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The Seven Coolest Things About The Young Global Leaders Summit

I’m in Dalian China right now, participating in the “Summer Davos”. I was very fortunate to be able to spend the first few days with the Young Global Leaders community. About 350 of them came together to talk, plot, share and plan. I can honestly say I’ve never met such a diverse and fascinating group. It’s impossible to describe a “typical” YGL. Some are titans of industry, such as Dirk Hoke from Siemens. Others are leaders in the art world, like Yana Peel from Intelligence Squared Asia. There are scientists, explorers (yes, that’s his job title), political leaders, journalists, and social entrepreneurs. And the conversation is equally diverse. To give you a taste, here are seven of the most interesting things I learned during the YGL Summit:

  1. The best way to take meeting minutes is with an artist.The World Economic Forum organizers hired graphic artists to illustrate the meeting highlights (as they were being held) on giant white boards. It’s an amazingly effective way to capture what is interesting and important.

    This is how you take meeting notes.

  2. The only constant is change. This was best highlighted by Pan Haidong, the founder of, who said: “In 1945, only socialism could save China. In 1989, only China could save socialism. In 1999, only capitalism could save China. And in 2011, only China can save capitalism.”
  3. “Uncontrolled cellular growth is called cancer. Uncontrolled economic growth is also a cancer.” Again and again, the YGLs talked about the difference between growth and “quality growth”. Perhaps this was to be expected, given we were meeting in a city  of 6 million which hardly registered on the map only a few years ago.
  4. Our common denominator is the struggle to succeed at home and at work. The most frequent topic among the Young Global Leaders? How to do what you do and have kids, have a relationship, have a real family life. As one person put it: “If you don’t take care of yourself and you don’t take care of your family, any other success you have is meaningless.”
  5. Happiness is not just a booming economy. In economic growth discussions, it was remarkable how many people were aware of and supported Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness index.  I think even 5 years ago, this concept would be met with sniggers of derision. What changed? Maybe it’s the economy, or maybe it’s just this group. But everyone I spoke with or heard was more interested in creating a better world than in simply maximizing shareholder value.
  6. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. When I first heard this phrase, it was a complaint, an explanation of how good people are denied the opportunities they deserve. But one thing this group demonstrates is that this is also a maxim for good. Whatever you think you know, you’ll know more by partnering with others. Whatever you are capable of now, you’ll do more by cooperating with a larger group. Again and again, the YGLs have come together to build something bigger than themselves. Tablefor2, Global Dignity, De-worm The World, The Oath Project, MDG Pledges, Youth Effect. All of these were initiatives that happened because YGLs collaborated and used each others skills and networks to do extraordinary things.
  7. The Old Boy’s club is now co-ed and multicolored. It’s not enough anymore to be a white man from a good school. Looking around the room here, you see men and women from all over the world.  Sitting together are former political prisoners from Latin America, IT titans from Shanghai, and African oil entrepreneurs. They are making plans, sharing ideas, opening doors, and turning the old boy’s club on its head. It’s wonderful to see this revolution in action

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1 Comment

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