Six Things I Learned from the Top Leaders on Earth at the 2017 Synergy Global Forum


The greatest business minds on earth came together in the “business capital” of the world on October 27th and 28th at the 2017 Synergy Global Forum in New York City. Richard Branson, Jack Welch, Ray Kurzweil, Steven Forbes, Simon Sinek, Malcolm Gladwell, Simon Sinek, Gary Vaynerchuk, and even the real Wolf of Wall Street (Jordan Belfort), were amongst the cast that swept the stage. Hollywood actress Robin Wright also made an appearance in this movie-like performance of business heavyweights.

When the Instagram advertisement hit my screen in September, I knew I had to make moves to attend the event and get the inside scoop of what the most successful people in the world have on their minds. Despite going into the event with sky-high expectations, my expectations were exceeded and made me completely rethink the way I conduct business.

Here are the six most profound topics and insights that overlapped throughout the conference:

Change Your Mind

Guy Kawasaki, Simon Sinek, and Nassim Taleb all hammered this point home. As stubborn as Steve Jobs was, Kawasaki retold the story of how Jobs changed his mind one year after his decision to initially keep the Safari apps closed to developers on the iPhone. Nassim Taleb pointed out how Nokia, Tiffany, and Boeing started off as rubber, stationary, and lumber companies respectively – they all saw bigger opportunities and went all in. Simon Sinek spoke about the importance of having an open playbook that swiftly adapts to new market demands and keeps companies constantly innovating despite what their initial hypothesis was.

Stick to Your Original Purpose

Initially, this might seem contradictory to the first point but it focuses on the driving force of why a company exists rather than how it exists. This point was highlighted most by Steven Forbes who talked about how the 100-year-old Forbes magazine managed to remain true to its brand's long-standing mission of championing entrepreneurial capitalism while reinventing their medium, technology, and platform for the modern day audience. Forbes illustrated how Henry Ford went bankrupt twice before his biggest breakthroughs, and by sticking to his original purpose, he persevered. Simon Sinek, best known for his Ted Talk and author of “Start With Why,” spoke to building an infinite company that has a management team courageous enough to take any route necessary to get to a destination with a just cause.

The Art of Disruption in Education

Most speakers defined disruption as being able to make something more affordable and accessible to the masses. Modern day examples are Airbnb (travel), Canva (design), Khan Academy/YouTube (education), Netflix (movies), and Instagram (professional photo editing). Education was the most commonly spoken about industry that needs to be disrupted as Malcolm Gladwell, Jack Welch, Gerard Adams, Nassim Taleb, and Jordan Belfort all made explicit examples of how the system is currently skewed towards serving the elite rather than making great education available for a greater audience. For example, Malcolm Gladwell illustrated how the top 100,000 Ivey league students have close to half of the yearly education investment that goes to the rest of the 20 million students in America. The other angle of disrupting education was around the lagging curriculum that lacks teaching practical life skills that are true indicators of business success.

Find Your Gift the Hard Way Before Trying to Get Rich the Easy Way

Gary Vaynerchuk, marketing guru and best-selling author, focused his talk on how people look for shortcuts. He spoke to how people are betting on making money through trends without being patient first, and being brave to do things the right way even though it might be painful and slow at first. He specifically talked about how people are looking to cryptocurrency and being an Instagram influencer as flashy ways to make money when in reality, it’s much more difficult and volatile than meets the naked eye. When a recession hits, money will dry up for fads and it will wipe out entrepreneurs who are not deep domain experts in their field. Steven Forbes echoed this point by stating that the most common trend he sees with the richest people in the world are people who were patient to find their gift and passions before jumping into starting a business. The most common request Forbes gets from CEO’s hiring today’s recent graduates is for them to take a year off to teach English in a foreign country in order to build character, life experience, and passions they didn’t know they had.

The Winning Leadership Style of the Future

The people who got the most value out of this conference were arguably those who lead teams as almost every speaker spoke to the importance of owning this topic. Daniel Goleman, a pioneer of Emotional Intelligence, spoke to the importance of hiring people with high emotional intelligence and awareness for their environment, he broke these down into self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management (see graph below for their components). He also connected brain activity to performance by finding equilibrium between boredom and stress; managers need to challenge their staff’s best skill.

Jack Welch and Simon Sinek both spoke about designing staff incentives and evaluation processes that encourage risk-taking and long-term thinking. Welch emphasized how managers need to inspire change in an organization by highlighting how it’ll make the employees lives better, not just the company’s bottom line. Sinek zoned in on how managers need to reward the process rather than the results. Sales quotas reinforce behavior that promotes short-term results rather than also looking at the entire process. They need to reward people who are thinking outside the box with risky new initiatives with a longer sales cycle time but a much larger payoff potential.

Sir Richard Branson spoke to the importance of making staff members feel comfortable at work either by wearing whatever they want, or working from wherever they please, as long as it’s within reason. Not only do people need to feel at home when at work, but Jack Welch reinforced how work needs to feel like a place where people are more excited to be than at home.

Important Trends to Pay Attention to

The next way to connect and engage with customers at scale is through SMS. Both Bonin Bough and Ryan Leslie have innovated the category with the book “Txt Me” and startup, SuperPhone respectively. The open rate is higher, the personalization is much higher, and in turn, people take more action.

2020 is when Ray Kurzweil, Futurist and Director of Engineering at Google, predicts that 3D printing and VR will truly take off. He also predicted that in twelve years, life expectancy would start to outpace aging (i.e As we age by a year, our life expectancy will grow at a rate higher than one extra year).

Richard Branson, Nassim Taleb, and many other speakers are believers in the continued decentralization of education and currencies. Richard Branson also hopes that in his lifetime, he will be able to send 500 people a day into space (which would be the same as how many people have currently been there ever).

Venture capitalists, alongside companies’ hiring and training budgets, will heavily invest into mindfulness and emotional intelligence as technology continues to force the workforce to re-invent their skills and block out distractions.

The value of seeing the greatest business minds on earth at a conference is that they were able to reinforce insights and learnings that you may or may not have heard about, through their unique experiences. A lot of this information is online; however, without consuming it in a live and curated fashion where you are highly present and energized, few people will connect the dots and take action. As an entrepreneur, this experience helped me reprioritize the trends I take seriously, and the mindset I use in empowering my team to innovate and execute on a daily basis.

Synergy Global 2017

If you are interested in diving more into my insights from the conference, email paul(at)tangoo(dot)ca for the full closed notes of all the speeches.