It’s hard not to feel important if you got 4,000 Swiss troops guarding the meeting you’re attending. Come to Davos, and you’ll feel the exclusivity in your bones.

The well-groomed soldiers look politely but steadily at you, your World Economic Forum (WEF) badge and your global leader demeanor.

Their gaze will follow you as you scurry in blistering cold between the hotels and the halls that all serve as conference venues.

Davos always has an annual theme, apart from the WEF’s mission of improving the state of the world. This year, Davos is in search of “Shared Norms for the New Reality”.

The 2011 meeting got underway today, with a flurry of digital and other media activity.

The WEF is big. On Google, an unbracketed search for the terms “World Economic Forum 2011” yielded 26.3 million results.

The WEF (@Davos) has 1.5 million Twitter followers.

BBC television, just to pick one news outlet that seriously covers Davos, will multiply that number.

Who knows how much newsprint will be spilled this week.

Digital denizens like the pundits writing in the Huffington Post add to the feeling that for five days, this is where it is happening.

The Davos reality itself isn’t all that new.

As late as 25 years ago, only a few dozen police officers provided security at the WEF. As the globalization protest movement began to target Davos, barbed wire, concrete blocks and well-armed soldiers became an integral part of the five-day event.

The prevailing sense of siege inside the security cocoon has been growing steadily, in parallel with the increase in the global tensions and imbalances which form the core of this year’s deliberations.

The exclusion creates a sense of community that adds to the feeling that in this skiing resort leaders have a rare opportunity to take stock in a frantic world.

The WEF’s own sense of threat is worth mentioning again. The global risk report talks about economic disparity and weaknesses in the global governance systems.

Inside the cocoon, by kick-off time on Wednesday, it always feels as if the egos have landed. News cameras click, television lights go on, practiced smiles flash across rooms and delegates set off for concentrated networking at a scale not seen anywhere else.

Reporters find their slots in the most uncomfortable, but also most sought-after, news center at this point in the annual calendar of “must-be-there” stories.

You can usually see journalists doing a gentle version of the courthouse step scramble to approach arriving participants for quotes and reflections on the year’s theme.

My local radio station – Swiss public radio – isn’t exactly known for rebellious reporting. But today the journalist clearly reveled in tripping up WEF participants in search of an easily understood explanation of the “shared norms” and the “new reality”. All failed.

How does the founder and chairman, Klaus Schwab, see it? In an article in Foreign Policy, co-authored with two other global thinkers, he says that international cooperation has stalled, and “we’re trapped in a debilitating paradox”.

“People around the world increasingly perceive their interconnectedness and interdependence” and see a “need for closer international cooperation. Yet governance, at all levels” is “struggling to adapt.”

(That’s helpful).

More multifaceted solutions are needed, says the article, than the current international architecture can provide. There are “structural gaps”. The “connections in the international system” require “rewiring”.

An information gap is making the life of regulators harder, because even when rules are adhered to, new risks develop and sudden chasms open that governments can close.

There is a lack of coherence, which makes different parts of the international system – such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and the International Energy Agency – pull in different directions.

Like many words coming out of Davos, these authors describe a “reality” at such a high level that no one can do anything about changing it – but anyone with a thesaurus and a point of view can build on such generalities.

And what, say Schwab et al, is the solution? Willpower, a multifaceted approach focusing as much on “the how” as “the what”.

So, more talk. Or, perhaps, once it lands in our world, more multi-stakeholder interactions.

(And for the 2011 Davos Rorschach blot, a phrase emerges – “the world is trapped in a debilitating paradox”. Bartender, make mine a double.)

Sorry. Seriously, among the verbiage the WEF usually manages to find truly sore spots to put the finger on. It seems likely this year’s conference will also – through the assembly of bright minds with agendas to push – point out a few home truths. And make some good connections.

By the way, my cost information yesterday was way off, if you plan to budget for Davos next year.

Correct figures courtesy of Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times:

Simple membership is 50,000 dollars, plus the 19,000 dollars conference fee. If you want to have access to industry peer events as an “industry associate”, your next-level membership costs 137,000 dollars (ticket price 19,000 still). An “industry partnership” (two delegate spots) costs 263,000 dollars. For the “strategic partnership” (five participants) the tag is 527,000 dollars.

So, if you can spare at least 69,000 dollars (plus travel and food costs) and the WEF thinks you’re important, you might be invited. Participation is by invitation only (unless, like me, your CEO asks you to help him and other colleagues spend 650,000 dollars by just tagging along).

Once in Davos, be prepared to say – with a straight face – things like “the world is trapped in a debilitating paradox”.

Bjorn Edlund
Retd EVP Communications, Royal Dutch Shell plc
Principal, Edlund Consulting Ltd.