The stated goal of the East-West Center’s International Forum for Education 2020 is, ”to address the need for new paradigms in higher education that will respond to transforming economic, social and cultural changes”. The belief is that the capacity to address these dramatic changes lies in the educational system. The challenge of course is the realization that in the face on unrelenting globalization and uneven change, the response needed goes beyond simply reforming existing institutions. A deeper level of transformation is required.

Naturally, much the same could be said of business and the challenges facing big business are no less daunting. However, what got my attention in the work being done by the 2020 Forum was the identification of four characteristics of a globalized world. As much as these four characteristics are occupying some of the best educational minds in Asia Pacific, I believe they are relevant to business leaders everywhere.

  1. Increasing Global Interdependence: This is an obvious result of a connected world. However the shift from independence to interdependence is more that a ‘ter’ smuggled into the original word. It means learning a different way of thinking and operating both internally and externally. The inter-connectedness of the world means that leaders have to intentionally work hard at developing sound perspectives from well-sourced and filtered information. Simple reliance on standard media channels is insufficient and developing an understanding of the global connections and networks becomes important strategic work for not only leaders but also all stakeholders in any business.
  2. Accelerating Non-Linear Change: In TomorrowToday we have spoken a great deal about change and the impact of the ubiquitous nature of change. These are the currents we deliberately seek to navigate be that in a leadership context, managing talent, understanding the emerging world of work or simply what comes after what comes next. What we do know is that change is not linear, something many in the East appreciate far more readily than many Western mindsets. To appreciate this reality will shift how individuals and organizations learn to not merely survive change, but how to thrive in the midst of change.
  3. Emergence of Increasingly Complex Societies: Societies, at all levels and in all forms, have become multi-layered and complex. The old mono-cultural models fail to address these new emerging societies where stereotypical tags do not work and, in business terminology, the ‘IBM Man’ description no longer means what it once did. Leaders who lead in the organizational context know this to be the case but often fall short in knowing exactly how best to lead and manage in this new reality. The ‘old stuff’ simply doesn’t work as well, if at all! Leading such complexity is demanding a different mindset and skill-set from those in leadership and adapting to such is a whole lot easier said (or written) than done!
  4. Expanding Emphasis on Difference (heterogeneity): Diversity is the new context. If one understands diversity as an ecosystem, the challenge becomes immediately apparent. Ecosystems comprise of systems within systems and where these systems meet (ecotones) there is chaos. The system relies on disequilibrium as much as it does on equilibrium, on an order that emerges from chaos. The leadership implications for understanding a business in such terms are breathtakingly challenging.  To begin to frame the business or organizational context in such terms invites a journey of discovery. It is a journey that will quite require ongoing adaptability and one in which innovation will thrive. It will likely require the re-scripting of the very DNA of those brave enough to embark on such a journey.

These then represent the four characteristics of a globalized world. Smart leaders will use such framing to deepen and contextualize discussion and debate within their organizations or executive teams. So, what would be the questions you need to be asking in the context of these four themes?

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