V. Chua is inimitably Davos):

“In a world where things that require discipline and steadiness can be done increasingly by computers, is the traditional educational emphasis on discipline, accuracy and successful performance and regularity really what we want?

It is not entirely clear that your veneration of traditional academic achievement is exactly well placed. Which two freshmen at Harvard have arguably been most transformative of the world in the last 25 years? You can make a reasonable case for Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, neither of whom graduated.”

What if, as another Yale professor, William Deresiewicz, argued late last year in The American Scholar, leadership is something best nurtured in solitude?

Deresiewicz put it this way in his essay, “Solitude and Leadership:”

“So solitude can mean introspection, it can mean the concentration of focused work, and it can mean sustained reading. All of these help you to know yourself better. But there’s one more thing I’m going to include as a form of solitude, and it will seem counterintuitive: friendship. Of course friendship is the opposite of solitude; it means being with other people. But I’m talking about one kind of friendship in particular, the deep friendship of intimate conversation. Long, uninterrupted talk with one other person. Not Skyping with three people and texting with two others at the same time while you hang out in a friend’s room listening to music and studying. That’s what Emerson meant when he said that “the soul environs itself with friends, that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or solitude.”

This was the meaning of “friend,” before it became a verb.

Once, the world thought Harvard graduates were born great; today, we know Harvard graduates dream of achieving greatness. They dream of being leaders. Yet if we believe leadership is about the things literature tells us—like risks, and creativity—there is something to be said for solitude. And solitude is the opposite of networking. Maybe this will be the year we gave an Oscar to Aaron Sorkin and then spent some serious time offline, unlinked, and alone. We will still have friends. And we will possess a greater chance of being “transformative.” This is what we learned this year at Davos.


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