World Business Forum 2017: Day One


The words simplicity, change, agility and sleep may not seem as though they have anything in common, but delegates at this year’s World Business Forum in Sydney learned otherwise.

Day one brought together top thinkers from a diverse range of industries and experience to share their message for how businesses can adapt and move forward in times of constant disruption.


There is no such thing as simplicity

Ken Segall, Apple’s former ad agency creative director and author of Think Simple, kicked the morning off with his presentation on the importance of simplicity, not just in marketing but at all levels of a business – from products right through to culture.

But achieving simplicity is not actually as simple as it sounds. In fact, Segall said businesses need to devote a lot of their time to accomplishing simplicity, but at it’s core simplicity is about being authentic.

Segall talked about when Steve Jobs first returned to Apple in 1997, and the company was “days away from bankruptcy”. Apple needed to do something to stay afloat, but new products were months away.

They created the “Think Different” campaign as a way to tell people that Apple was alive and well, while they worked on creating a new product to bring Apple back from the brink: the iMac.

Segall said a key success of the iMac was that it removed consumers of the burden of too much choice. He compared Dell and HP, which have 26 and 41 models of laptops respectively to choose from, while Apple has just three.

And, of all available profit, Apple makes more than Dell and HP combined.

When Steve Jobs first returned to Apple in 1997, they made 20 distinct products and they were pretty mediocre at them all. The first thing Steve Jobs did was “kill virtually Apple’s entire product line”.

Jobs said Apple was going to make just four products and they were going to be world class, world leading products.

Segall also talked about the language of simplicity, which is best epitomised by Apple’s infamous ‘i’ products. He also talked about how simplicity should feature in how businesses name their products.

Products can change wildly, but their names should remain the simply the same, as with the MacBook, iMac, iPhone.  

We’ll leave you with one of Segall’s favourite quotes:

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to remove” – Antione de Saint-Exupéry


Ken Segall Former Ad Agency Creative Director, Apple
Ken Segall Former Ad Agency Creative Director, Apple

Think differently about your business model

Next was Rosabeth Moss Kanter, author of MOVE: Putting America’s Infrastructure Back in the Lead, which talks about how businesses need to think differently about their business model if they’re going to survive.

Nothing is consistent anymore, Kanter said – not how people watch TV, not how they travel, not how they communicate.

That’s why she stresses the importance of openness and flexibility in business strategies. In particular, she told the delegates to approach their business strategy like it was a piece of improvisational theatre.

Kanter used Verizon, the US telecommunications giant, as an example. June 27, 2007 was a day that, she said, would go down in Verizon history. It was the day the iPhone launched.

Verizon had passed on the opportunity to partner with the iPhone as the network carrier. Then, on June 27, one of Verizon’s top executives held the iPhone in his hand and said, “We have no idea how to do this”.

This story gets better. Verizon’s CEO eventually went to Google’s headquarters to pitch an idea: Partner with us in the next smartphone. Google agreed and, fortuitously, Motorola also came aboard. Together, Google, Verizon and Motorola created the Droid smartphone.

Kanter said it was openness and willingness to partner with other people that got Verizon through — to create what she calls an ecosystem made up of partnerships with plenty of internal and external stakeholders.

Now Verizon owns AOL and Yahoo! and have plans to move into creating their own content, because they’ve completely rethought their business model.


Rosabeth Moss Kanter Professor at the Harvard Business School
Rosabeth Moss Kanter Professor at the Harvard Business School

We live in a Lego block world

After lunch, Mohan Sawhney spoke about agile innovation, and how to create a start-up mentality within an established organisation.

Agile innovation is crucial, Sawhney said, because there’s little opportunity to invent something completely new. Technology today builds onto other, existing technologies – apps use mobile internet, existing mobile operating systems, and so on, to offer a new way to do travel (Uber) or communicate (Snap Chat).

“We’re living in a Lego block world,” Sawhney said. “All that matters now is creativity and execution.”

Sawhney, the author of six books – his most recent being Fewer, Bigger, Bolder: From Mindless Expansion to Focused Growth, which highlights the key components of agile innovation that he discussed with delegates today:

Structure: Organisations need to be “ambidextrous”, which means they’re able to hold two conflicting ideas about their business at once – protecting the existing business and maximising it, while disrupting it at the same time.

Process: Break the traditional “waterfall” method of innovation, by combing the entire process into one four-week loop, then test and adjust. You can do this by breaking down big projects into many smaller manageable ones.

People: Collaborative innovation is key. Organisations can no longer function as a silo. They need to function as an ecosystem – building on previous speaker, Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s theory of collaboration – that consists of research institutions, government agencies, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, innovation marketplaces, and so on.


Mohan Sawhney Professor at the Kellogg School of Management
Mohan Sawhney Professor at the Kellogg School of Management

Sleep more, work less

Finally, Arianna Huffington was the last speaker for the day, joining us by video link from Los Angeles due to a family emergency that prevented her from flying to Sydney.

Huffington is the author of fifteen books, but in her latest, The Sleep Revolution, she turned her attention to what she calls our “sleep deprivation crisis”.

“Ever since the first industrial revolution,” Huffington said, “we’ve been treating human beings like machines.”

Machines don’t need downtime, but humans and the human operating system, Huffington said, is not built like a machine: “The human operating system needs downtime.”

The importance of sleep featured prominently in Huffington’s presentation. She talked about how getting enough sleep is crucial to productivity and efficiency, and how it’s become embedded in the culture of many organisations around the world.

As algorithms, machine learning and artificial intelligence becomes more prominent in our working lives, creativity is going to become an incredibly valuable resource. Huffington said companies will need to bring on more creative people, because they will be the game changers, but nothing inhibits creativity more than sleep deprivation and burn out.

Her advice: Sleep more, work less.


Arianna Huffington Founder of the Huffington Post, founder and CEO of Thrive Global
Arianna Huffington Founder of the Huffington Post, founder and CEO of Thrive Global