The World is Flat. Now What.

The World is Flat. Now What.

Thomas Friedman caught our attention in 2005 with his now-famous book; The World is Flat. Millions of us in the middle U.S. had already started to live the reality of the book’s premise, which was that business would soon be largely global, not local. Interesting then that 15 years post-Flat, some of the smartest people we know (think tanks like Brookings; universities including MIT, Harvard, etc.) are still debating the perfect formula for global innovation success. Even more compelling is that communities aren’t waiting for think tanks to give them the answers. They’re activating change, as a matter of survival, on their own.

Providence, RI is one fantastic example. Providence, population 200,000, was founded in 1636 by an English immigrant seeking religious liberty and was one of the first cities in our country to industrialize. It was famous for textiles, and jewelry, and silver manufacturing.

Today the city’s economy, still-struggling like the rest of us with the impact of globalization, is centered around seven colleges and universities and a number of hospitals. It’s economic transformation, however, may be hastened by the visionary and innovation-centric leadership of (former venture capitalist) Governor Gina Raimondo. Providence, under several public-private partnerships, just built a new 200,000 s.f. Medical innovation center. The building houses Brown University’s Bioinformatics Center, an outpost of the Cambridge Innovation Center, Venture Cafe, and Johnson & Johnson and is being described as a “beacon for top-tier talent in Rhode Island.” It seems Friedman’s next chapter is coming not from think tanks or scholars but cities themselves, driving for economic competitiveness. Kudos, Providence, for planting the first tree of innovation success with such courage. We will be watching and cheering for your success.

We Were Unprepared

We Were Unprepared

The last 90 days have been full: 12,000 miles crisscrossing very distinctive regions in the Middle and Eastern U.S.; three innovation conferences; meetings with two mayors; visits with thirty-three C-suite execs from municipalities and private industry; reconnections with old Austin friends; and a couple of sessions with an uber-progressive head of research for a Tier One research institution. This last quarter has brought me great joy. I’ve been able to meet new friends and connect with long-standing ones on a topic we all have in common—creating or accelerating innovation-based economic growth.

Funny, though. You’d think with all of that collective brainpower, and we’d have all figured it out by now. Or that we’d have a stronger ability to predict the future or create an algorithm to fix it all.

The only thing we seem to agree on is part of the past. I’ve been pondering a phrase I’ve heard twice in this last quarter. A new mantra that seems to ring with key leaders in this space: “We were unprepared.”

Unprepared, we can agree, for the impact that technology, innovation, and globalization had on our country, our respective regions, our communities, our families, and tribes. Man, it’s been a fast and rough ride.

While I’m not a big fan of looking back, I do believe we can learn from the past. But have we started to really ask that question of ourselves about the last thirty years? Have we stopped for a second to ask ourselves what we’ve learned from being caught entirely off guard economically, competitively, and socially? What should we do next to help us meet the new demands of technology, innovation, and globalization? These forces will only continue to accelerate in impact.

There are lots of reasons for being unprepared, most of which we’ll explore in the coming months and years here at Waymaker. My starter list of topics for us to discuss and explore together are geographic differences in risk tolerance, social contract differences in the middle part of the country compared to the east/west coasts, readying adequately for the demands of a global economy without access to global players, lack of industry leadership as it relates to policy formulation and lack of policy leadership as it relates to declaring a national industry policy. Not your average cocktail party topics, I can assure you. But don’t worry. That won’t stop me from trying to the dismay of my closest friends.

Send us a note and let us know what you think needs to be done to prepare our country — not for the future, but the right-now. We’re thirty years behind in getting prepared after all.