Thomas L. Friedman wrote a book entitled “The World Is Flat” that I not only agree with but also see everyday via work and travel.
It seems that in today’s highly competitive global economy, one must have a core competency to stay in business. There must be some core focus of your business that allows you to be deemed an expert (by others) and your product or service must stem from using this expertise to provide solutions.
Gone are the days of your nationality in itself being a sustainable competitive advantage. I found it amusing during my first years in China teaching English, as I walked into the room of anxious parents their first question was “can I see a copy of your passport?” Once they saw that good ol’ US of A everything became ok.
Did that mean I was more qualified that a South African? Or a person from Ireland? I don’t think so. Well the same concept transfers into international business and ultimately into our everyday lives. There is no advantage to being from one place over another.
I tend to think of it more like momentum. For example, for a long time America has been the land of creativity. It is instilled in us early & often that creation is possible for everyone. Thus it’s not surprising that Steve Jobs & Bill Gates are products of this environment. China, within the last 20-30 years has become a manufacturing powerhouse, so it’s not surprising that engineers and scientist reign supreme in this highly technical society. Momentum.
But momentum can’t last forever. Just as a good friend brought to my attention during a conversation a few days ago, during WWII the generation of our grandparents believed in hard work and achievement through personal progress with little edification or riches for themselves. These riches were passed down to our parents and eventually to us. So the question becomes through their hard work, leadership and achievement does that momentum continue to today and because of my passport does that entitle me to a more competitive position than a similar person (age, social status/background, education, etc) from South Korea? Probably not…
This is proved daily. In Thomas Friedman’s book, he talks about the world becoming “flat” as an analogy for the fact that we (as people) are all in competition with each other. Yes, we have different strengths & weaknesses but because of the internet, international travel & instant access to information we all start the race from the same place.
In my position, I see foreigners look down upon Chinese for being Chinese. I see Chinese create an impenetrable bubble because someone either is or isn’t Chinese and I disagree with both limited perspectives. (Of course, I’m generalizing here…) These days anything is possible. I have good Chinese friends who are smart, creative and dynamic & also foreign friends who’s Chinese language ability is as good as any native speaker and they understand (through trial & error) the nuances of the culture really well.
So the world is flat. And if you want to succeed in business today, the core advantage should come from your hard work and expertise much more than national identity. No matter what side of the globe you are from.