Vive la Difference–1

Talent Management

October 6, 2008

by Marshall Goldsmith

In the past, even as recently as a few years ago, markets operated on a national or regional scale. This meant company leaders had little trouble communicating and interacting with each other, their employees and their customers, as most of them shared a common language and culture.

The advent of a truly global economy brings new opportunities and challenges. The advantages of global trade are well-known. Increased global competition leads to higher-quality products and services at lower prices.

Consumers have access to an incredible diversity of goods that may have been produced anywhere in the world. Poor countries with lower labor costs can “catch up” by doing labor-intensive work that would cost much more in wealthy countries, and eventually gain the purchasing power to buy more goods and services from the rest of the world.

As a result, communication, trade and culture have become more global and, in all likelihood, they’ll continue to move in that direction. Amid this change, opportunities for learning will be greater than ever. “Global connectedness” means we can interact in ways that lead to rapid and positive learning.

The road to globalization is not without its bumps, though. While the global culture has great potential benefits, it also can have great costs. People around the world are much more likely to look alike, act alike and sound alike.

Today, we likely are as concerned with “cultural extinction” as we are with the extinction of plant and animal species.

Three problems in particular could make economic globalization a nightmare:

1. A world of conformity, in which billions of people wear the same clothes, speak the same language and consume the same media.

2. A world of short-term stimulation, in which countless hours are spent on mindless television programs, Web sites, video games and virtual reality that greatly diminish life experience.

3. A world of isolation, in which large portions of people’s lives are spent striving for personal excitement and gain with little thought for others and even less effort devoted to helping future generations.

Still, attempts at stopping the flow of globalization are doomed to failure for two reasons:

1. The Internet is global, and information can spread faster than any institution’s ability to control it.

2. Almost all of the brilliant, young people developing new technologies believe in the free flow of information, do not like censorship and are not intimidated by government edict.

With all of these issues in mind, how can we create a positive global community? We can start with efforts in three key areas:

1. Reach out to humanity. In the global community, it’s easy to reach out, but it’s also easy to become isolated. We need to be inspired by the value in trying to benefit the world, not just ourselves. As opportunities for huge individual achievement and wealth form, we need to better recognize people who make the transition from success to significance. Community heroes need to be celebrated based upon their skills in giving, rather than taking.

2. Celebrate diversity. Our ability to adapt to changing situations largely is a function of our diversity. Language leads us to view the world in different ways and to have different approaches to making decisions and solving problems. We need to encourage diversity in language, culture and lifestyle to ensure our survival. Powerful countries must not try to make other countries become like them. Residents of the global community need to celebrate the fact that “different” may be synonymous with “fascinating, “enhancing” and even “necessary.”

3. Build long-term value. We need to inspire and educate people about the value of investing for the future. Long-term value is the result of vision, creativity, innovation and hard work, and we should foster these qualities in people before they enter the workforce.
By inspiring people and educating them in the values of celebrating diversity, building long-term value and reaching out to humanity, we can build a global community that is neither a nightmare nor a pipe dream.