The St. Gallen Handbook is a project which brought together a group of former student participants and is dedicated to the 30th St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award. It presents a framework on bringing brilliant ideas into practice with the aim to become a useful resource for other aspiring personalities and alumni St. Gallen Symposium participants.
The St. Gallen Symposium is a global gathering of Leaders of Today and Tomorrow that takes place annually in May at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. It is organised by the International Students’ Committee (ISC), a team of students from the university. The goal of this student initiative is to provide a setting for relevant debates between Leaders of Today and Tomorrow on topics of management, politics and civil society. Further information about the symposium is available on the official website.
It is the Leaders of Tomorrow who make the St. Gallen Symposium unique. Young, inspirational and ready to embrace the world from their own point of view, the Leaders of Tomorrow come from a truly global background. Students are required to show their skills in a demanding essay competition – the St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award – and the top hundred contributors are invited to St. Gallen. A further hundred Leaders of Tomorrow are hand-selected from a rich pool of young researchers, politicians, managers and entrepreneurs who have already proven their skills in their respective fields.
Over the past years, former Leaders of Tomorrow have been building a global community to stay connected and to drive intellectual exchange and year-round initiatives. The St. Gallen Symposium actively keeps the community connected, and regularly gathers members not only via online platforms but also at small events around the globe. Members of this community even return to the St. Gallen Symposium every year in new capacities. They act as speakers, moderators and bridge builders between generations and support the ISC in specific projects related to the promotion and development of the St. Gallen Symposium.
Professor of Entrepreneurship
...launched her successful academic career at the 27th St. Gallen Symposium and continuously encourages her students to participate in the St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award.
The FairCap Project
...student participant at the 28th St. Gallen Symposium. He is Social Entrepreneur and Founder of FairCap.
Founder & CEO
... is Founding President of IMANI Centre for Policy and Education, a think tank of global repute dedicated to the promotion of the institutions of a free society across Africa. The idea for IMANI came up during his participation at the 31st St. Gallen Symposium.
Media Help Line
...has been working as a TV journalist for the past 15 years and is a driving force behind the recently formulated Risk Reduction and Management Act in Nepal as a consequence of his participation in the 42nd St. Gallen Symposium under the topic “Facing risk”.
... launched an initiative to help young people in Europe during a time of youth unemployment after attending the 39th and 41st St. Gallen Symposium.
...founded Choson Exchange, an organization that has driven positive change by introducing over 8000 North Koreans to entrepreneurship and startups as a result of his participation at the 40th St. Gallen Symposium.
Tata UniStore Limited
...attended the 41st and 42nd St. Gallen Symposium and works for TataCliq.com one of India’s up and coming e-commerce venture.
..is a social entrepreneur committed to prevent abuse and promote mental health. She attended the 45th St. Gallen Symposium
We hope you enjoyed our template for making brilliant ideas work which encompasses seven components: personal values, vision statement, resource requirements, psychological capital, communication, action plan, and the mitigation of decision-making biases.
After seeing several of our communities' outstanding ideas coming into action in the last years, we look forward to inspiring many more in the future. Which will be the next success story? Become part of this initiative by sharing your brilliant ideas.
Should you have any questions regarding our initiative or the St. Gallen Handbook on how to make brilliant ideas work, do not hesitate to contact us.
Thank you again for supporting us!
Your International Students’ Committee
Individuals can generate an almost unlimited set of potential options for their future careers and endeavors; however, not all paths are equally attractive. An important first step is to identify and really clarify your values, not only now but also in the future by articulating your values in the first column. Remember that these are your values – not those of your parents, mentors, or others. In this process, you must really think hard about: what does success look like to you now and down the road? Next, you will weigh the importance of each value; for example, you may place more or less importance on financial success as compared to a personal mission. As a next step, in each column, you can briefly describe each option, and expand the table as needed to capture the many options available to you. For each option, attempt to place a value- quantitative and/or qualitative- that you might hope to achieve. The final step of this first template is to examine your values’ corresponding importance and ability to achieve across options. You want to focus on options that satisfy your most important personal values.
An illustration of the values matrix is Geoffrey See of Singapore who - like so many St. Gallen attendees over the years - faced a number of possible future career paths before pursuing his personal passion for helping North Korea and subsequently establishing a nonprofit to teach entrepreneurship in North Korea. See believed that gradual social and economic transition is the best path for North Koreans, in contrast to other NGOs/governments’ preferences to collapse North Korean institutions.
In our conversations with St. Gallen attendees, we learned that very few implemented the original brilliant idea. Successful implementers often roadtested their original underlying assumptions about a potential service/product and modify, seeking out “devil’s advocates” who would actively challenge their ideas, and incorporate the (sometimes painful) feedback from potential customers, funders, and other stakeholders. We offer a template for examining some of the most common decision-making bias heuristics and then highlighting a potential scenario in which this brilliant idea might be biased. As next steps, you develop and implement necessary action steps as well as brainstorm means to counteract such biases in the future. These potential bias heuristics include utilizing non-statistically significant samples in which to test your ideas. As an example, a brilliant idea should be piloted on the target market for that brilliant idea, and not a convenience sample of friends and family who are often positive about one’s ideas but really aren’t close to the market. As each individual is a culmination of what he/she experiences, reads, sees, etc., then you must go beyond this idiosyncratic past experience and consult others, including potentially incorporating a formal devil’s advocate in the decision process. A second potential bias is sunk cost in which an individual may continue to put his/her time and money into a project even after there is disconfirming evidence. This is an unfortunate scenario when an individual may fail to incorporate the feedback from the above-mentioned communication plan, or when the competitive environment has changed or your internal capabilities have diminished. A third potential bias is an individual’s overconfidence in our ability to solve problems, and belief that one can identify the best alternative early on—that is, “we don’t know what we don’t know.” As an example, an individual might cling to the first information and guestimates. He/she might also have a confirmation bias in terms of looking for evidence that supports these views, and then possess this illusion of control in terms of an enduring faith in his/her own skills. This category of biases also incorporates information volume where an individual might believe that quality equals quantity. To mitigate, you must adapt a critical external view which is not biased from prior relationships and seek out more diversity in discussion and active debate. A successful entrepreneur will consider a range of possibilities and focus on quality and quantity, and integrate worst case scenarios. A fourth bias occurs when bad news does not filter up. It may be that the entrepreneur (and his/her organization) has inadvertently created a culture where failure is considered career-ending, rather than as a learning opportunity. This manifests in an organizational culture which rewards communication of good news over the bad news upward, and enables the afore-mentioned blindspots to filter up. To mitigate, you must build a culture of transparency, performance-based appraisal, manage expectations, and cultivate an open dialogue.
One example of uncovering potential biases in decision making and working around them is demonstrated in St. Gallen participant Kamil Mroz’s work in tackling youth unemployment in Europe. Kamil determined that prior youth employment efforts failed due to the lack of bringing potential employers together with potential youth employees to have thoughtful and engaged conversations about future work. As an illustration, Kamil organized a job fair in which young people could receive real-time feedback on their résumés and skills, and then incorporate this feedback to better prepare.
We live in a world of ideas, many of which are potentially ‘brilliant’ and could lead to real change if effectively implemented. At the annual St. Gallen Symposium, hundreds of decision maker of today and tomorrow gather to exchange ideas and pursue their implementation. In this 48th year, the organizing team of the International Students Committee brought together a group of former student participants to share their stories and build a framework of principles for what it takes to put excellent ideas into action. Drawing on the team’s collective entrepreneurial experiences in their start-ups and corporate venturing, and also leveraging insights from other St. Gallen attendees, the St. Gallen Handbook for Making Brilliant Ideas Work framework encompasses seven components: personal values, vision statement, resource requirements, psychological capital, communication, action plan, and the mitigation of decision-making biases. We hope that this framework will be a useful resource for other aspiring and alumni St. Gallen Symposium participants bringing their brilliant ideas into practice.
Once you establish that your idea satisfies your personal values and set your vision, the next step is to determine resource requirements and brainstorm pathways to an acquisition. That is, to bring a brilliant idea to reality, you must acquire and utilize both tangible and intangible resources. While you might personally possess at least some critical resources, most will need to acquire resources through connections. We suggest a potential template in Table 3 where you first determine what resources you require in the form of human, social, financial, physical, intangible, or other capital. As a next step, you brainstorm how you might acquire this capital. For example, if you need to acquire some new knowledge, can you access it through a book, website, or course or might you need to connect with an individual with extensive previous knowledge, and how might you find this individual?
As an illustration, during her first St. Gallen Symposium, Wings of Excellence Winner Ashwini Vanishree formed the brilliant idea to prevent sexual abuse of women and children across India. To achieve her dream, Ashwini needed to reach hundreds of thousands of women across India, and engage hundreds of volunteers to conduct workshops. In one of the projects she did for an organization called SKDRDP, rather than trying to build this massive network from scratch, Ashwini trained district coordinators of Self Help Group communities which drive financial inclusion for women to get the word out to over several lakhs of women in communities, with these district groups’ coordinators conducting the workshops.
To bring a brilliant idea into action, an entrepreneur’s sixth step involves employing a table of actions. While this staging of activities can be particularly complex as the organization grows, initially we recommend a quite simple template to craft an action plan. First, you must articulate the outcome in as specific and measurable a target as possible. Your plan should set an individual (or individuals) responsible as well as an achievable deadline. You should also identify some potential early warning signs of failure which can then be monitored.
An illustration of a successful action plan is St. Gallen participant Jagdish Kharel, a TV presenter in his native country Nepal. In Nepal, one of the world’s most natural disaster-prone countries, floods and earthquakes claim thousands of lives each year. Although many perceive these disasters as inevitable, Jagdish was inspired to craft an action plan which involved lobbying politicians and organizing communities to establish an Early Warning System to prevent the loss of human lives. Sustained advocacy and the media spotlight eventually led to legislative and political action, thereby creating Nepal’s National Disaster Management Agency which enforces the building code and regular updates to citizens via SMS. One of Jagdish’s key innovations is to bring politicians and other change makers onto his weekly talk show, Hot Seat, where they discuss the issues and each change maker signs his/her commitment to meeting a goal.
Once you decide on a path, it is critical to set a vision for what your path will really look like and the desired outcomes. Vision in a very short statement of intent that drives or commits individuals and entities to achieve certain outcomes. This second framework towards making brilliant ideas work requires you- as an entrepreneur- to articulate a compelling vision that inspires you and others. That is, just as the focal entrepreneur can pursue many possible paths, his/her team and stakeholders also have a world of available options. This vision statement serves as the backdrop for the strategies used to achieve the desired outcomes. A good vision answers a series of questions, focusing on what is in scope (yes) as well as out of scope (no). As an example, you will need to determine what the goal is, as well as what is not in scope as a goal.
As an example, following his participation at the St. Gallen Symposium as a student, Franklin Cudjoe founded Ghana-based non-profit IMANI with the vision: “To be the most influential think-tank in Africa, promoting peace and prosperity through rigorous research analysis and advocacy, and commitment to educating society on the benefits of a free economy and policy issues concerning business, government and civil society.” IMANI is sub-Saharan Africa’s second most influential think tank, ranks in the world’s top 100 think tanks and works with a range of like-minded organizations. IMANI leadership constantly contend with the challenge of whether to say or no to a range of potential value propositions, for example including a deal to sell 50% of IMANI to large multinational firm in exchange for 50% board memberships which was ultimately rejected due to a lack of perceived fit with the organization.
Our fifth framework harnesses the power of for communicating brilliant ideas to others. In sharing our stories, we developed a template for how you can identify communication audiences (both internal and external) and their perceived awareness of your idea. You can then determine the desired action and corresponding messages to share, including delivery methods and frequency over time. We encourage you to rehearse your “pitch” to others in a way that communicates the product/service offering and its benefits, and motivates listeners to want to help. In many cases, this pitch might involve some factual data points, emotional stories, and sometimes even a demonstration of the potential for success of the idea. Brainstorm and pilot the many possible means of getting a message to others. At some stage, invested audiences can also serve as communicators and evangelists of the product/service offering.
One example is former St. Gallen Wings of Excellence winner Mauricio Cordova of Peru who most recently built a water filter that can sort dirt and other toxins, when deposited into a water bottle. Mauricio left a well-paying job with a Fortune 500 company in Europe and visited the rainforest back home in South America - an experience that shaped his personal mission to making safe, affordable drinking water available to everyone. Although Mauricio had no technical expertise, his zeal drove him to communicate with a variety of global experts whom he convinced to help him build and test product prototypes. In parallel, Mauricio entered and won several competitions to provide funding. Most recently at St. Gallen, Mauricio demonstrated his water filter device when meeting attendees and initiated conversations with potential partners such as UN leaders.
Since 1989, students from all around the world have sent essays trying to qualify for a chance to attend the St. Gallen Symposium. Thirty years later, the St. Gallen Symposium reached a milestone having successfully invited more than 4,500 students to Switzerland and sparked an uncountable number of original ideas. To celebrate this anniversary, eight former essays finalists were invited back to the symposium to share their stories and how they successfully implemented ideas and project inspired by their time in St. Gallen. Find below a video documentation featuring three former participants, all of whom have been able to implement their ideas in their community and far beyond.
Franklin Cudjoe (GH) founded Imani Centre for Policy and Education, the most influential Think Tank in Africa, as a way of responding to the people’s needs and helping government solve pressing social issues.
Ashwini Natajara Vanishree (IN), Founder and Director of the Muktha Foundation, fights the stigmas around mental health in low-income countries.
Following the wave of natural disaster that hit Nepal, Jagdish Kharel (NP), a Television Journalist from Nepal, made his priority to raise awareness on Disaster Risk Reduction. He went to the people most affected by such disaster and spread prevention which started receiving recognition from the diverse government levels until the Parliament passed the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act.
All of them are proof that a brilliant ideas can change lives and help society work towards a better future. The St. Gallen Handbook for Making Brilliant Ideas Work was thus created to inspire the generation to come with their essays and present the participants with insights on the Leaders of Tomorrow’s original ideas. The former winners took great pleasure in teaching to and sharing their ideas with the participants and enjoyed reliving their past experience as Leaders of Today this time.
In addition to human capital, social capital, financial capital, and other resources, you will need psychological capital in order to bring your idea into action. In the context of entrepreneurial endeavors, psychological capital comprises those resources and strengths an individual possesses in order to conceptualize, implement, and sustain an entrepreneurial idea. Although you may be armed with a vision that meets your values and some idea of how to make difficult resource acquisition decisions, you may also face a variety of challenges related to the need to think creatively and critically and employ problem-solving and decision-making abilities. Psychological capital describes this empathy, grit, resilience and other inner strength when facing frustration and failure. One means of developing psychological capital is the stress inoculation method which is similar to the principle of vaccination in which a mild dose of the virus or bacteria is introduced to the body over a period of time to build immune response within the body. In practice, you should think about an unfavorable scenario that may occur way before it has presented itself in reality and how you might react. Individuals who can imagine the problem and experience stress in milder form can then develop and employ strategies to deal with the potential reality. In this way, you can be prepared to deal with any circumstance and inoculate yourself from stress and anxiety.
An illustration of the stress inoculation method can be found in St. Gallen participant Sidharth Srinivasan who, together with his online retail team at TataCLiQ, encountered several failed feature launches and failed brand launches. To inoculate himself against further stress of running a fledgeling business that encountered a variety of sometimes seemingly insurmountable challenges, Sidharth put himself in the mindset of his customers. He initiated more frequent and direct communication with customers through visits, WhatsApp, and customer service calls. These actions not only offered insights into the business but also built a loyal set of customers who serve as ambassadors.
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