Against the backdrop of the 33rd ASEAN Summit in Singapore last week, marking the final milestone of Singapore’s chairmanship of ASEAN in 2018 – OWP Singapore kicked off its knowledge-packed week for executives on November 19. The week opened with a keynote that inspired participants’ to challenge their thought maps with a lover of maps himself – Dr. Parag Khanna. The global strategist and author gave offered a triangle of perspectives – geopolitics, geoeconomics, geotechnology – which he argues is necessary for comprehensive strategic thinking in the 21st century. He guided us through the emerging global network of civilization in which mega-cities compete over connectivity more than borders. Dr. Khanna’s vision of 21st century conflict is a tug-of-war over pipelines and Internet cables, advanced technologies and market access.

Far from worrying about globalization, Brexit or even U.S - China trade wars, beneath the chaos of a world that appears to be falling apart in most people’s eyes, Khanna is optimistic and offers a view of a new foundation for business and society being pulled together by a different fibre of connectivity. He sees new roadmaps of trade, where the importance of the U.S is diminished and an opportunity for Asia to catch up to Europe in world trade. The evening session left us all with a creative burst of design thinking and a desire to celebrate the power of possibility over the dinner that followed.

In an earlier session today, we draw inspiration from Singapore being one of the most technologically-advanced nations in the world (it topped IMD’s World Digital Competitiveness Ranking last year). It provided a great setting for Prof Michael Wade to deep-dive with executives on a topic that is top-of-mind at every corporation on the planet – how to tap into technology and digital innovation to enhance business value? In a world of digital frenzy where companies big and small have become test-beds for apps they don’t need, AI powered technology they may not know how to apply, new online platforms their supply chains derive no value from, the Global Center for Digital Business Transformation, led by Prof Wade, focuses on the opportunities and threats for businesses in the era of all things digital, and has set out to separate the signals from the noise.

“What’s important to understand from all the noise is that it’s more about the transformation of a business, and much less about digital. In today’s increasingly digital world, strategy has never mattered less and execution has never mattered more,” Michael Wade explains.

In class, we take a look at the businesses most affected by digital disruption: Financial Services, Media, Retail, technology services – more b2c than b2b sectors seem vulnerable to this wave. The imbalance between the importance of digital vs. the competencies companies possess to address the need seems to show a huge gap across most regions and sectors. Perhaps a better way to respond to the disruption is to foster talent and capabilities towards being more innovative, adaptive to change, more agile – as much for an individual corporate leader as for a large company. It is with these core values highlighted by IMD that we close the first day in sunny Singapore. 

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