A 21st CENTURY COLLABORATION IMPERATIVE
Judson Singer, Director
Your Virtual World
This article discusses how you and those you care about can prosper rather than lose ground during globalization in this Information Age. Information technology and the incessant march of globalization appear to be creating two distinct demographics around the world, even within the same nation states. By most measures, one of those populations will be better off than the other.
There is no such thing as a universal spoken language but the closest thing to it today is English. It is the de facto language of diplomacy, politics, business, finance, technology, and education. Being able to communicate effectively has always been a central pillar of success for any individual. This now holds true to a hyper degree as billions more people are entering the competition for education, jobs, wealth, and power. Broad scale realignments of every stripe are continuously taking place so there will continue to be a powerful churning of who collaborates with whom for mutual benefit in a world where place is of decreasing significance but information technology and globalization become more significant. Communities of shared interest and shared vision are decreasingly bound by place but before they can collaborate, they must be able to communicate.
IF WE’RE SANDWICHED BETWEEN GLOBALIZATION AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY, WHO CAN EAT LUNCH AND WHO BECOMES LUNCH?
The trend of individual nations rising and falling in their relative power and wealth will likely continue into the future. Though this probably meant a lot to the citizens and residents of these respective nations in the past, it is becoming less true today because we've entered a “free agent” era of labor. As employers maintain greater power, all of us have become or are close to becoming free agents but our schools and workplace are barely coming to terms with this change. The quaint notion of working securely for one employer our entire life at a living wage is far outdated as well as the notion that by working hard for a successful company your job would be “safe”. The economically disenfranchised among us may need to consider the benefits (and risks) of global entrepreneurship as an alternative to limited opportunities of trading time for money toward the enrichment of others. New opportunities and allies may astound.
Lessons From Nature
Consider the ant and the elephant. A proverb from Zululand recognizes that “even an ant may harm an elephant”. Do you believe that it is the strongest of the species that survives? Do you believe that it’s the smartest who survives and prospers? It’s neither. It’s the one who’s the most adaptable to current surroundings. For human beings this is accomplished through creativity. Highly innovative people have been telling us that innovation today is almost always done in workplace teams that are multinational, multilingual, and virtual and they have to communicate effectively to collaborate. This merger of information technology and globalization is putting every job under pressure and requiring higher levels of critical thinking, effective oral and written communication, and collaboration, especially for higher paying work. If you can’t communicate, you can’t collaborate and if you can’t collaborate then you’ll be far less creative as a team (nation, company, or group). It’s worth noting that tightly knit teams are not the most creative but loosely knit teams are. Loose knit teams allow people to think alone before sharing. Going forward we may just need to drop the terms “developed” and “developing” countries in favor of “imaginative” and “unimaginative” whereby their citizens are encouraged and enabled to start up new industries, spark new ideas, and adapt to constantly changing conditions or not. Creativity encompasses the ability to grasp the essence of one thing, the essence of a completely different thing, and then combines these essences into a completely new thing oftentimes very much unlike the original two things. The prizes will go to those that can and they will be characterized by knowing that they must earn their place in the world and that nothing is owed to them, that they gladly give all of their efforts that extra something, and they take pride in their own efforts. The fruits of emotional life will be rewarded: enthusiasm for work, sensitivity to what will attract attention, knowing how to accurately grab the gist, and having a passionate lust for knowledge and understanding. These are not the qualities of a computer. By contrast, in the 2002 Hollywood movie “Equilibrium”, after a decimating Third World War all citizens must take a daily dose of a drug which kills the emotions and all forms of creative expression. Feeling and creativity are against the law. Violating either regulation can be punished by death. This society would clearly be a loser in our globalized and collaborating world.
Small Is Better
Historically, most innovation and job creation came from small groups and business. They moved faster and were more nimble. Today they have access to the same skills, tools, global reach, and administrative skills as large companies. This is mightily empowering because large
companies don’t have the flexibility and agility to keep up with market changes and supporting technology like small fast moving companies. Small businesses and home businesses now have the means to flourish anywhere on the planet while collaborating effectively with others like themselves, provided they can communicate with each other. This, in turn, could lead to a wide scale reverse migration out of cities and industrial centers thus solving numerous ascendant 21st century problems.
A New Golden Age of Entrepreneurialism
Opportunities will abound for entrepreneurial types in new areas of work and business and replace those jobs and industries that will never return. Advances in digital and information technologies like artificial intelligence are finding applications in the service industries, like entertainment, finance, and health care. Further, information based service jobs constitute the largest proportion of the work force in advanced economy countries according to the CIA World Factbook. The main character in a recent Hollywood movie entitled “Her” falls in love with his computer’s operating system’s female persona. “She” is only a few developmental notches further than the current “Siri” in Apple’s iPhone. The main character in the 2009 Hollywood movie “Up In The Air” whose job it is to lay off personnel in businesses that are downsizing is jolted from his own complacency when he himself comes close to being replaced by computer software. Recent 2014 breakthroughs by researchers at Stanford University’s Brains In Silicon research program have given us computers that can learn from their own mistakes. This approach will make possible a new generation of artificial intelligence systems that will perform some functions and cognitive jobs that humans do with ease like see, speak, listen, navigate, identify, control, manipulate, pick stocks, and diagnose diseases. This will put at risk the careers and livelihoods of a huge swath of human laborers unprepared to be creatives largely immune to advances of the “machine”. Certain mental skills will become less valuable and so will any mental activity that involves following any set of rules or that can be reduced to a computer algorithm, or outsourced to much cheaper labor markets. The winners will be those whose knowledge and skills can’t be replicated by a computer and those who can communicate and collaborate and turn these advances into even more useful applications. Those with jobs requiring critical thinking and reasoning, math, abstract analytical skills, imagination, creativity, and judgment will be the winners. Information technology and globalization has even made these kinds of jobholders more productive. The winners are those able to concentrate for long periods while diving into seemingly bottomless oceans of information while trying to make sense of it. The winners will have strategic discipline to maintain lengthy pursuit of a single goal and the ability to discard what is irrelevant to that goal.
Greater Literacy, Greater Opportunity
None of us can thrive and “win” in an information-based knowledge economy without high levels of literacy and education. Individuals got by somehow in agrarian economies but when those economies faded the need for greater literacy increased proportionately to an industrial age level of literacy. Now, even this level of literacy is not enough, especially in a multilingual, globalized world. For the successful winners, literacy and learning continue past schools and youth in our personal lives as well as our jobs. How else will we ever keep up skills and advances in technology? That static body of knowledge people could once acquire and keep for a life time of use is no longer sufficient. The winners accept lifelong learning effort as the new normal. Hungry winners can expect to double the learning, working, producing, relearning, and innovating to remain winners. Their lives will remain in the beta stage of development.
Hungry employers universally acknowledge that they’re looking for workers able to take on nonroutine complex tasks, who can perform critical thinking at a high level, and who can communicate effectively and work collaboratively with teams located in their office or globally. In this hyperconnected world of computers and things, average is over because companies can get excellent software, cheap automation, and cheap skills from countries with very low labor costs.
Surviving Advancing Information Technology and Globalization
Global competition with the earth’s best and brightest is a reality that is not going away soon, if at all. They are working at the difficult task of adaptation to change also so our only resolve is to face the challenge joyfully. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important but so is multilingual literacy. Without it we cannot collaborate globally.
Creativity cannot really be taught but it can be absorbed through exposure and by example. At minimum we must acknowledge the value of creativity and change and not be fearful of it.
A student who gets straight A grades by gathering masses of information and regurgitating it on a test won’t be valuable to anybody. A computer will win at that game every time. A winning student will study to learn the subject, not gather academic requirements or get a grade. That student will understand the relevance and value of what they learn.
As a corollary to the adaptability mentioned above, the practice of saving money can carry one through the exigencies of volatile labor markets, natural disasters,
political turmoil, banks and stock markets that can really ruin our day. With savings we can retrain and regroup.
Each of us needs to have or develop a backup set of skills or expertise because it’s unlikely that any knowledge or skill will last one’s entire life. Besides, a backup skill can serve as a wonderful complement to our primary skill.
As an additional corollary to adaptability, we need to remain flexible. Making hasty and bad major decisions takes away flexibility.
Self-learning (autodidacticism) will remain a critical skill in this age of rapid change. We may not be able to count on school systems to impart this knowledge so the family may need to fill this need. At worst, we can develop the ability to learn how to learn by ourselves through studied research and ardent application.
Be prepared to read then read some more. Adding the ability to read and speak another language is more useful still. If we can communicate, we can collaborate. Reading allows us all to stay on top of an ever changing world. Those who remain unaware of these changes will be running blind. Good luck and good bye!