In August I quit my job as an analyst and my wife quit her job as an account manager. On September 2nd my wife and I boarded a plane bound for Hong Kong and, a week later, onto Thailand. Three years ago I backpacked Asia for almost four months. In four years I’ve been to four continents. Compared to much of the modern world, I am hardly well traveled.
In Asia, many young people grow up appreciating the nuances of many cultures. They grow up speaking their native tongue and English. Maybe even a third language. They grow up in one or two countries and learn those cultures. Unafraid of the world, as adults they leave for university in another country. After graduation, they survey the global job market and take a job in a totally new country. By the time they are 25 or 26, they have lived in a handful of cultures and understand them (far from being just passport stamps).
The global economy came to life decades ago. It’s an economy of many countries that are intertwined and largely indivisible. Outside the US the world is raising global people. Their national history is one of many cultures. For them, there is a different meaning to the word “home”.
The BuzzFeed article “31 Signs You’re a Third Culture Kid” takes a stab at pinning down exactly what it means to be from many homes:
“When your circle of best friends is as politically, racially, and religiously diverse as the United Nations” or a Barney episode:
“You get nervous whenever a form needs you to enter a ‘permanent address’.”
“You know better than anyone else that “home” isn’t a place, it’s the people in it.”
It’s hard for me to not wonder what this all means for global business. As an American I’ve always had the benefit of growing up in a powerhouse of an economy that leads the world. Problem is, history is history… it’s ring echoes but fades. There are new economic giants. The global marketplace is here but there’s a new supply of leaders on the rise. What if, when it comes to navigating global marketplaces, they are seasoned gladiators and Americans aren’t?
I think it is important to understand just how global the world is becoming. The TED talk below is probably mostly watched by the ‘well traveled’ because they relate. It’s actually more important that young people who aren’t well traveled watch it though. These are their future competitors.
Everyone knows graduates area already losing jobs to outsourcing. They are also losing jobs to foreign students on visas and green cards. I’m not talking about that stuff though. “Global gladiators” are future competitors. They are the future executives running global divisions. When I left Willis Group, we had a North America CEO, China CEO, etc. But we also had global practice leaders, for each product, to lead strategy globally. In a decade or two, I believe most CEOs will be global gladiators. If you’re 20 now… study up.
Key quotes from the talk given by an Indian man who grew up in several countries:
“When I go to Hong Kong or Sydney or Vancouver, most of the kids I meet are much more international and multi-cultured than I am. And they have one home associated with their parents, but another associated with their partners, a third connected maybe with the place where they happen to be, a fourth connected with the place they dream of being, and many more besides. And their whole life will be spent taking pieces of many different places and putting them together into a stained glass whole. Home for them is really a work in progress. It’s like a project on which they’re constantly adding upgrades and improvements and corrections.”
“And in so many ways, I think this is a terrific liberation. Because when my grandparents were born, they pretty much had their sense of home, their sense of community, even their sense of enmity, assigned to them at birth, and didn’t have much chance of stepping outside of that. And nowadays, at least some of us can choose our sense of home, create our sense of community, fashion our sense of self, and in so doing maybe step a little beyond some of the black and white divisions of our grandparents’ age. No coincidence that the president of the strongest nation on Earth is half-Kenyan, partly raised in Indonesia,has a Chinese-Canadian brother-in-law.”