Higher resolutions for the future - Xynteo CEO, Osvald Bjelland's closing remarks at TPT Seattle 2019

24 Jun 2019

Introduction

Thank you, Rick, for your kind words and generosity of spirit. I have immensely appreciated working with you over the last three years. We all look forward to continuing to work with you and the Advisory Board as we move with enthusiasm towards our 20th anniversary in the Netherlands next year. Many thanks also to Janine for her ongoing support and for helping you make good decisions! Thanks to the exceptional diversity of backgrounds that we bring into this room, we have been able to see with higher resolution the enormous opportunities that we can unlock by leading with vision, bravery and conviction towards a reinvented growth model. We can see a tremendous power and a true hope when outstanding groups of people come together to focus on the biggest challenges at hand.

The fundamental idea – why I started The Performance Theatre

This sense of power and hope takes me back to why I first started The Performance Theatre. It was born out of one very simple idea: that critical debate and thought-provoking conversations are of enormous value, and that the world is a poorer and more dangerous place without them. As a young man in the office of the CEO of one of Europe's leading firms, I learned how an absence of true and honest conversation led to the downfall of that company – sending its market cap crashing from $35 bn to just $4 bn and putting the jobs and families of its thousands of workers at risk. We have also heard from Nathan Mhyrvold how conversation has been the engine room for growth here in the city of Seattle. Powerful conversation has also unlocked enormous progress for humanity at a global scale:

  1. For example, in 1944, conversations between government representatives at Bretton Woods led to the establishment of commercial and financial rules that hold to this day
  2. At the beginning of the 1990s, conversations between Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan led to the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall
  3. And in 2015, conversations between the world leaders in Paris led to a global climate agreement of unprecedented ambition

So, we have learned that powerful conversations can unlock great progress for people, organisations, cities and the global system. But there have been few times where these conversations have mattered as much as they do now. The Paris Climate Agreement was a step forward, but years of inaction has turned climate change into a climate emergency and we have just 12 years to fix the mess we have created. At the same time, our plastic problem has put us on a pathway to a world where there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. And our failure to eradicate poverty means 736 million people worldwide are still excluded from opportunities and life chances. Urgent debate about our common future is needed and it is so important that we create inspiring and safe spaces in which the right conversations can happen.

Looking back at the last 20 years of TPT

It has been so wonderful to spend the last 36 hours with you all here in Seattle – a city of protest and progress that shows so clearly why we need a new kind of growth in a changing world. This city means a lot to me personally – when my homeland, Norway, was at its poorest, many of my countrymen and women journeyed here in search of a new life, including some of my own family members! And when I hiked my way around at the rushing rivers, great mountains and evergreen forests this week, I was reminded so strongly of home. As this beautiful city drew breath after the World Trade Organisation protests 20 years ago, we were busy preparing for the very first TPT in Bergen, near my home town. And what a journey both Seattle and TPT have been on since then!

From our humble beginnings in Bergen, The Performance Theatre has played out in venues all over the world – from New Delhi, St Petersburg and London, to Beijing, Istanbul, Venice and Washington DC. In the early days, we focussed strongly on climate change and leadership for a low carbon economy. But we soon realised that the transition to a green and resilient economy is impossible without a wider transformation in our growth model – towards a model that works for the many, not the few, and is rooted in long-term thinking. In 2016, the election of Donald Trump and Brexit caught us by surprise, with causes that were invisible to us, and many, many others. And we realised then that we needed to disrupt ourselves by hearing the people sing, building movements to sustain change over time and looking at the world in a higher resolution.

I am personally so proud of what we have achieved together. In the last 5 years alone, we have brought together over 900 leaders from around the world. And we have established a deeply curious, forward-leaning and loyal community. Just look at the amazing people around you. Half of you in this room are great friends that come back to TPT each and every year – it is so wonderful to see you again. And the other half of you have provided us with a fantastic injection of fresh thinking – we truly hope that this is the beginning of a deep and long-lasting relationship with you. So, we have much to be proud of, but we have also learnt a lot along the way on this incredible journey. Next year, we will celebrate 20 years of the Performance Theatre, and, as we move towards that milestone, we as a team resolve to keep learning, keep listening and keep improving the way we deliver this wonderful experience to you all for the next 20 years!

Personal reflections on the last 20 years

One deeply important lesson that I have personally learnt over the last 20 years is the following: great business leaders are those that think of the world in terms of relationships, rather than transactions. It is through relationships with wonderful people that I grow and am challenged to think differently about the world and myself.

  • The Performance Theatre, for example, would have struggled to achieve all it has without long-term relationships with leaders like Rick, Jeremy Bentham, Paul Polman, Harry Brekelmans, Ajay Banga, Merit Janow, Jude Kelly, Yves Daccord, Lois Quam and many, many others.
  • I have also been inspired and challenged by many others from different walks of life. I think back to some of the people that I met at TPT in Singapore, for example, who helped me to peel back the lid on a highly competitive, slick society and appreciate that looks can be deceiving. I left that experience profoundly shaken by learning how individuals can suffer immensely from a system that is disconnected from a wider human understanding.

In gratitude to these experiences, and many, many others, I personally resolve to keep reminding myself of this lesson and continue to seek out and build relationships with people that teach, challenge and test me.

Looking ahead

Now, as we reach the end of the second decade of TPT, is also the time to think about the journey that lies ahead, and how we can use the first twenty years of TPT as a launchpad for our vision and plan for the next 20 years. 2020 marks the beginning of a big new chapter for us. Next year, we will be together in the Netherlands – a wonderful land of canals, architecture and art that is home to some of the world's most exceptional leaders, thinkers and companies. We couldn't be more excited about that. And I hope that you will resolve to continue the dialogue that we have had over the last 36 hours, and provide us with your feedback and suggestions for new leaders and potential partners for us to engage in the future.

I would now like to finish now by saying some thank yous. Firstly, to Maurizio, as our host in Seattle; our chairman Rick and the Advisory Board. Secondly, to all of you for spending your time with us and inspiring us so deeply. And finally, I hope you will all join me in giving a huge round of applause to Saya and the entire Xynteo team for a truly exceptional effort. We came as a collection of individuals, but we leave as a community, bound together by a shared experience and, I deeply believe, with more power to respond to the leadership challenges that lie ahead.