Buy Lines: Who can give us a wake-up call?
Tom Friedman's latest book,
"The World is Flat," is filled with nuggets from business, government and
education leaders worldwide describing the new world order. It portrays a vision
of what we could become and what it will take for us to get there.
Many of us in technology are aware of Friedman's 10
"flatteners," which have shrunk the globe and smashed barriers that once
made us seem invincible. Flatteners include our computing and communications
technologies that have undermined the old geopolitical structures. Our dot-com
boom created a global network of nearly unlimited bandwidth. Common computer
interfaces, such as e-mail, the Web browser and voice over IP, provide global
communication for everyone at practically no cost.
As a result, anyone anywhere can compete for certain jobs,
and to remain competitive, companies must employ a global force that is starving
for a chance at these jobs. Everyone is on a level playing field. The world is
But that's just the first wave. Innovations such as
workflow software let teams of software writers, designers and engineers
collaborate without a thought to borders, exchange rates, trade agreements or
Our politicians argue over minutia rather than engage in
the bold thinking necessary to ensure
remains competitive in 50 years. An example is an amendment to the Homeland
Security Department authorization bill proposed by Rep. Donald Manzullo
(R-Ill.). The bill would preclude the department from buying anything with less
than 50 percent U.S.-made content.
I suppose it looks good to the folks back home that their
representative has the courage to stand up to the forces of globalization,
outsourcing, off-shoring, in-shoring and all the other flatteners now a reality.
Friedman would say that the horse has already left the
barn. The high-tech gear that DHS is buying is no longer assembled in the
. It was designed, engineered and marketed from here. It is made of components
that come from a dozen countries and will be sold worldwide to economies that
are growing faster than ours.
People who are the most productive and cost the least will
handle any step in the supply chain that can be digitized or reduced to a rote
process. Our only hope is to be the ones who invent the next generation of
How can we get politicians such as Manzullo to start
thinking about making the smart investments in our society to ensure that we
will stay on top economically? What does our future look like?
The second half of Friedman's book is explicit: Our
future could be bright or it could fade, depending on the choices we make now.
There is still opportunity for
to lead a global economy that will multiply many times in the next few
generations. But unless we make the investments necessary to continue producing
valuable intellectual property, our position of strength will devolve to those
who are willing to work harder for less.
Our youth need to become what Gartner calls "versalists,"
people who develop deep skills and then apply them across an ever-widening scope
of situations, gaining new competencies, building relationships and assuming new
This will not be easy. Friedman suggests that we need a
wake-up call to unite our country around a common threat. He has sounded the
alarm, and we need politicians who can put this in terms that can be embraced by
all of us. We don't have a moment to lose.
Steve Charles is co-founder of immixGroup, a government
business-consulting firm in
Steve welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.