I consider myself to be somewhat of an oddity in my field. As the head of an IT organization at a small, private, four-year college, I do not have the typical resume that you might expect to find for such an individual. My undergraduate education was in Biology and I have been working throughout higher education in fields such as undergraduate admissions, advancement, and institutional research for over a decade. Yet, prior to nine months ago, had never worked in an IT department. To say it has been a learning experience for both me and my staff would be an understatement. While I believe I embrace technology, I also feel very strongly regarding the need to prioritize in-person conversation and require my employees to focus their efforts not only on innovation and efficiency, but also on customer service and education. While the world is changing rapidly with the use of technology it is my strong belief that technology should not simply replace and remove the other ways in which we communicate, solve problems, and be innovative contributors to our fields and to society.
Friedman (2005) provided a compelling argument for how technology has increased the pace in which globalization is occurring. He wrote of the process of information exchange that now occurs over the web in a manner that frankly dictates the daily lives of many across the world. While his book and the forces that he described as being relevant to the world’s flattening are still relevant today in my view, I believe that in the twelve years since the book was published, some of the forces have exploded and now carry greater weight than others.
Friedman (2005) referred to personal digital devices as “steroids” that allow people to access information. Interestingly, his examples are now twelve years old and do not refer to smart phones, tablets, and other technology that is now visible in many US homes and offices. Technology consultant Gartner projects that the number of internet connected devices will soar to over twenty billion by 2020. Estimates from Statista show that that figure could be greatly exceeded. This includes devices Friedman may not even dreamed of just twelve short years ago. The weight of the steroids and the In-forming, as Friedman called it, carry great weight and the ability to influence the world economy, business practices, and politics. From peer-reviewed journals to social media to this blog itself, information is available and ready to be consumed whether or not it is accurate and will positively contribute to change. Friedman is accurate though when describing the world as flat in that traditional borders are no longer the same as they once were.
Borders, however, do still exist. They are no longer the traditional lines we see on a map, but instead the way in which the global community grows, excels, and benefits from advances in technology and accessibility to information and innovation. Florida (2005) argued that the world is spiky rather than flat when you consider the concentrated nature of innovation and growth in cities and urban areas compared to rural communities. He argued that while information is more accessible to the world’s population, the innovation centers still necessitate that those who innovate from around the world will need to do so in the economic growth centers.
I believe Florida (2005) scope was too narrow when describing innovation as he used patent applications as his data point. Innovation and efficiency exist throughout the world in ways that do not require a patent or the need to manufacture a product. I do agree with his assertion regarding the world and use of technology as spiky, however, particularly with his comparison to the global economy. While both technology and personal wealth are greater than they were 100, 50, or even 25 years ago, the disparity between those at the top of the global economy and those at the bottom is similar to the gap we see in technology and innovation. While Friedman (2005) was correct when he described greater access to information than the world has ever seen, Florida (2005) is equally correct in describing growing inequality.
So, what does this all mean for business, humanity, and leadership? Bostrom (2015) provided listeners at his TED talk with a comparison of the speed and power in which computers can function in modern-day technology in comparison to the human brain and said that the limits of computers and potential for super intelligence is limited only by matter itself. As leaders, I believe we must embrace the power and potential of technology and what it can help us achieve, but also recognize the economic and social disparities that technology can create in a spiky world Florida (2005). Bostrom (2015) shared an important point that leaders would be wise to adhere to when he stated that if you are going to try and optimize technology to meet your objective, you must ensure that your definition of the objective incorporates all that is important to you as a leader. As a leader, that is worth a significant amount of reflection each time we sacrifice the human contribution as a means to achieving our objectives.