Thursday, December 22, 2011

Welcome to the New, Flat World

Thomas Friedman, political journalist--turned 21st century philosopher, brings us his thought-provoking thesis on globalization in this video from MIT. 
I've read several chapters of his revolutionary book, The World is Flat, as well as most of another, The Lexus and the Olive Tree.


 
In an Information Systems for Business course I took last semester, I was challenged to think about the following questions while listening to Friedman's lecture. These are themes I'd been periodically mulling over for a while, so I welcomed this opportunity to draw a few conclusions and support them with anecdotes from my own experience.

What does a flattened world mean for you as a student looking for employment in the near future? 
A flattened world puts each of us as individuals in direct competition with the rest of the world for jobs. As Thomas Friedman mentioned, everything can be (and is being) outsourced.
Radiology screening and x-ray analysis, tax returns, manufacturing, customer service – these are all examples of industries that have massive workforces in countries other than the one in which they deliver product and provide services. My generation is thus tasked with developing some kind of competitive advantage, something that will set us apart from the millions of people who may offer to do our job for half (or even 1/10th) the paycheck. A student or recent grad going into an interview should ask him/herself: Why should this person hire me instead of someone in India, Mexico, or Thailand? What are all the skills that I bring to the table, and how can I expand and develop these? We will have to sell ourselves as the complete package, or at least “good enough” in a variety of areas in order to compete with workers in other countries who have only one area of expertise.

    What can you, as a student, do to prepare for a flattened world?
    I was intrigued by Friedman's remark that the only way we will thrive, going forward into the workforce, is to develop two or more specialties and apply one to the other. This is a shout-out to the well-rounded individual – a call for versatile, flexible, and adaptable employees. I came to this same conclusion myself several years ago, when I moved to Brussels, Belgium. During the twelve months that I lived and studied in Belgium, I learned French fluently and through that experience discovered that my entire knowledge base had virtually doubled in size – simply because now I could
    communicate it all in two languages. Having returned this autumn from eight months in Russia/Ukraine, I now speak Russian competently and am thrilled to be able to apply these language skills to my knowledge and work experience in the arena of politics and business. As I complete my thesis based on research in the former Soviet Union, I find it invaluable to be able to communicate with researchers, academics, and business contacts in Russia and Ukraine – in their native language, of course. And my interaction with others is becoming more horizontal (as opposed to vertical), just as Friedman stresses that it must. I don't have to go through a translator, or even a professor. Thanks to email, I can send a note off to the provost, dean, and even president of Russian universities, introducing myself and proposing research collaboration. This is just one example, but I think that it is a prime illustration of Friedman's message put to action.

     
    What role will technology play in a flattened world?
    If the world is now super-wired, connected, horizontal, and ruled by communication, then technology is key. It does, and will continue to be, instrumental in doing everything from keeping in touch with family and friends to completing business transactions. As humans, our most precious commodity is time, so any technology that can increase productivity, speed up transactions and free up time will be embraced and utilized in our every-day life. In my opinion, it is imperative for students to become fluent in the language of technology; to be able to manipulate – and even create - programs and platforms to meet their unique and changing needs.
    I'd like to bring in Friedman's point about imagination becoming the ultimate competitive advantage and note that today's ever-advancing technologies allow us to more aptly and more quickly realize every facet of our imagination than ever before. There is almost nothing that cannot be created these days – electronically and virtually, if not physically. If you can dream it up, it can become a reality. Or so it seems. The West is irrevocably dependent on technology and there's no going back. A successful student will be one that recognizes this and prepares him/herself to thrive in a career dominated by technology. 

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