Did Davos Steal Its Theme From an Author Who Hates Davos?

The vague idea guiding this year's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, sounds a lot like another vague idea forwarded in Davos-hating Nassim Taleb's book Antifragile

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The big idea guiding this year's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland is "Resilient Dynamism." That might not mean much to rubes like us, who don't get invited to schmooze with other plutocrats and chat amicably about the state of global economy. But to the thought leaders who pay close attention to these summits, Davos 2013's vague headlining idea sounds a lot like another vague idea forwarded by Nassim Taleb. And if WEF organizers did in fact lift their theme from Taleb's work, we're guessing the author who famously hates Davos is none too happy.

As the author of The Black Swan, Taleb has been praised for predicting the banking collapse of 2008. Last year, he released a new book outlining his concept of "antifragility," which people chattering about Davos online pinpoint as the true intellectual origin of "resilient dynamism."

So how accurate is the meme that Davos stole their theme from Taleb? We won't pretend to speak with authority, but we will offer these two definitions up for comparison. In her review of AntifragileThe New York Times' Michiko Kakutani teases out this meaning of Taleb's term:

Mr. Taleb contends that we must learn how to make our public and private lives (our political systems, our social policies, our finances, etc.) not merely less vulnerable to randomness and chaos, but actually "antifragile" — poised to benefit or take advantage of stress, errors and change, the way, say, the mythological Hydra generated two new heads, each time one was cut off.

And the executive summary of this year's WEF offers this meditation on the concept of "resilient dynamism":

We live in the most complex, interdependent and interconnected era in human history—a reality we know as the hyperconnected world. This reality presents a new leadership context, shaped by adaptive challenges as well as transformational opportunities. Yet efforts to rebuild confidence and restore growth remain vulnerable to looming political and economic shocks. Indeed, there is no “risk-off” setting for the global economy, but leaders from the public and private sectors need to adopt a “risk-on” mindset to catalyse dynamic growth. Dynamism in this context requires successful organizations to demonstrate strategic agility and to possess risk resilience. 

We leave it up to you, patient reader, to determine whether or not Davos ripped Taleb off. But we should note that two parties involved have quite the contentious history. In 2009, Taleb attended the event and proceeded to tear into the banking industry with such vigor that he must've made many elite businessmen in the room nervous.

The following year he declined to attend the WEF, saying that he was sick of all the name dropping. Taleb has something of an ego, and he's not afraid to go on the record with his hatred for Davos regulars like Thomas Friedman (who is there again this year, ready to answer once and for all the question of whether or not democracy is winning). He wrote in Antifragile that when he last saw Friedman at Davos he felt literally nauseous, calling the New York Times columnist "vile and harmful."

Inset image: Charlie Rose

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