This week I am focusing on globalization at a national level. To be honest, I am concerned about my country’s sustained ability to globally compete. That probably sounds a bit drastic given that I live in the United States and we have the largest economy of the world. The U.S. is home to top universities and has billions of dollars in early-stage company investment. But given where the forces of technology, entrepreneurship and globalization are taking us, I foresee my country’s global economic relevance fading over the next few decades.
Those of you who have visited my site before know that I always try to frame an issue and then offer practical advice. I write with my own country in mind, but I hope these ideas can be used in any locality.
Stop Living in the Past
The world is changing at a faster rate than ever before. Technology is changing. The rules by which we conduct business are changing. In 1960, the United States was at the top of almost any economic indicator list: largest economy, best universities, best secondary schools, best healthcare, largest foreign direct investment, highest government investment in technology development, etc. Today, only the first two are still true, though maybe not for long. Here are some examples of myths that are common in American society. They may have been once true, but times have changed:
- The U.S. has the best healthcare in the world (34th when last ranked by the WTO).
- The U.S. has the best secondary education (17th behind countries like Finland & S. Korea).
- The U.S. is the most entrepreneurial society in the world (Uganda & many other countries are higher).
- China is a communist country (true on paper, though nowadays capitalism reigns supreme).
- Mexico is a third-world country (actually, it’s considered a 2nd world country with a growing middle class).
- We should teach Spanish, French and German in our secondary schools. (Spanish is a world language, but students would be better served learning Chinese or Arabic as an alternative. This original mix reflects languages important post-WWII. And we need to teach language starting in elementary schools instead of middle and high school).
Tomorrow’s globally-competitive knowledge worker will need to be multilingual. They will compete for jobs directly against workers in other countries who are often better educated. And they will need to have a better understanding of foreign markets to better sell American goods overseas.
Support Efforts to Build Local, Regional and National Competitive Advantage
Every country has certain economic competitive strengths. It might be low cost labor. Or it could be a long agricultural growing season. It might be a cultural value like resourcefulness. My country has many strengths, but I do worry that some may be fading. I live in the beautiful state of Colorado. We are 49th out of 50 states for spending on higher education. This financial shortage is now being felt at the undergraduate university level. An entire generation of students graduating from Colorado public universities will suffer from shortsightedness. The cost of this education has also been rising, leaving advanced education out of reach of poorer students. As a citizen in my state, it is important to support university funding.
Ignorance is Out of Fashion
When the U.S. still held the highest economic influence in the world, it was easy to expect that others would learn our culture, our language, and our way of doing business. Today’s companies do not have that luxury. For instance, to be successful in China, a company needs to know how to do business there. The same holds true in other parts of the world. There are several ways to gain knowledge needed to succeed. First, do your homework before a meeting or business trip overseas. Second, ask questions of your host or counterpart in order to show genuine good will. And third, be aware of rapid changes that can occur. For instance, most books on the Chinese business environment are out of date by the time they are published. If doing business in China, be sure to recruit Chinese resources who are following the changes.
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