SLA 2011 Opening Keynote Address

Anne Caputo, Past President of SLA, introduces the 2011 keynote speaker

Thomas Friedman

The SLA Opening keynote address was given by Thomas Friedman, columnist for the New York Times and winner of three Pulitzer Prizes.  He wrote The World is Flat in 2005, when there was no Facebook, Twitter, Skype, or apps.  Now, the Nepali government provides high speed internet and video from the top of Mt. Everest!  Today’s major challenge to America is the merger of globalization and information technology.

Where did the idea of globalization come from?  In 2004, Friedman wanted to write a documentary on why people are mad at America, so he went to Bangalore, India, capital of outsourcing and made a documentary on “the dark side of outsourcing”.  He discovered that globalization has been taken to a whole new level.  The global economic playing field is being leveled, and America is not ready for it.  This experience led him to write The World is Flat.

There have been 3 great eras of globalization:

  1. 1492-1800:  The world shrunk from size Large to size Medium.  You went global through your country.
  2. 1800s to 2000:  The world went from size Medium to Small.  The agent of globalization was companies.
  3. 2000-today:  The world is shrinking from Small to Tiny and flattening at the same time.  This era is not built around countries or companies but around individuals and the degree to which we can and must act globally as individuals.  This is unprecedented.

Four key forces have produced this world:

  1. PCs allowed individuals to create and author their own content in digital form.
  2. August 9, 1995, the day that Netscape went public, was the most important day in our lifetime.  It changed the world because of their invention, the browser, which illustrated everything that was previously locked away in inaccessible files only available to computer scientists.  It brought the computer to life so that everyone could interact with the Internet with equal facility.  That was also the date of the Netscape IPO.  It was priced at $28/share, and closed that day at $56, which showed that there was value in the Internet and caused a rush to every Internet stock.  That in turn funded a massive deployment of fiber optic cable, which made anyone anywhere in the world a neighbor.
  3. Transmission protocols and Networking by HTML, etc. made everybody’s computer interoperable and connected.  Nobody has to think about whether they will be able to connect with somebody anywhere in the world to collaborate.
  4. Everyone can upload their own content and share it with the world.  The world is full of uploads.  The mother of all uploads is Wikipedia; every second it gets another entry.

These things flattened the world and created a platform where people could collaborate at less cost than ever before in the history of the world.  We are in a universe of collaboration. This flattening is the biggest inflection point since Gutenberg’s press.  We are going from a vertical to a horizontal environment where value will be created by what you create and collaborate with.  This point has been playing out over 20 years.

Major trends:

  1. When the world is flat, whatever can be done will be done.  The only question is will it be done by you or to you!  Whatever idea you have, somebody will have it a second later.  If you don’t pursue it, somebody else will.
  2. The single most important competitive advantage you can have is between you and your own imagination.  Imagination is so important because what you imagine as an individual can be acted on cheaper and taken farther than ever before.  Everything is a commodity except imagination.   The world will bifurcate into 2 kinds of countries–high imagination enablers (HIEs) and low imagination enablers (LIEs).
  3. The world is getting flatter and flatter and more and more hyper-productive.  CEOs used the recession to get very efficient.  The jobs they eliminated are gone and are not coming back.  We are getting a huge skills bias polarization: if you have skills, you will be very productive if you can do non-routine work that cannot be easily automated, digitized, or outsourced.  If you are doing anything routine in a routine way, you are in danger.  That world is shrinking and being collapsed.  “Average” is officially over.  Whatever you do, don’t be average.  CEOs have tremendous access to people who can do things above average; if you just show up, you won’t have your job very long.  Those who just work in the old ways are the first to be laid off.  Employers want people who can do critical thinking and reasoning and who can invent and re-invent the job.  Everybody has to find their “extra”, which will be different for everybody.  Find out what yours is, develop it, and exploit it.

We have two challenges today in education:  left brain: rote, math, etc.; and right brain:  creating, storytelling, and empathy.  It is increasingly becoming a right brain world.  We have to bring the bottom up to the world average, and we have to bring our own average up to the new ceiling about the creativity needed to reinvent the job.  We need to value the liberal arts more than ever because that is where creativity comes from.  Creativity occurs when people who have mastered two fields use the framework of one to nourish the other.  Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement address at Stanford is the greatest statement on the liberal arts.

The world is getting flatter and flatter. The gap between routine and non-routine work is getting wider, and the demands of employers are that you invent the job.  The demands of education are all about the things that liberal arts give us.

In the world of info overload, if we knew what our companies know, the world would be amazing.  This is major opportunity for librarians who are called on to tell us what we know.

Almost 3 of 4 people now have a cell phone, and their phones are getting smarter.  India is adding 15 million cell phones each month.  We are rapidly heading to a world where everybody is connected: universal connectivity.  Connectivity will become like electricity and will disappear.  All the old fashioned things will make a huge comeback: trust, values, ethics, and judgment will matter more than ever.  That will be hugely important to the librarian and information industry.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today and Conference Circuit Blog Editor



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