A Stagnant Economy, The Big Shift, The Great Disruption And The Meetings Industry

There’s something happening here,” says author Thomas Friedman referring to the spontaneous protests from Tel Aviv to Wall Street.

According to Friedman, we are witnessing seismic changes from two overarching narratives: The Big Shift and The Great Disruption. That coupled with the systemic challenges of our stagnant economy for the next decade could have a great impact on the meetings industry.

Stagnant Economy

Glen Hutchins, CNBC’s Squawk Box, Glen Hutchins, Federal Reserve Board member and co-CEO of Silver Lake says,

“You can’t solve a problem (the Recession) unless you understand it. You certainly can’t make predictions about something until you understand it clearly. Most of the people who are talking about the economy plunging off a cliff are the same people who, several months back, were expecting some cyclical rebound and recovery. Those people don’t understand the situation. We are not in a cyclical set of problems…What we are in is a long period of long-term low average growth.”

Hutchins believes that our economy is similar to being overweight and having diabetes. It will take long-term management before we become healthy again.

A Decade Of Weak Demand

According to Steve Denning,

“A change in life-style is also due for the private sector. Making money in this economy for the private sector, once they have cut costs to the bone, is going to be very difficult for companies practicing traditional management…A probable decade of weak demand will put a lot of traditionally managed companies out of business.”

In the past, companies facing decreased revenues have responded by cutting budgets, especially those for events, meetings and professional development. If the next ten years place a financial strain on corporations, are our annual meetings and conferences also going to face a weak demand? And are we prepared to make radical changes to our traditional meetings so that people feel they can’t miss our experience?

The Big Shift

The Power Of Pull authors John Hagel III and John Seely Brown feel that we are in the beginning stages of the Big Shift, the merging of globalization and information technology revolution.

“In the early stages, we experience this Big Shift as mounting pressure, deteriorating performance and growing stress because we continue to operate with institutions and practices that are increasingly dysfunctional …

The Big Shift unleashes a huge global flow of ideas, innovations, new collaborative possibilities and new market opportunities.

It calls on us to learn faster by working together and to pull out of ourselves more of our true potential, both individually and collectively.”

The Big Shift will have a tremendous affect on the traditional, one-way transfer of information at conferences. People will want to work collaboratively on issues and share ideas. They will want more time to problem solve together and less time devoted to being talked at from the podium.

The Great Disruption

The Great Disruption author Paul Gilding argues that our capitalistic growth-obsessed system is reaching financial and ecological limits.

“I look at the world as an integrated system, so I don’t see these protests, or the debt crisis, or inequality, or the economy, or the climate going weird, in isolation — I see our system in the painful process of breaking down…Our system of economic growth, of ineffective democracy, of overloading planet earth — our system — is eating itself alive.”

Gilding feels that the middle class is the one most impacted by the Great Disruption. He believes that the Great Disruption is inevitable but that humanity does its best during crisis.

If the middle class continues to see its household income fall and debt rise, will they keep attending annual meetings? If the corporation cuts budget for travel, meetings and professional development will individuals pay for the conference from their own wallets?

What’s Next?

Thomas Friedman thinks that we are witnessing both the Big Shift and the Great Disruption. The challenge for the meetings industry is to fully understand and prepare for a challenging economy.

What are some of the opportunities facing conference organizers and meeting professionals regarding the Stagnant Economy, The Big Shift and The Great Disruption? How can meeting professional prepare for unknown economic climates?

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  1. Since central to The Big Shift is enterprise’s alarming decline in Return on Assets, a huge drag on the economy and jobs, meetings industry leaders could play a significant role in urging organizations to raise the issue at their conferences, citing ways that companies can improve their ROA while also improving the economy. Hagel and John Seely Brown elaborate in The Power of Pull – as Friedman noted.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for adding that significant and critical way organizations can shift conferences strategies by using the power of pull! Excellent suggestion.

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