November 22nd, 2011
That Used to be Us
I recently attended a forum featuring Thomas L. Friedman, author of the 2004 bestseller The World is Flat. He attended the forum to discuss his new book, That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back. His earlier book is a discussion of the ways that technology has increased the pace of globalization. At the time that book was written, though, Twitter, Skype, Facebook and LinkedIn didn’t even exist. As a result of social media such as these, the world has gone from connected to hyper-connected. As recently as 18 months ago, it was unusual for door or window companies to heavily market via these social media. While these media haven’t yet reached the “can’t live without them” stage, it is highly unlikely that, in five years, they will have “blown over.”
That brings me to the other important point from the forum that is relevant to the building products industry. Friedman makes the point that “average is over.” In a hyper-connected world, average performance means you don’t win the bid, get the job or keep the customer. Colleges in the United States have begun to receive thousands of applications each year from students in China, hundreds of whom have perfect scores on the math section of the SAT. The same thing that will set U.S. college students apart from formidable competition like this will help building products professionals profit in the years ahead. Participants in the modern economy must be capable of critical thinking, reasoning , problem solving and creativity. Employees must be able to reinvent their jobs as they’re doing them because it is impossible to remain dynamic. Examples of this in the fenestration industry include the surge in use of electronic tablets to present and quote door and window replacements. Hidebound Harry, the sample-toting salesman, would not survive in the current rapidly evolving marketplace.
So, how do we get to the comeback portion of Friedman’s ideas? Through education. Workers on the bottom educational rung must get to average and average workers must become excellent. By encouraging continuing education by as many of our employees as possible, companies can take advantage of the fact that they are already located in the U.S. – a high imagination enabling country. In this way, we can continue to reinvent our industry and regain our global leadership position.