We read a fascinating (and disturbing) interview this past weekend in the San Jose Mercury News with New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman. The interview focused on Friedman’s new book The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, in which he argues that political and technological changes during the past decade have leveled the global playing field.
What this means is that people almost anywhere in the world can access the technology necessary to innovate, build companies, compete and create wealth.
Let’s face it – the United States doesn’t have the same technological and competitive advantages it did a decade ago, even in the ever-changing human capital landscape. In fact, a recent Gartner strategic analysis report on the E-Recruitment software market states that the space is saturated and there is no true innovative leader. Outsourcing, offshoring, open sourcing, the technological growth coming out of India and China, increased global collaboration and innovation, web-based technologies, wireless technologies – all of these changes are eliminating any competitive advantage we had when it comes to innovating new products and services in workforce planning, applicant tracking, benefits administration, organizational development, training and development, etc.
America needs to make some changes, and soon. HR technology companies should be at the forefront of helping to recapture our technological glory and growth, because their products and services encompass American workers regardless of industry.
We must stop our spiral into mediocrity. Here are some thoughts and recommendations from Thomas Friedman to help us do just that (edited and summarized from the San Jose Mercury News interview):
- In today's environment, there is no way you'll get a penny of venture capital if you don't start your company as a multinational from day one.
- Americans have to go from the non-knowledge world into the knowledge world, i.e., become knowledge workers. You’ll have to be more flexible, more adaptable. The greatest skill you can have in a flat world is the ability to learn how to learn. The chances of you working in the same job for the same company over your lifetime are very, very small.
- Our children must study harder and work harder. In a flat world there is no such thing as an American job. I think the biggest challenge for our country is to make possible, for every American who wants [it], access to the highest quality education.
- It takes leaders who understand what world we are living in. And then begin to get Americans both interested and excited about the opportunities and challenges of this world – helping to make more and more young Americans enabled, empowered and educated.
- America must once again get excited about science and technology, for example energy independence. If the president made energy independence the centerpiece of the rest of his term and challenged and inspired every young American to get an education in science and engineering to make their contribution to making America energy independent, we could not only improve our balance of payments, not only dramatically improve our energy situation, not only lower prices over the long term, but we could get lots, lots more young people interested in science and engineering.
- If we don't do the right things on the American policy front, if we don't take care of workers who are displaced, if we continue to lose our competitiveness, there could be a huge backlash against the flat world. I fear that we will become our Olympic basketball team. That we'll think that all we have to do is show up – and we'll end up with the bronze medal. And we are not a bronze medal country.