Disparate Things That Connect

The value of attending an industry conference is the opportunity to see, hear, and experience—in person—the wisdom of interesting, intelligent people. Recently I heard the director of Blood Diamond, Ed Zwick, speak at the Rapaport Conference about the plight of Sierra Leone’s alluvial miners. Zwick made an impassioned case for the diamond community to dedicate a portion of diamond sales to rebuilding infrastructure in Africa.

At the CEO Summit in Atlanta, the audience was treated to stimulating keynote talks from Daniel Pink (author of A Whole New Mind) and management guru Tom Peters. Pink stressed the growing importance of creativity and design in today’s world and noted the emergence of more creative people in business. Along the same line, Peters cited Apple’s new iPhone as a product whose design was integral to its development. Perhaps of more importance to his thesis was the ability of Apple’s design and creative staff to put themselves in the shoes of consumers to identify features they would like—and then create those features.

Peters also regaled the audience with more than 30 quotations from a variety of speakers—from Charles Darwin to Jim Pennman (a cultural anthropologist) to Manny Garcia (an attendee at one of Peters’s other talks)—to support the points he introduced in his first book,In Search of Excellence. Peters made great sense blasting the MBAs of the world, decrying their penchant for finding 100 reasons to not pursue something. Peters argued for a return to the kind of business mantra characterized by Sam Walton’s “Be unafraid to fail.” Citing General Electric as the only Fortune 500 firm that has outperformed the market ever since Fortune magazine first published its list, Peters stated that people in business must be responsive to change in order to survive, let alone grow.

Peters and Pink both challenged the audience of retailers and manufacturers to stop attending so many meetings and start spending more time in the stores looking at the business with the customer’s eyes and in the customer’s shoes.

Peters finished his talk by urging the meeting participants—a group of predominantly white males over 50—to bring more women into leadership roles within the retail and the manufacturing sectors, because the nature of the market is a-changin’. Women will soon be responsible for 75 percent of economic activity, and they buy differently than men do.

Later in the day at dinner, Liz Chatelain, talking about the Sierra Leone situation, suggested two things that the jewelry industry could do for that country: Build a school and build a clinic. It is interesting how sometimes disparate things connect.