The World is Flat…

10 Apr 2005|Davis Masten

I am Thomas Friedman fan. His new premise that the world is flat both excites me and frightens me. The premise is simple. In the flat world, competition is abundant and those countries like China and India want to move from products that say Made in China to Designed in China. Essentially, the USA as the world’s innovation engine is soon to be challenged like never before. The American way of life has not been as endangered since the beginning of the cold war.

From Cheskin’s viewpoint in the center of innovation, we see China opening hundreds of design schools and graduating six times as many engineers and scientists as in the USA. We also see that a doctorate in China takes an investment of four figures while one in the USA takes six figures. It’s no surprise that multinationals are investing where they can get the better bang for the buck.

Over a decade ago we started to observe behaviorially there is a huge difference between those who grew up with the computer as a productivity tool and those who grew up with it as an entertainment device. One’s whole mental model about computing is different.

When one combines this with the additional observation that every child who is exposed to technology at an early age takes that technology for granted, it makes me reflect about this new flat world. Most of the youth in the world is not in the USA. These kids will be able to adapt to the new world and innovate in ways that are not US centric. When you combine this with the lower cost of the types of education that fuels innovation and the sheer numbers new adopters, it makes me scared for the USA’s long term future.

Americans have faced enormous threats before and fared well once we have decided to address the threats in meaningful ways. I do not believe that are going to hell in a hand basket. But I wish that we would get on with it. We can not act too soon. Our quality of life is at stake.

On the flip side, I am very excited. Out of all the ensuing chaos, I believe that the path we are on gives mankind its best hope to feed, clothe and provide opportunity to the rest of the world. Without a global infrastructure that eventually reaches to the ends of the flat world, we will not be able to include the 8-10 billion people the UN predicts will be on the planet in the coming decades. It will take enormous amounts of innovation to address these issues and while mankind is making progress, I believe it will take the diversity of mankind innovating to bring us to a system that will succeed in addressing most of the world’s most basic needs.

I am a citizen of the USA, and feel a need for us to be more competitive fast. I also welcome the competition for it provides a hope for mankind that is more than what we the USA can address on our own.

I am actively helping the US get better math and science education and doing other things to help us compete. But I feel somewhat like I did when one of our daughters was six and playing soccer. She played defensive back and when the ball was not immediately in front of her, she would spend more time looking at her friends in other games or watching birds fly by. We would cheer and try to rivet her attention on the game. But she did not really care about the game and eventually gave up on soccer all together. This global game is not one we can afford to miss. We have to be fully engaged. NOW! Not only is the American way of life at stake but so is our chance to help the rest of the world innovate its way to an experience of life filled with increasing meaning.

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