During 26 and 27 September over 7,500 CEOs, founders and C-level executives from the Nordic countries gathered in Helsinki for the 2018 edition of the Nordic Business Forum (@NBForumHQ). Without any doubt, the main star of the event was the 44th President of the U.S., Barack Obama (@BarackObama), who wrapped the event with a congenial conversation with Skype co-founder and now Atomico CEO Niklas Zennström (@nzennstrom). Seemingly fatigued but charismatic as ever, Mr. Obama was clear in his messages: The world has more positive than negative going on; Young leaders are international, open and innovative but have to be given space and power to lead; and the changes begin within every family, with respectful relationships with our spouse and kids. “Be kind and generous in your spirits” Obama asked us in a world-leaderly way.

Humane, sophisticated and warm were the words that would best describe Obama in his appearance. But the same messages were present also in other #NBForum2018 lectures. The event was woven across three themes – strategy, peak performance, and artificial intelligence – that might give boredom shivers to anyone (like me) not so fond of traditional business and tech jargon. However, many of the leading thinkers in the world emphasized the social, cultural and personal dimensions of people doing every-day business, and called for deeper understanding of the human mind and soul. Music to my ears – but also a new way to embrace business sustainably!

Co-Founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, John Mackey has walked the talk for 40 years as a champion of what he called “conscious capitalism”. However – surprisingly enough – respect, freedom, collaboration and other principles mistakenly overlooked as so-called “soft values” surfaced repeatedly also in other talks during these two days.

On one hand, researcher James Hewitt (@jamesphewitt) from Hintsa Performance (@HintsaPerform) invited leaders to organize work taking into account people’s natural rhythm and respect the much-needed breaks and rest, announcing that wellbeing is set to become a business value of strategic importance. On the other hand, in his energetic and straightforward presentation, LSE Professor Gary Hamel called company executives to promote more freedom and transparency, increased peer-to-peer support and renewed values, some of which have long been underrated in “hard business”. Shouldn´t joy, wisdom, beauty and love be at the core of any company?

One of my favorites was Canadian Dan Tapscott (@dtapscott), who gave a highly orchestrated, amusing and comprehensible speech about blockchain and the new models it drives not only in business and the physical environment, but also in society as a whole. Especially eye-opening were his insights on the opportunities of blockchain technology in countries where corruption and inequalities have eroded trust and human networks. For a while I have been digging into blockchain technology and the principles behind it, but until now I hadn´t heard such a touching and inspirational talk about something so complicated for the human mind to figure out. Too often blockchain is understood merely as new technology, when it’s really about the trust and collaboration that drives that tech. Don’s and his son’s Alex’s book Blockchain Revolution will definitely be next on my reading list.

As in all events, some presentations were dull and underestimated the collective experience and notable expertise of Nordic business executives. However, which I find more concerning was the extreme bias towards the US. I recognize most management studies, analyses and literature focus on US-turned-global firms (sometime during the first day I stopped counting how many times I´d heard Amazon, Apple, Google, Uber, and Airbnb), but I find it lazy and lacking of imagination not to come up with interesting cases and practices from other parts of the world! The examples used are the ones highly-skilled and traveled executives are already familiar with, and an event like this could open the door for new knowledge.

Also, out of 13 speakers only three (yes, three!) were women: Quiet-author Susan Cain (@susancain), who reminded us about introverts’ strengths and challenges, and their contribution to the business world; Social psychologist Amy Cuddy (@amyjccuddy) whose message on body language can be summarized as “fake it until you become it”; and Harvard-lecturer Sheila Heen who delivered some tips to better handle difficult relationships at workplace. Fortunately, in 2019 the speaker line-up promises to be more gender-balanced. Now the young and fab NBForum organizer team still has the chance to bring some geographical and cultural diversity into one of the biggest business executive event in the Nordics.