Global Is the New Normal

When does "Global" stop being a distinguishing label and start being just a way of life for more or less everyone? It's happening...and here's how I know.

Sometime in the last 10 or 15 years, when most of the world wasn't looking, the long-discounted predictions of a fully globally integrated working world came true. Goods, money, services, and especially information now know essentially no boundaries. And as for people, although we can stay in one place if we want, there aren't many professionals who don't find themselves crossing borders, at least virtually, pretty often. More to the point, we are getting so used to it that we no longer focus on the borders, but rather on the connection being made—a "figure-ground shift" as it is sometimes called when what used to be the picture becomes the background and vice versa.

I don't think of myself as particularly extreme on this dimension, so consider the following as illustrative rather than exceptional. When I sat down this Saturday morning to consider what to write, I happened to think back on the week just past. It struck me that in the last week—all in the normal course of business or personal life—I had the following experiences:

1. Spent the weekend in Greece, teaching an elite group of college students from some 30 countries who were brought for a business forum by a global professional services firm. (I taught them a case study about turning a multi-local company into a global one.)

2. Spent Monday evening at my home in Switzerland, where I had dinner with an academic who was visiting from Israel to interview for a research post.

3. On Tuesday, flew with my daughter from Geneva to Washington, stopping over in England to have lunch with friends before going back through security to catch the transatlantic flight.

4. On the plane, finished reading a wonderful English novel which takes place almost entirely in England, but to which the conclusion is, essentially, that the country is too provincial, and the heroine decides to move abroad.

5. On Wednesday, mailed the third payment for a two-week trip I am planning to make in October with some fellow shortwave radio enthusiasts, to the Eastern Kiribati islands in the Central Pacific. (There will be no Internet. I am wondering if I can handle it, but thinking it may be a good thing.)

6. On Wednesday and Thursday, made 10 hours of calls to Germany, preparing to run a workshop for a German-based multinational on the subject of change and integrating across boundaries.

7. Also on Thursday, had a 2-hour video meeting with colleagues in which we decided to extend a job offer to a Chinese-American who does research in Taiwan. Information essential to this decision had just come from a colleague who had interviewed the candidate from Shanghai.

8. On Friday, had a Skype conversation with an Italian coach and researcher, planning a project on the topic of expatriation, including several case studies about a global telecommunications firm. Also attended a faculty meeting in Switzerland by telephone.

9. In the course of the week, I also bought airline tickets on itineraries to France, Germany, and the Czech Republic, and held several conversations with a colleague teaching on the grounds of a South African game preserve. I also e-mailed back and forth with a friend in Egypt, planning a training program for formerly-trafficked women to be held this summer in London.

Okay, perhaps this week was slightly more global than others. But only slightly. It will not seem at all unusual to tens of thousands of working professionals. Yet the most important indicator I had this week that global really is the new normal wasn't about me, or about a global professional elite, at all:

10. I caught up yesterday with my friend Joao, just returned from 4 months in his native Brazil (the central portion, not the big coastal cities). He hadn't been back for a while and was impressed with the economic growth and increasingly global outlook there. Hardworking and entrepreneurial, although lacking a college degree, Joao is always looking for the next business opportunity—usually in construction contracting. And although he has spent a fair amount of time in the U.S., and his wife and children are there, Joao's friends in Brazil opened his eyes to the fact that many of the business opportunities today have no U.S. connection whatever. His latest project, backed by a Brazilian consortium, is the construction of 40 houses in Khartoum, Sudan. He has never been to Africa and speaks no Arabic, much less any of the dozen or more Sudanese local languages. But he is headed off this week.

A global worldview is no longer just the province of elites—top executives in global companies, say, or senior government officials, or PhD professors, many of whom already take it for granted. More and more working people are now coming to understand that opportunity knows few borders, and acting on that understanding. When that kind of boundary-spanning action reaches critical mass—something I believe is happening right now—for the first time in human history, global really is the new normal.

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