Two Forces of Globalization

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Your own acts tell the world who you are and what kind of society you think it should be.

Ai Weiwei

We are in the midst of an unprecedented transition globally. This change is historic, cutting across all segments of society, and is not happening in a predictable way. Two examples from the past year illustrate this historic moment in time.

Independence referendums in Scotland and Catalunya, as well as movements in Wales and Northern Italy, show that there is strong sentiment for separation from the countries where they currently belong.  As the picture above from the demonstrations in Glasgow leading up to the Scottish referendum vote says, "You are better than you think you are."

In Greece, a national referendum showed that the people of the nation desired a non-austerity solution to their nation's financial crisis. Yet, the country's financial crisis demonstrated that the nation of Greece was no longer in control of its own welfare. It had lost it to the Troika of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank as they sought to impose austerity measures upon the nation.

While the reach of governing institutions, whether national governments or global supra-national ones, has grown over the past two hundred years, another global phenomenon is emerging represented by the capacity of individuals to create small, focused entrepreneurial organizations and movements to affect change on a global scale.

We now find that there are two forces for change functioning within this 21st. century global context.

One is the force of global integration of business and government.

The other force is of personal initiative operating within the context of networks of relationships.

It is at the point of interaction between these two forces that this historic moment of transition is taking place.

The Force of Integration

This first force seeks to integrate all functions of society into one seamless efficient system of governance by global institutions.

The people and institutions at the center of the preeminent expression of this global force believe that it is through the integration of economics and governance that a peaceful and prosperous world can be achieved.  These international institutions emerged after the First World War to manage how the nation-states of the world interact to create peace and prosperity.

Emerging the past half century are similar movements like ISIS that want to want to integrate global governance through the eradication of people and nations who do not follow their strict line of belief.

These two very different versions of globalism share a belief in integration, but through different means.

This drive for integration is the logical unfolding of the modern hierarchical organization. Whether in business or government, integration enhances efficiency and the control of variables that affect the functioning of large complex institutions. Remove the inefficiencies and you achieve success. Unfortunately, human beings tend to represent the greatest form of variation in these large organizations.

The theme of integration has emerged in popular young adult novels and films like The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner and The Giver. In each of these narratives, a governing authority seeks to or has accomplished the integration of society by controlling how each person functions within that world. In these stories, characters of a particular independence of character and diversity of talent foster a crisis of change for the governing systems of society through their own personal leadership initiative to bring people together to resist the forces of integration.

The Force of Personal Initiative

The second force is reflected in the native desire of people to live lives and do work that matters. These acts of human initiative operate within the context of relationships of trust and mutuality, and are facilitated by the growth of computing and communication technology.

Many of these acts of personal initiative are done without recognition. The gift of a meal to a hungry person. The mentoring that takes place in scouting, sports and in youth club programs. The volunteering that takes place in local communities through religious congregations and community non-profits. Entrepreneurial programs to train and develop the leadership of new businesses. Event planners who bring people together to support local programs. The meetings over coffee where community understanding and healing begin to take place where conflict has existed. In each situation, the beginning of the effort starts with a person taking initiative, and then, grows through the networks of relationships that emerge at both the local and global level.

We can see this force of personal initiative in the central characters of the stories mentioned above. Their motivation to act comes from a source of inner values that move them out of the crowd into a place of influence.

Katnis in The Hunger Games steps forward to compete in the games instead of her sister.

Tris in Divergent is motivated by an inner sense of justice about the importance of family.

Thomas in The Maze Runner discovers within himself a calling to serve the members of The Glade by leading them through the maze to a safer place.

In The Giver, Jonas discovers within himself an emotional depth that is expressed in his love for Fiona, his desire to save the infant Gabriel, and, ultimately to take action to cross the boundary that will release memories both painful and joyful back into society.

These two forces are not necessarily incompatible. However, the challenge is how the legacy institutions of global hierarchy can adapt to growing importance of networks as the structure for human work and community.

The particular context of this great transition are the structures of society, government, business, communities, and the non-government organizations that serve people.

The Context of Organizational Structures

It is important to understand how organizational structures function in society.

Organizational structure has no voice, but it has force.

It is invisible because its presence is so comprehensive.

The force within every organizational structure is to resist change. It seeks regularity, consistency and efficiency.

Real change cannot happen without change to the structures of society and organizations.

How many carriage makers went out of business a century ago because they could not change from making horse drawn buggies to automobiles?

How many small businesses and religious congregations closed their doors because they could not adapt to changes in their neighborhood or the technology of their business?

How many communities now languish because they could not adapt to changes taking place in the larger society?

In ancient times, kings would build a wall around their city to guard against the invading forces of change. Today, physical walls don't work. They have been replaced with political, legal and economic walls. The fortress walls of today are under threat, and are just as susceptible to collapse as those ancient ones.

Today, the structure of integration seeks to create an orderly and efficient system of governance throughout global society.

The institutional force of integration is hierarchical, operated by an elite circle of global leaders, who hold authority over the whole system.

In business, when one company totally dominates the marketplace, so that all their competitors are in effect dependent upon them, we call this a monopoly.

In politics, if a small group of people hold dominant control over the governance of a city or a nation, we may call that an oligarchy or a dictatorship. The history of nations and empires is filled with examples of these kinds of hierarchies. We can also see that they are unsustainable.

The mandate of hierarchical structures is to bring control to all facets of business or society.  In a global context, this governing hierarchy trumps democratic choice. This is the one lesson of the Greek crisis.

The question that interests me here is whether this trend can last.

Has the power of personal computing and communication technology, as it has expanded globally over the past 25 years, now made it possible for many things to be done without the requirement of an hierarchical authority?

I do not believe that the future is either utopian nor dystopian.  I do see that global networks of human relationships are structured very differently. Its power to adapt and to extend its reach quickly without prior expectation is remarkable.

At the heart of the network is the individual who initiates and acts to create opportunities within relationships of trust and mutuality. 

Hierarchies are not built on trust, but rather on the integrity of the system.

Networks, on the other hand, only function well when there is trust at the center of the relationships.

Both systems are inherently fragile and susceptible to change from outside forces.

Hierarchy-NetworkRelationships

I have thought a long time about the difference between these two structures. Increasingly, I am convinced that hierarchy is a structure that functioned well in an earlier era, but no longer. 

The authors of the introduction to Jean Baudrillard's In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities, characterize a shift that has taken place in the society where Henry Ford's factories once were the norm.

"The dominant characteristic of Fordism was repetition and stability. Post-Fordism, to the contrary, brings out instability and adaptability, all qualities instilled by advanced capitalism."

In effect, the direction that we are moving globally is from a world of regularity and predictability to one where there are no givens. Some of the skills required for this new world are ones of adaptability, collaboration and personal accountability.

With this disintegration of traditional hierarchical institutional structures comes opportunities that are present directly in front of us each day.  As a result, networks of relationships provide a structure that more easily provides a globally dispersed people the capacity to work in concert towards shared goals.

Five Questions for Understanding

My search for understanding about these two global forces has been driven by the following questions.

How did we get to this point of significant transition in how we live and work?

What is the long term impact of the growth of networks? What is the future of global hierarchical systems of economics and governance? Can they adapt by adopting the relational structures and values of networks of relationships?

Who is most significantly benefited by this interplay between the forces of integration and the network?

Where is this leading? What changes are coming that we can barely imagine right now? What opportunities will come with these changes?

What obstacles make it more difficult for networks of relationships to reach their potential impact? What must each of us as individuals do to alleviate those problems?

We are on the verge of seeing a great calamity as the structure of supra-national institutions diminish in credibility and effectiveness. The dependence that national governments have placed on these supra-national institutions to managed progress towards global peace and prosperity will become more difficult. 

In effect, these global institutions are painting themselves into a corner from which there is no easy exit. This is what I see in the Greek crisis.

The conflict between the forces of global integration and the power of personal initiative expressed through networks of relationships is the context of this growing crisis.

It does not have to be, however.

All we must do as leaders and global citizens is to begin to take personal responsibility for the world at our finger tips, by acting to make a difference that matters, by building networks of relationships that facilitate greater capacity for organizations and communities to adapt to a changing world.

I return to the quote of Ai Weiwei that began this post as a fitting place to end.

Your own acts tell the world who you are and what kind of society you think it should be.

May each of your actions build strength in your own circle of impact.


The Picture of the Future in a Box - Update

Update: Ross Dawson writes about the importance of 3D printing in his post - How 3D printing will transform the retail industry: the opportunities.

This post is a continuation of the ideas presented in The End and The Beginning. In this one, I want to focus on three culture shifts that impact what leadership means in the 21st century.

A picture of the future in a box

Let me begin with this picture. 3dsystems-RapMan-Students-6

Here is a student using a three-dimensional printer. The blue object in the middle of the picture is being printed. This is a kit that individuals can buy for around $1,300.

All you need is a basic CAD program to begin to create prototypes of your ideas. 

I recently saw this model, RapMan 3.1, and the BFB-300 3D printer demonstrated at Hatchfest in Asheville. Rajeev Kulkarni, Vice President of Global Engineering for 3D Systems spoke on the uses of 3D printing.  His presentation described a extremely wide spectrum of application for this technology. The most impressive use of 3D printing is to create human organs from the cells of the recipient. See Antony Atala's TED2011 presentation to grasp the magnitude of this innovation in medicine.

This picture of innovative technology points to the social change that is occurring because of the advance of technology. Besides lowering the cost of prototyping and manufacturing new products, people can now take their ideas from conception to market in a shorter period of time.  Kulkarni spoke about what used to take months to produce that now can be done in a matter hours or days.

Three Shifts

As I listened to Rajeev Kulkarni's Hatch presentation, I realized that in these printers I saw three significant social shifts. When the cost of manufacturing and production time are reduced, and the technology becomes affordable for individual use, then we are moving through a transition period from one era to the next.   The shifts that I see taking place are:

1. From consumers to creators / producers

2. From mass market to mass customization

3. From a mass culture to a local culture

 Let me describe each.

1. From consumers to creators / producers

With the use of basic design software and the RapMan 3d printer, any individual can become a producer of products for sale. The materials that can be used in the printing process are extensive. So, no longer will people have to depend on the marketplace to provide the products that he or she needs. With some ingenuity and business sense, they can make a shift from being a consumer of products to being the creator and producer of them.

Of course, six billion people will not automatically shift from being consumers to creators / producers. And every producer needs consumers to buy her product. Yet, it does not take many people embracing this shift in culture to dramatically impact it. The picture above is of an school girl in England using the RapMan printer.

Imagine every school in your school district having a 3d printer to complete a learning process of idea creation to product completion. Imagine the change of mind that comes to the students in that school when they can create, and not just consume.  Imagine a generation of men and women who think of themselves as creators and producers, as leaders, rather than just consumers of other peoples' creative output. 

One of the first realizations I had about 21st century leadership was that it was about personal initiative, not about roles. Leadership begins with personal initiative. Tools like these 3D printers place into the hands of people the opportunity to initiate, to create, and to produce products and solutions that can make a difference. 

2. From mass market to mass customization

The nature of product development cycles used to be months, even years, necessary to bring a product to market. As a result, it required that product to have as wide an appeal and as long a shelf life as possible. With the advent of technologies, like 3D printers, this is changing. Now in a matter of a few hours, a specialize part can be designed and produced for a customer.

There are a couple implications for this shift.

First, it changes how a company relates to the marketplace. In a one-size fits all world, the marketplace is the lowest common denominator. In a mass customized world, the individual is the market. Marketing to individuals is different than to a mass culture. This is the insight that Chris Anderson wrote about in his book The Long Tail.

Second, it makes the relationship between manufacturer and consumer more important. I've learned this as a consultant. I cannot approach any project as if there is a formula that applies to every other organization in their industry. I have to build a relationship of interest, inquiry and adaptive response to meet not only their expectations, but their needs. I enter into their organizational setting with a set of tools, not unlike a 3D printer, though I don't have one, and use my tools to address the needs that they have.

In a mass customized world, relationships matter, and that is a key to managing the shifts that I'm identifying here.

3. From mass culture to local culture

Prior to the 20th century, life for most people from the beginning of time was experienced in small towns. I remember my grandfather telling me near the end of his long life that the most significant invention in his life time was the radio. When asked why, he said, "Because it showed us what life was like in other places."

The 20th century was a century lived on a global scale, with World Wars and multi-national corporations, and, with institutions that were designed for a mass culture. It was a perspective where one size fits all, and that all people are to be treated a like. Individuality was rebellious and conventionality was the norm.

Those days are slipping away as innovations, like 3D Systems printers, make it possible to create a business that serves customers globally from an office in a small town with an internet connection.  It is the twin developments of innovation for individual productivity and the failure of large organizations to function in a one-size fits all world.

As a result, the meaning of global and local is changing. It is less about a mass market culture of sameness, and more about a culture of relationship where I can serve you, regardless of where you or I live. We can be connected. We can communicate, collaborate and coordinate our projects from wherever we sit today.

It isn't just that we live in a time of the long tail, or that technological innovation provides a basis for mass customization or a better foundation for individual initiative. Each is true. At a deeper level, it means that any individual with a minimum investment can pursue their own sense of calling as a person, and do it in a social context of others who share their vision and commitment. This is an emerging reality that will seriously impact the nature of leadership and organizational design in the future.

One way of understanding this development is to see this as the ascendency of the local. I've written about it here, here and here.

The key to making a local orientation work is openness. For many people, local is just another word for provincial, or closed. However, if local is less physical place, and more a relational space, then we can begin to see that my local can include colleagues in Japan, Pakistan, England, Canada, and my neighbors nearby in Asheville.

In a local community, you share a concern for people, for families, for education systems, the business community and for those less fortunate. It is a concern for the whole person, not just for the transaction.

For example, I can share a concern that my friends in California have for the economic and social conditions of their small coastal town, and feel that as their community grows, that I contribute to their growth.

A local community orientation can function in any social or organizational structure. It is the heart of team work. It brings personal initiative, shared responsibility, and common goals and values together.

Leading Through These Shifts

The implications of these shifts for organizational leaders is fairly simple. It means that instead of being organizational process managers, we must become culture creators. The culture that forms from our leadership provides an open environment for individual initiative, relationship building, and shared responsibility.

The local in this sense is like the ancient Greek polis as described by Victor Davis Hanson in his fascinating book, The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization. He writes in the introduction,

The early Greek polis has often been called a nexus for exchange, consumption, or acquisition, but it is better to define it as an "agro-service center." Surplus food was brought in from the countryside to be consumed or traded in a forum that concurrently advanced the material, political, social, and cultural agenda of its agrarian members. The buildings and circult walls of a city-state were a testament to the accumulated bounty of generations, its democratic membership a formal acknowledgment of the unique triad of small landowner, infantry soldier, and voting citizen. The "other" Greeks, therefore, were not the dispossessed but the possessors of power and influence. Nor is their story a popular account of slaves, the poor, foreigners, and the numerous other "outsiders" of the ancient Greek city-state. The real Greeks are the farmers and infantrymen, the men and women outside the city, who were the insiders of Greek life and culture.

The rise of independent farmers who owned and worked without encumbrance their small plots at the end of the Greek Dark Ages was an entirely new phenomenon in history. This rougly homogeneous agrarian class was previously unseen in Greece, or anywhere else in Europe and the surrounding Mediterranean area. Their efforts to create a great community of agrarian equals resulted, I believe, in the system of independent but interconnected Greek city-states (poleis) which characterized Western cutlure.

The shifts indentified in this post, to me, point to a similar opportunity that the early Greek farmers had. Through their collaborative relationship of shared responsibility, together they created the Greek polis that remains as the model for what cities and communities are in the West.

The ascendency of the local will come as a result of these shifts. And with it a new conception of leadership as more personal, more collaborative, more focused on impact, will emerge to provide it descriptive power that inspires innovation.


Trend Lines Going Forward

Lemhi Dawn 4 9-16-04

It is hard to believe that the first decade of the 21st century is now history. It has not been the decade that most of us expected. It has been filled with terror, war, economic disruption, political disappointment, natural disasters that showcased governmental inadequacies, and the emergence of social media as a force. In many respects, it was a decade where society did not move forward, and little prospects for broad scale improvement in the near future. 

Andy Crouch, an insightful cultural interpreter, has posted his assessment of the 10 tends that marked the first decade of the 2000's.

  1. Connection
  2. Place
  3. Cities
  4. The End of the Marjority
  5. Polarity
  6. The Self Shot
  7. Pornography
  8. Informality
  9. Liquidity
  10. Complexity

I'm in basic agreement with most of what Crouch offers here. However, it raises questions for me.

If these are trends, then where are they leading us? 

What is the line that extends from the past through the present to the future?

What should we do in response to these trends?

These trends are markers or sign-posts of changes that have been long in development.  I see these trends leading forward in the following ways.

Connection / Place / Cities / Pornography / The Self Shot

This trend line is complex because it is a mixture of several converging ones.

The need ...

for relationship,

for rootedness in a place,

for a place of openness, discovery and genuine diversity,

for intimacy, and,

for a real understanding of one's own identity.

All these are converging. Each of these trends have their problematic dimension though:

Of the shallowness of online connection

Of the disconnection of people from the physical places where they live and work

Of the economic viability of both rural and urban environments that fail to create an environment for human creativity

Of the failure of the institution of marriage to be a viable form of human intimacy for large numbers of people

Of a religious and political culture that offers narcissism rather than human community as a basis for human purpose.

The End of the Majority / Polarity / Informality / Liquidity / Complexity

This trend line is moving fast away from the social conventions and institutions of previous generations. The status of elite groups and institutions once secured by a culture of common perceptions and simple approaches is under going dramatic change. One-size-fits-all, works-for-all, and is available-to-all is no longer reflective of the way the world works, if it ever truly did.  Instead, complexity is the structure of society. As a result, no single or generic approach works. Instead many different approaches can be effective. The key here then is to understand how complexity impacts us on a daily basis.

Donald Norman writes in Living with Complexity,

"The keys to coping with complexity are to be found in two aspects of understanding. First is the design of the thing itself that determines its understanding. Does it have an underlying logic, a foundation that, once mastered, makes everything fall into place? Second is our own set of abilities and skills. Have we taken the time and effort to understanding and master the structure? Understandability and understanding: two critical keys to mastery."

Questions that I have.

What is the underlying logic that explains the meaning of these trends?

What is the "design (of the thing itself)" of the time we live?  

What is the historical movement that helps us to gain understanding of the past decade, the past generation, and what we may expect of the next decade and generation.

My conclusion is that we are in the midst of dramatic period of unprecedented change. In order to understand these trends, we need to understand the assumptions that have guided human history for the past several centuries.

For example, beginning in the 18th century a shift began that impacted virtually every country. It was the shift from aristocracy to democracy. What may not be readily evident in this shift is the continuity that was maintained throughout these great historic changes.

I wrote about this shift in my review of Lucino Visconti's masterpiece, The Leopard. It is a picture of the change from the old aristocratic order to new world order of democratic progressivism. In that post, I include a long dialogue that the Prince of Sicily and the representative of the new modern, progressive government of Italy have. Here's a portion.

The Prince: I am a member of the old ruling class hopelessly linked to the past regime and tied to it by chains of decency, if not affection. I belong to an unfortunate generation straddling two worlds and ill at ease in both. And what is more, I am utterly without illusions.

What would the Senate do with an inexperienced legislator who lacks the faculty of self-deception, essential requisite for those who guide others? No, I cannot lift a finger in politics. It would get bitten off.

Chevalley: Would you seriously refuse to do all you can to alleviate the state of physical squalor and blind moral misery in which your own people lie?

The Prince: We are old, Chevalley. Very old. For more that 25 centuries, we have borne the weight of superb civilizations that have come from outside, never of our own creation, none we could call our own. For 2,500 years, we've been nothing but a colony. I'm not complaining. It's our fault. But we are worn out and exhausted.

Chevalley: But all that's over now. Sicily is no longer a conquered land, but a free member of a free state.

The Prince: Your intention is good, but it comes too late.

Sleep, my dear Chevalley, a long sleep - that is what Sicilians want. They will always hate anyone who tries to wake them, even to bring them the most wonderful gifts. And between ourselves, I doubt whether the new kingdom will have many gifts for us in its luggage. Here, all expression, even the most violent, is a desire for oblivion. Our sensuality is a longing for oblivion. Our knifings and shootings are a longing for death. Our laziness, the penetrating sweetness of our sherbets, a longing for voluptuous immobility, that is ... death once again.

Chevalley: Prince, are you exaggerating? I myself have met Sicilians in Turin who seemed anything but asleep.

The Prince: I haven't explained myself well. I'm sorry. I said Sicilians. I should have said Sicily. This atmosphere, the violence of the landscape, the cruelty of the climate, the constant tension in everything -

Chevalley: Climate can be overcome, landscape improved, the memory of evil governments canceled. Surely the Sicilians want to improved.

The Prince: I don't deny that a few, once off the island, may wake up, but they must leave very young. By 20, it's too late. The crust has already formed. What you need, Chevalley, is a man who is good at blending his personal interests with vague public ideals.

The picture here is of the clash between the ideals of progressivism and the exhaustion of the old order. With the former there was a belief that the world's problems could be solved, and with the latter, a realization that even in the midst of change, there is not much that changes.

What we can see here is not the replacement of the aristocracy with a populist government, but rather the transfer of power from one kind of elitism to another. It is the elitism of modern democratic progressivism that is reaching the same point that the old order aristocrats reached two centuries ago. That exhaustion is the inadequacy of the ideas and values that inspired revolution to create a sustainable society in a highly complex context. Ultimately, what happens is the loss of the ideals themselves and the adoption of a formula that is designed to resist change and perpetuate the system.

This trend suggests other trends.

The end of institutions as a unifiying force in society.

Whether those institutions are political, religious, social or educational, they no longer command the loyalty or respect by people as they once did.  Instead, communities of causes have replaced them and is seen in Crouch's Polarity trend.

This emerging trend is really the mixture of several changes.

A shift from a global to a local perspective as locus of solution making.

The impracticality of one-size-fits-all approaches to solving social and econonic problems is reflected in the persistance of the recession in its many forms.  This a product of the growing complexity of society that responds better to small, local initiatives than those applied from a single source.

A shift from a national orientation to a relational one.

As I've written previously, online technology enables us to work with colleagues globally as if we are locally connected. National origin means less, and personal values mean more in this context of local collaboration on a global scale.

The emergence of belief as the common bond that unites people organizationally.

One doesn't have to look farther than the passionate advocacy of the environmental movement or the Tea Party movement to see how traditional institutions are being replaced my groups of people who form temporary communities to advocate for a cause. This puts institutional elites at a disadvantage as institutional integrity has been less about causes or beliefs and more about process and operational integrity.

These are some trends that I see, and see them as positive developments. However, there are aspects of these changes that I don't think are quite yet apparent, yet will bring a new level of disruptive change as they emerge.

Many of the governing assumptions of our time are based on social, political and economic philosophies that were born in the era of The Leopard. I'm convinced that the ideologies of capitalism, liberal progressivism and its socialist varient, and individualism will come to be replaced by new ideas that provide a way forward.  It is my impression that we think these are given, guiding assumptions of contemporary society. I'm not convinced that these philosophies represent the future, but the past. It is why I see the two political parties as regressive, rather than visionary.  As these ideologies lose their vitality and relevance, their advocates have become more divisive and defensive. In my opinion, this divisiveness is a sign of the fading viability of these social philosophies.

If I was a betting man, which I'm not, I'd wager that the future trends that we'll see emerging over the next few years are:

New organizational structures that are designed for shared responsibility and collaboration.

Values as the unifying force, not only in organizations, but in society.

New confederations of cities and organizations that circumvent the artificial constraints of state and national boundaries.

Lastly, what should leaders do to be prepared to adapt to these changes?

1. Develop the leadership capacity of everyone in your organization.

2. Build organizational community through an emphasis on and the operationalizing of the Connecting Ideas of the Circle of Impact - Purpose, Mission, Values, Vision and Impact.

3. Take time to develop an understanding of the logic of what is happening locally and globally. Test assumptions, and be positively self-critical. In other words, think for yourself by constantly seeking to develop your capacity to observe, think, assess and make judgments.

My wish for each of us in 2011 is that we find new strength of purpose, greater capacity for leadership, and an ability to make a difference that matters that changes our world for the better.  All the best to you in your leadership endeavors.


The Ascendency of the Local

2010-12-09 19.24.40

Last week I sent birthday greetings to a woman in Israel, whom I've not meet face to face, yet with whom I have talked on Skype and emailed over the past year.

A year and a half ago, I initiated and then coordinated an online conversation about morale in the workplace that included 36 different people from 12 different countries on four continents. The result was the ebook - Managing moral in a time of change.  The book was edited by a woman in England.

Weekly, I engage in online conversations with people from around the world whom I have also never seen face-to-face, yet with whom I feel a close friendship as colleagues.

These few illustrations, along with many more, could lead someone to the conclusion that we live in a global community. In one sense that would be correct in the sense that it is possible to have relationships with people across the globe. In another, often missed or ignored sense, these globally connected relationships are not global. Instead, I see these relationship as not unlike those where there is a close physical proximity.

The Rise of the Local?

What we are experiencing is the rise of the local, that can be characterized in both a geographic and a relational sense.

Roberto Verganti, Professor of Management of Innovation at Politecnico di Milano, in his fascinating book, Design Driven Innovation, makes the following observation.

The design discourse is both local and global. On the one hand, the local density of the network is essential, because interactions based on tacit knowledge benefit from geographic proximity. On the other hand, interactions among interpreters worldwide allow them to enlarge the quanity and variety of their insights and provide a global perspective on the evolution of meanings.

Verganti is speaking about how product design processes are conducted.The key word in the paragraph is "interactions."  It is what distinguishes the local from the global.

All "interactions" are potentially local, especially when there is a clear purpose. Local, therefore, is more than "close proximity" and is about about "shared values and outcomes."

If we define local in this way, then what does global mean?

It appears to me that global is often a code word for "centralized" or "one size fits all."

Years ago, one of the American car companies marketed what they called their "world car." It was a phrase euphemistically used to describe a car that they could market everywhere, in any country, on any continent. In reality it was a car that they saw as "one size fits all."

This was a "global" approach that was not based on interaction or the recognition of local distinctives, but rather a singular strategy that was intended to work everywhere.

A "global" approach is a mindset that can even function in what we'd consider a "local" context.

For example, a family has three children. A "global" approach to their development is to see that all of them learning Spanish and attending either their father's or their mother's college or university, and returning home to work in the same career's as their parents. 

A global approach, therefore, is more formulaic, describing a general or generic path that is intended to fit most every circumstance. In this sense, it is a lowest common denominator approach to interaction. One message for everyone regardless of who they are. 

A "local" approach would see each child as a unique human being with specific needs and potential, and making their own choices about their education and their career in consult with their parents. As a result, one child may need to learn Swahili in route to becoming a teacher or aid worker in Kenya. Another may earn a two year degree in  mechanics in order to work in a motorcycle shop. And the third child learns Mandarin on her way to earning a Ph.D. in economics in for a career as business consultant with a international investment banking firm.

There is a tension between "local interaction" and a "global one-size-fits-all" approach. It is partly an issue of personal responsibility and individual freedom, and partly an issue of how does a global society make decisions that impact billions of people?

Network-Hierarchy ImageA local approach is based upon individuals making decisions that take into consideration their family members and neighbors, even if their neighbors are people on another continent. It is based on relationships, shared values, responsibility and outcomes.

A global approach assumes that this is not feasible, and that a central decision making body should make these decisions. In effect, it distrusts interaction and collaborative solution making. This has been the course of most societies for the past two centuries regardless of whether they are politically democratic, socialist or developing.  

The ascendency of the local challenges an elitist global approach to decision making.

This distinction between local and global leadership is most significantly being played out in local communities. 

Over the past year or so, I've been following developments in a city far from where I live, as its city administration sought to apply a "globalized" solution to the problem of city revenue. The solution would have had an adverse impact upon local business, and led to more "centralized" control by city government over businesses and private property.  Based on my observations as an interested outsider, these "global" solutions were really a way for a small group of citizens and city administrators to gain power and control over the economic assets of the community.

A contingent of local citizens organized and through their "localized interactions" working within the system of local government, exerted influence upon the city to change some of these decisions that were having an adverse impact upon local businesses.

As an outside observer in conversation with some of the citizens involved, I saw the power that "local interactions" have in a "globalized context."  They have a capacity to transcend the artificial barriers that traditional social and organizational structures provide. Those boundries represent the effect of past decisions upon a community. As new pockets of local influence grow and gain importance, the community's ablity to adapt to the changing social and economic realities grow as well. 

Legacy structures like these tend to be hierarchical and ordered for control of the system, rather than for interaction and initiative by members.  We don't tend to think of global approaches as representative of the old industrial model, but that is precisely what they are. It is an organizational design that assumes that a few persons closely linked together, who hold power on behalf of the larger comunity will make decisions that are beneficial to the whole community.

The Local is the Future because the Future is the Interactive.

The future of organizations and communities is in the interaction that takes place in relationships. This is already happening, and has been for some time. And where there are legacy hierarchical structures, localized interactions are happening. In many cases these interactions transcend the boundaries of the organization as they created collaborative groups whose focus is on the shared values and outcomes that have drawn them together. 

One example of how "local interactions" are not limited to "social or organizational  proximity"  is found in the impact of author and entrepreneur Seth Godin

TriiibesLogo2

Several years ago, Seth started the online social network Triiibes  as a vehicle for his book Tribes to find an audience that would be engaged not only with the ideas in the book, but also as way for people learn how to develop and lead their own tribes. This successful social network, with close to 15,000 members, is a platform for a wide range of activities that are bringing people from across the globe together to create value in their local arenas. Tribes cover

The Morale ebook, mentioned above, is the product of this interaction in the Triiibes network. There are, now, ebooks being produced on a regular basis through the "localized interaction of the Triiibes global community".  

In addition, a global gathering of local meetings are regularly taking place that bring people together who have been inspired by Seth Godin's book, Linchpin. As of the time of this writing, over the past nine months, there have been 1,575 Linchpin gatherings, involving 8,269 people in 102 countries. Linchpin book cover

As one of the organizers of these local gatherings, this globally dispersed gathering for local interaction has a thematic continuity of shared values and outcomes that is a guide to the future of localize interaction in organizations and communities.

    Local Interaction on a Global Scale Makes The Difference That Matters

    Local interaction makes a difference because it where collaborative work takes place. The Local is based on individual initiative rather than quiescent compliance. It is a more agile, adaptive, responsible approach because it is a way those who are most impacted by circumstances are able to address issues under which they have control.

    The challenge for global structures is to establish the credibility that provides a basis for their interaction with locally interactive collaboratives. Both need one another. One as its reach goes beyond the local into a collaborative environment with other local groups, and the other as it shifts from a compliance / control orientation to a facilitator, sustainer role.

    Wherever you are in relationship with people, you are a local group whose potential is far greater than the sum total of members in your group. The question for local groups is whether they can see beyond their own self interest to embrace a set of values and outcomes on a global scale.