Business Technology: The Global Game Of Innovation
It's a good thing that various forces throughout my life--my mother, my older brothers, and my limited physical and mental skills--have collectively fostered within me a modest ego. Because otherwise the letters I've received in the past week since publication of my thoughts on innovation, quality, and offshore outsourcing would have made me feel like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.
Fool, traitor, idiot, moron, useless, clueless, brainless, worthless--these are among the milder descriptions some readers have tossed my way. And while the competition was fierce, this one was perhaps my favorite: "Bob Evans is proud to be the recipient of the Benedict Arnold Outsourcing Abroad Award for Journalism advocating that American work and dollars be sent outside the country. The recipient of this award is entitled to work for $6,000 a year in the USA or to have his job as Editor in Chief of InformationWeek be done by someone in India." (I know it's authentic because the sender's name is Benedict Arnold and his E-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Later this year, a Chicago-area McDonald's restaurant will fry up hamburgers with an automated grill that dispenses patties directly onto the griddle from a separate freezer compartment, reducing labor and promising fresher sandwiches.
-- Reuters, Aug. 1
It was no surprise that this hit a raw nerve with some folks, because it's no secret that this is an extremely emotional issue. Jobs disappearing, careers ruined, lives turned upside down, the comfortable and predictable turned into the chaotic--major disruptions in business models and competitive patterns always claim a pretty wide spectrum of victims, most of whom were guilty of nothing other than carrying out the responsibilities of their jobs. And only someone without a soul could view this with a shrug and say, "Too bad for them."
But those bitter misfortunes don't alter the basic, underlying truth of what is happening in this country: Businesses are looking and will continue to look for competitively priced sources of quality and innovation. And if they don't find it here, they will find it in other countries, and they will take their money and their jobs to those other countries. We can hate this, we can rail about it, we can call it unfair, wrong, and even anti-American--but that rage will not alter the reality of an emergent global economy with global sources of not only raw materials and production but also that most precious of all assets: human creativity.
Do I wish it were otherwise? In some ways, very much so--as the father of two teen-age daughters, I wonder what these upheavals will mean for them when they enter the job market. As an American, I want to see this country economically powerful, with plentiful opportunities for all who seek them. And as a middle-aged adult, it is heartbreaking to see the pain these changes are inflicting on so many, particularly knowing that more will meet the same fate.
Those feelings aside, reality presents all of us with a choice: We can wish that reality were otherwise, or we can adapt to its new structure. We can say that this is all due to the greed of corporate executives, or we can say that somebody somewhere--a congressman, a lawyer, or some bureaucrat in a federal agency--should just stop the world so that these changes don't happen; or as one presidential candidate, Dick Gephardt, recently did, we can propose the establishment and enforcement of a global minimum wage. On the other hand, we can accept the inescapable notion of relentless change wherein global business puts a premium not on national borders and history but rather on global adaptability and human creativity and capability, wherever they are to be found.
Either way, it's essential that we find a way to separate our own individual uneasiness about this upheaval from the realization that it's happening and will continue to happen. And we need to be clear: The game isn't offshore outsourcing; rather, it's relentless innovation and quality. For the United States, the rules have changed dramatically, but we've played this game before and can continue to play well. But not if we fail to adapt to the new rules of what is now clearly a global game.
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