Rock Climbing

In a recent post I wrote about a Tom Friedman column that illustrates how globalization and technology are fundamentally and constantly changing the economy. Now comes a David Brooks column, also in the New York Times, that is quite insightful about how the economy keeps evolving. (Brooks, along with Friedman, are two of the people I read regularly to understand the big picture.)

Its entitled the protocol society. Brooks argues that, at its core, we are now an economy that produces protocols – sets of instructions – rather than physical goods. And that changes everything. The societies that will do best Brooks argues will be those best able to be create and be infected by new ideas. (When is the last time you heard anyone in Michigan talking about this as the key to future growth?)

The basic message from people like Friedman and Brooks is that what matters most now are human capital (knowledge, creativity and entrepreneurship) and culture (attitudes and beliefs: a community’s DNA). These are the assets that will define the most prosperous places on the planet. Its the new reality. And its real scary!

As difficult as it is to accept all of us will need to adapt to a world where increasingly the job you have, the enterprise you work for and even your occupation are less secure today than yesterday and will be even less secure tomorrow.

We use the analogy that in a world driven by globalization and technology, people will build successful careers by being like rock climbers instead of ladder climbers. The notion of a career ladder – predictable and linear steps upwards – in a world that is constantly changing is obsolete. Rather people will need to be like rock climbers – constantly adjusting to new opportunities and challenges. And then resourceful so they can take advantage of those opportunities.

So this requires a Michigan which both (1) values new ideas, change, an entrepreneurial spirit (the opposite of entitlement) and people that don’t look and think like us and (2) gets smart at preparing people for a life time of rock climbing. That is the agenda we need to focus on. As scary and hard as it is, either we build the assets that matter most in today’s and tomorrow’s economy, or we will continue to be a economic laggard!

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