Hi and welcome back to Semafor Business.
There’s a stat in sports called “value over replacement player,” which quantifies how much better a starter is than his substitute. For much of the last decade, the business world’s VORP was incredibly low. Nearly every investment asset went up. So did corporate profits. Cheap debt juiced both. The result was that genuine talent and pluck were rarely rewarded.
It infuriated people who are, or think they are, smarter. It also encouraged groupthink; the easiest thing to do was to go with the flow.
This was on my mind because I’m writing this from the global capital of groupthink: the World Economic Forum in Davos. It’s not just that headline topics are squishily easy to nod along to — this year it’s “rebuilding trust” and, sure, yes, great — but that the consensus hardens into an intellectual cement by the end of the week. And it’s almost always wrong.
But we’re heading out of the low-VORP era in business. The past few years have brought real challenges for CEOs — remote work, hard money, reconstructed supply chains, and political controversies everywhere. I think we’ll start to see the pull of groupthink become a little weaker, and contrarianism start to pay off. Sure, the true gold rushes will still draw everyone (weight-loss drugs, for example) but a world that’s more fractured, risky, and dynamic affords leaders opportunities to zig instead of zag.
Just don’t expect them to start this week in the Alps.
I promise not to flood you with Davos coverage this week. If you want that, sign up here for our pop-up newsletter. But if you’re silently judging all of us from afar, here’s a story from Ben Smith and me that will get your blood boiling.