Don't fall off the edge

Anybody who has read what I’ve posted to FISpace will know
that globalization is a preoccupation of mine. So it’ll come as no surprise
that I immediately snatched up Thomas Friedman’s new book, The World Is
Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century
I’d put this one on my
“must-read” list for young careerists, parents, organization leaders…well, just
about anybody.

It’s a hefty tome and I’m not going to try to summarize it
all. Instead I’d like to focus on an aspect of Friedman’s perception that fits
in with another theme I’ve commented on: the person-to-person (P2P) world
created by digital, networked communications technology.

You’d expect a book on globalization to talk a lot about
competition between big national economies like the US, China and India, and
about big corporations jockeying for position in the global economy and
struggling with rapidly changing conditions. The World Is Flat has all
of that, but what I found unique about it is that it also beings the changes
and the challenges right down to the level of the individual. The revolution
that has occurred—the present perfect tense, not the future—is as much one of
empowerment of the individual as it is of the bigger forces.

Friedman starts by identifying trends—“flatteners” in his terms—that
have changed the world from a small but round globe a few years ago to a much
more level playing field that puts your competitors or collaborators, depending
on how you look at it, virtually right next door no matter where they live on
the planet. The flatteners include things like outsourcing, offshoring,
in-sourcing, supply-chaining and a couple of others. But the one that gets my
attention is “in-forming.” In-forming is where individuals, if so motivated,
can gather the knowledge, skills, and relationships to empower themselves with
a speed, ease, flexibility and effectiveness not seen before. People are
finding ways to link up with others and create value or organize action where
no source existed before.

Here’s the way Friedman explains in-forming:

In-forming is the individual’s personal analog to
open-sourcing, outsourcing, in-sourcing, supply-chaining, and offshoring.
In-forming is the ability to build and deploy your own personal supply chain—a
supply chain of information, knowledge, and entertainment. In-forming is about
self-collaboration—becoming your own self-directed and self-empowered
researcher, editor, and selector of entertainment without having to go to the
library or the movie theater or through network television, In-forming is searching
for knowledge. It is about seeking like-minded people and communities.

In-forming is a set of skills you need to navigate around
the flattened world, maybe like learning the street smarts of the big city.
You’ve got to sense the significance of in-forming and put in the time to make
it work. Moreover, it’s one of those continuous learning situations. The tools
and resources of the internet and digital technology are a work constantly in
progress. Establishing in-forming competence is, in part, a matter of
experimenting and appreciating the experiments going on every day by others.
For instance, the other day I saw where a guy had taken a satellite photo now
available on Google, zoomed in on his home town and attached labels to a bunch
of the places that were landmarks of his childhood: his home, his grade school,
his high school, his girlfriend’s house, etc. Earthshaking? No, but I’m sure it
kicked off thinking in thousands of minds of people who saw it. Here was a new,
interesting use for the Google maps within a couple of weeks of the start of
their service.

The World is Flat has some pretty intimidating forecasts
about how tough competing in a world with fewer and fewer boundaries is going
to be. And it’s not a situation where we as individuals can afford to sit by as
spectators and wring our hands. Future success will count on aggressive
acquisition of knowledge, skills and experience. At it’s base, it’s
person-to-person skills and action that keep you viable—which isn’t new— but
the playing field is much, much larger than it’s ever been.

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