- May 7 2015
On Tuesday afternoon, six thought leaders from a range of fields presented a series of “Quality of Life Talks": dynamic, sometimes provocative speeches lasting around 10-15 minutes and delving into each of these dimensions.
The talks started with French paleoclimate scientist Jean Jouzel, a Nobel co-laureate, who addressed the effects of climate change on our future well-being, with consequences such as rising sea levels, reduced biodiversity, and lower crop yields. He insisted on the need to make major changes if we are to mitigate these effects. “We cannot stop global warming, the best we can do is to limit it, ” he said.
After Jouzel talked about the climate’s effect on people and the planet, Susan Greenfield addressed technology’s impact on our brains. She said the human brain adapts to the environment, and in this new digital world, “The human brain is going to change in an unprecedented way, both good and bad.” Already it is modifying the way we relate to others, as we can shop, work, date, and play games without ever seeing another human being. “You can’t just download understanding,” she noted.
Greenfield said that when we have a strong sense of who we are, a sense of fulfillment, and a notion of how we can be useful to society, we can harness technology instead of becoming slaves to it.
Ricardo Semler then shared his radical approach to employee recognition. The president of Semco, a family company in Brazil, Semler maintains that traditional incentives such as raises and job titles are tired and outdated. “We’re stuck in the rut of an obsolete system,” he said.
For the past 32 years, he has been running his company using a completely different model. He gives his staff total freedom to choose their work hours, vacation time—even their salaries. His human resources department consists of a single person.
He calls his management strategy “Semco-style,” and it works: his company has experienced superlative growth despite tough economic conditions. And his staff seem to like his approach, too—Semco’s employee turnover is only around two percent.
Next up was American economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett, who founded the Center for Talent Innovation, a nonprofit think tank that helps global companies take advantage of new talent streams. She spoke about the immense value of having women at the top of companies, as well as the spending power of female consumers. “The biggest emerging market in this world is not China…it’s women,” she said.
One solution to gender imbalance, Hewlett said, is sponsorship. While mentoring is nice, it’s not enough. “The silver bullet in terms of actually getting diversity in leadership is not endless training, trying to ‘fix’ the minorities. It’s sponsorship.”
Women are not the only overlooked group in the corporate world. Jean Paul Gladu, CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB), focused on Aboriginals in his talk on local communities. As a member of the Sand Point First Nation, Gladu said that Aboriginals have long been excluded from the country's economic activity. Now things are changing, for the shared prosperity of all.
He said that Canada’s Aboriginals have created 36,000 highly competitive small businesses. As big corporations are starting to form sustainable partnerships with these businesses, Aboriginals are helping to drive revenues—and everyone’s profits are growing. But Gladu said there’s still room for improvement: “The number of minorities on corporate boards has a long way to go.”
Finally, from Medellín, Colombia, Juan Camilo Quintero, CEO of the Ruta N Corporation, tackled the topic of space management. Medellín used to be a hotbed of drug trafficking and violence. But in recent years city planners have completely transformed its physical, economic, and social landscape.
With the participation of citizens and private partners, they have put new schools in poor neighborhoods, made a university campus from a former prison, and connected districts using cable cars and escalators. Today Medellín stands out as a model for urban development. This year, it dropped off the list of the 50 most violent cities in the world.
These Quality of Life talks were a launch pad for a deeper exploration of these six dimensions in the panel discussions that followed.
Discover all the highlights.
How do we begin to define Quality of Life? Day One of the world’s first conference on the topic set out to answer that question by studying six dimensions where Quality of Life can have a positive impact on people’s well-being and an organization’s performance.
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