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总有一种声音,让人想起从前,总有一份记忆,徘徊在心的边缘,总有一种守侯,即使脚步渐行渐远。 流水涓涓,仿佛从不曾离去,在我们生命的故事中,细数着流年……

THE WORLD IS FLAT (Six)  

2011-05-10 13:53:25|  分类: 【在线阅读】 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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       SIX

The Untouchables

So if the flattening of the world is largely (but not entirely) unstoppable, and holds out the potential to be as beneficial to American society as a whole as past market evolutions have been, how does an individual get the best out of it? What do we tell our kids?

There is only one message: You have to constantly upgrade your skills. There will be plenty of good jobs out there in the flat world for people with the knowledge and ideas to seize them.

I am not suggesting this will be simple. It will not be. There will be a lot of other people out there also trying to get smarter. It was never good to be mediocre in your job, but in a world of walls, mediocrity could still earn you a decent wage. In a flatter world, you really do not want to be mediocre. You don't want to find yourself in the shoes of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, when his son Biff dispels his idea that the Loman family is special by declaring, "Pop! I'm a dime a dozen, and so are you!" An angry Willy retorts, "I am not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman, and you are Biff Loman!"

I don't care to have that conversation with my girls, so my advice to them in this flat world is very brief and very blunt: "Girls, when I was growing up, my parents used to say to me, 'Tom, finish your dinner-people in China and India are starving.'

My advice to you is: Girls, finishyour homework-people in China and India are starving for your jobs."

The way I like to think about this for our society as a whole is that every person should figure out how to make himself or herself into an untouchable. That's right.

When the world goes flat, the caste system gets turned upside down. In India untouchables may be the lowest social class, but in a flat world everyone should wantto be an untouchable. Untouchables, in my lexicon, are people whose jobs cannot be outsourced.

So who are the untouchables, and how do you or your kids get to be one? Untouchables come in four broad categories: workers who are "special," workers who are "specialized," workers who are "anchored," and workers who are "really adaptable."

Workers who are special are people like Michael Jordan, Bill Gates, and Barbra Streisand. They have a global market for their goods and services and can command global-sized pay packages. Their jobs can never be outsourced.

If you can't be special-and only a few people can be-you want to be specialized, so that your work cannot be outsourced. This applies to all sorts of knowledge workers-from specialized lawyers, accountants, and brain surgeons, to cutting-edge computer architects and software engineers, to advanced machine tool and robot operators. These are skills that are always in high demand and are not fungible.

("Fungible" is an important word to remember. As Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani likes to say, in a flat world there is "fungible and nonfungible work." Work that can be easily digitized and transferred to lower-wage locations is fungible. Work that cannot be digitized or easily substituted is nonfungible. Michael Jordan's jump shot is nonfungible. A bypass surgeon's technique is nonfungible. A television assembly-line worker's job is now fungible. Basic accounting and tax preparation are now fungible.)

If you cannot be special or specialized, you want to be anchored. That status applies to most Americans, everyone from my barber, to the waitress at lunch, to the chefs in the kitchen, to the plumber, to nurses, to many doctors, many lawyers, entertainers, electricians, and cleaning ladies. Their jobs are simply anchored and always will be, because they must be done in a specific location, involving face-to-face contact with a customer, client, patient, or audience. These jobs generally cannot be digitized and are not fungible, and the market wage is set according to the local market conditions. But be advised: There are fungible parts of even anchored jobs, and they can and will be outsourced-either to India or to the past-for greater efficiency. (Yes, as David Rothkopf notes, more jobs are actually "outsourced to the past," thanks to new innovations, than are outsourced to India.) For instance, you are not going to go to Bangalore to find an internist or a divorce lawyer, but your divorce lawyer may one day use a legal aide in Bangalore for basic research or to write up vanilla legal documents, and your internist may use a nighthawk radiologist in Bangalore to read your CAT scan.

This is why if you cannot be special or specialized, you don't want to count on being anchored so you won't be outsourced. You actually want to become really adaptable.

You want constantly to acquire new skills, knowledge, and expertise that enable you constantly to be able to create value-something more than vanilla ice cream. You want to learn how to make the latest chocolate sauce, the whipped cream, or the cherries on top, or to deliver it as a belly dancer-in whatever your field of endeavor. As parts of your work become commoditized and fungible, orturned into vanilla, adaptable people will always learn how to make some other part of the sundae. Being adaptable in a flat world, knowing how to "learn how to learn," will be one of the most important assets any worker can have, because job churn will come faster, because innovation will happen faster.

Atul Vashistha, CEO of NeoIT, a California consultingfirm that specializes inhelping U.S. firms do outsourcing, has a good feel for this: "What you can do and how you can adapt and how you can leverage all the experience and knowledge you have when the world goes flat-that is the basic component [for survival]. When you are changing jobs a lot, and when your job environment is changing a lot, being adaptable is the number one thing. The people who are losing out are those with solid technical skills who have not grown those skills. You have to be skillfully adaptable and socially adaptable."

The more we push out the boundaries of knowledge and technology, the more complex tasks that machines can do, the more those with specialized education, or the ability to learn how to learn, will be in demand, and for better pay. And the more those without that ability will be less generously compensated. What you don't want to be is a not very special, not very specialized, not very anchored, or not very adaptable person in a fungible job. If you are in the low-margin, fungible end of the work food chain, where businesses have an incentive to outsource to lower-cost, equally efficient producers, there is a much greater chance that your job will be outsourced or your wages depressed.

"If you are a Web programmer and are still using only HTML and have not expanded your skill set to include newer and creative technologies, such as XML and multimedia, your value to the organization gets diminished every year," added Vashistha. New technologies get introduced that increase complexity but improve results, and as long as a programmer embraces these and keeps abreast of what clients are looking for, his or her job gets hard to outsource. "While technology advances make last year's work a commodity," said Vashistha, "reskilling, continual professional education and client intimacy to develop new relationships keeps him or her ahead of the commodity curve and away from a potential offshore.'"

My childhood friend Bill Greer is a good example of a person who faced this challenge and came up with a personal strategy to meet it. Greer is forty-eight years old and has made his living as a freelance artist and graphic designer for twenty-six years.

From the late 1970s until right around 2000, the way Bill did his job and served his clients was pretty much the same.

"Clients, like The New York Times, would want a finished piece of artwork," Bill explained to me. So if he was doing an illustration for a newspaper or a magazine, or proposing a new logo for a product, he would actually create a piece of art-sketch it, color it, mount it on an illustration board, cover it with tissue, put it in a package that was opened with two flaps, and have it delivered by messenger or FedEx.

He called it "flap art." In the industry it was known as "camera-ready art," because it needed to be shot, printed on four different layers of color film, or "separations," and prepared for publication. "It was a finished product, and it had a certain preciousness to it," said Bill. "It was a real piece of art, and sometimes people would hang them on their walls. In fact, The New York Times would have shows of works that were created by illustrators for its publications."  

But in the last few years "that started to change," Bill told me, as publications and ad agencies moved to digital preparation, relying on the new software-namely, Quark, Photoshop, and Illustrator, which graphic artists refer to as "the trinity"-which made digital computer design so much easier. Everyone who went through art school got trained on these programs. Indeed, Bill explained, graphic design got so much easier that it became a commodity. It got turned into vanilla ice cream. "In terms of design," he said, "the technology gave everyone the same tools, so everyone could do straight lines and everyone could do work that was halfway decent. You used to need an eye to see if something was in balance and had the right typeface, but all of a sudden anyone could hammer out something that was acceptable."

So Greer pushed himself up the knowledge ladder. As publications demanded that all final products be presented as digital files that could be uploaded, and there was no longer any more demand for that precious flap art, he transformed himself into an ideas consultant. "Ideation" was what his clients, including McDonald's and Unilever, wanted. He stopped using pens and ink and would just do pencil sketches, scan them into his computer, color them by using the computer's mouse, and then e-mail them to the client, which would have some less skilled artists finish them.

"It was unconscious," said Greer. "I had to look for work that not everyone else could do, and that young artists couldn't do with technology for a fraction of what I was being paid. So I started getting offers where people would say to me, 'Can you do this and just give us the big idea?' They would give me a concept, and they would just want sketches, ideas, and not a finished piece of art. I still use the basic skill of drawing, but just to convey an idea-quick sketches, not finished artwork.

And for these ideas they will still pay pretty good money. It has actually taken me to a different level. It is more like being a consultant rather than a JAFA (Just Another Fucking Artist). There are a lot of JAFAs out there. So now I am an idea man, and I have played off that. My clients just buy concepts." The JAFAs then do the art in-house or it gets outsourced. "They can take my raw sketches and finish them and illustrate them using computer programs, and it is not like I would do it, but it is good enough," Greer said.

But then another thing happened. While the evolving technology turned the lower end of Greer's business into a commodity, it opened up a whole new market at the upper end: Greer's magazine clients. One day, one of his regular clients approached him and asked if he could do morphs. Morphs are cartoon strips in which one character evolves into another. So Martha Stewart is in the opening frame and morphs into Courtney Love by the closing frame. Drew Barrymore morphs into Drew Carey. Mariah Carey morphs into Jim Carrey. Cher morphs into Britney Spears. When he was first approached to do these, Greer had no idea where to begin. So he went onto Amazon.com and located some specialized software, bought it, tried it out for a few days, and produced his first morph. Since then he has developed a specialty in the process, and the market for them has expanded to include Maxim magazine, More, and Nickelodeon-one a men's magazine, one a middle-aged women's magazine, and one a kids' magazine.

In other words, someone invented a whole new kind of sauce to go on the vanilla, and Greer jumped on it. This is exactly what happens in the global economy as a whole.

"I was experienced enough to pick these [morphs] up pretty quickly," said Greer. "Now I do them on my Mac laptop, anywhere I am, from Santa Barbara to Minneapolis to my apartment in New York. Sometimes clients give me a subject, and sometimes I just come up with them. Morphing used to be one of those really high-end things you saw on TV, and then they came out with this consumer [software] program and people could do it themselves, and I shaped them so magazines could use them. I just upload them as a series of JPEG files. . . Morphs have been a good business for different magazines.

I even get fan mail from kids!"

Greer had never done morphs until the technology evolved and created a new, specialized niche, just when a changing market for his work made him eager to learn new skills. "I wish I could say it was all intentional," he confessed. "I was just available for work and just lucky they gave me a chance to do these things. I know so many artists who got washed out. One guy who was an illustrator has become a package designer, some have gotten out of the field altogether; one of the best designers I know became a landscape architect. She is still a designer but changed her medium altogether. Visual people can adapt, but I am still nervous about the future."

I told Greer his story fit well into some of the terms I was using in this book. He began as a chocolate sauce (a classic illustrator), was turned into a vanilla commodity (a classic illustrator in the computer age), upgraded his skills to become a special chocolate sauce again (a design consultant), then learned how to become a cherry on top (a morphs artist) by fulfilling a new demand created by an increasingly specialized market.

Greer contemplated my compliment for a moment and then said, "And here all I was trying to do was survive-and I still am." As he got up to leave, though, he told me that he was going out to meet a friend "to juggle together." They have been juggling partners for years, just a little side business they sometimes do on a street corner or for private parties. Greer has very good hand-eye coordination. "But even juggling is being commoditized," he complained. "It used to be if you could juggle five balls, you were really special. Now juggling five balls is like just anteing up. My partner and I used to perform together, and he was the seven-ball champ when I met him. Now fourteen-year-old kids can juggle seven balls, no problem. Now they have these books, like Juggling for Dummies, and kits that will teach you how to juggle. So they've just upped the standard." As goes juggling, so goes the world.

These are our real choices: to try to put up walls of protection or to keep marching forward with the confidence that American society still has the right stuff, even in a flatter world. I say march forward. As long as we keep tending to the secrets of our sauce, we will do fine. There are so many things about the American system that are ideally suited for nurturing individuals who can compete and thrive in a flat world.

How so? It starts with America's research universities, which spin off a steady stream of competitive experiments, innovations, and scientific breakthroughs -from mathematics to biology to physics to chemistry. It is a truism, but the more educated you are, the more options you will have in a flat world. "Our university system is the best," said Bill Gates. "We fund our universities to do a lot of research and that is an amazing thing. High-IQ people come here, and we allow them to innovate and turn [their innovations] into products. We reward risk taking.

Our university system is competitive and experimental. They can try out different approaches. There are one hundred universities making contributions to robotics. And each one is saying that the other is doing it all wrong, or my piece actually fits together with theirs. It is a chaotic system, but it is a great engine of innovation in the world, and with federal tax money, with some philanthropy on top of that, [it will continue to flourish] . . . We will really haVe to screw things up for our absolute wealth not to increase. If we are smart, we can increase it faster by embracing this stuff."

The Web browser, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), superfast computers, global position technology, space exploration devices, and fiber optics are just a few of the many inventions that got started through basic university research projects. The BankBoston Economics Department did a study titled "MIT: The Impact of Innovation."

Among its conclusions was that MIT graduates have founded 4,000 companies, creating at least 1.1 million jobs worldwide and generating sales of $232 billion.

What makes America unique is not that it built MIT, or that its grads are generating economic growth and innovation, but that every state in the country has universities trying to do the same. "America has 4,000 colleges and universities," said Allan E. Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education. "The rest of the world combined has 7,768 institutions of higher education. In the state of California alone, there are about 130 colleges and universities. There are only 14 countries in the world that have more than that number."

Take a state you normally wouldn't think of in this regard: Oklahoma. It has its own Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST), which, on its Web site, describes its mission as follows: "In order to compete effectively in the new economy, Oklahoma must continue to develop a well-educated population; a collaborative, focused university research and technology base; and a nurturing environment for cutting-edge businesses, from the smallest start-up to the largest international headquarters. . .

[OCAST promotes] University-Business technology centers, which may span several schools and businesses, resulting in new businesses being spawned, new products being manufactured, and new manufacturing technologies employed." No wonder that in 2003, American universities reaped $1.3 billion from patents, according to the Association of University Technology Managers.

Coupled with America's unique innovation-generating machines-universities, public and private research labs, and retailers-we have the best-regulated and most efficient capital markets in the world for taking new ideas and turning them into products and services. Dick Foster, director of McKinsey & Co. and the author of two books on innovation, remarked to me, "We have an 'industrial policy' in the U.S. -it is called the stock exchange, whether it is the NYSE or the Nasdaq." That is where risk capital is collected and assigned to emerging ideas or growing companies, Foster said, and no capital market in the world does that better and more efficiently than the American one.

What makes capital provision work so well here is the security and regulation of our capital markets, where minority shareholders are protected. Lord knows, there are scams, excesses, and corruption in our capital markets. That always happens when a lot of money is at stake. What distinguishes our capital markets is not that Enrons don't happen in America-they sure do. It is that when they happen, they usually get exposed, either by the Securities and Exchange Commission or by the business press, and get corrected. What makes America unique is not Enron but Eliot Spitzer, the attorney general of New York State, who has doggedly sought to clean up the securities industry and corporate boardrooms. This sort of capital market has proved very, very difficult to duplicate outside of New York, London, Frankfurt, and Tokyo. Said Foster, "China and India and other Asian countries will not be successful at innovation until they have successful capital markets, and they will not have successful capital markets until they have rule of law which protects minority interests under conditions of risk . . . We in the U.S. are the lucky beneficiaries of centuries of economic experimentation, and we are the experiment that has worked."

While these are the core secrets of America's sauce, there are others that need to be preserved and nurtured. Sometimes you have to talk to outsiders to appreciate them, such as Indian-born Vivek Paul of Wipro. "I would add three to your list," he said to me. "One is the sheer openness of American society." We Americans often forget what an incredibly open,

say-anything-do-anything-start-anyming-go-bankrupt-and-start-anything-ag ain society the United States is. There is no place like it in the world, and our openness is a huge asset and attraction to foreigners, many of whom come from countries where the sky is not the limit.

Another, said Paul, is the "quality of American intellectual property protection," which further enhances and encourages people to come up with new ideas. In a flat world, there is a great incentive to develop a new product or process, because it can achieve global scale in a flash. But if you are the person who comes up with that new idea, you want your intellectual property protected. "No country respects and protects intellectual property better than America," said Paul, and as a result, a lot of innovators want to come here to work and lodge their intellectual property.

The United States also has among the most flexible labor laws in the world. The easier it is to fire someone in a dying industry, the easier it is to hire someone in a rising industry that no one knew would exist five years earlier. This is a great asset, especially when you compare the situation in the United States to inflexible, rigidly regulated labor markets like Germany's, full of government restrictions on hiring and firing. Flexibility to quickly deploy labor and capital where the greatest opportunity exists, and the ability to quickly redeploy it if the earlier deployment is no longer profitable, is essential in a flattening world.

Still another secret to America's sauce is the fact that it has the world's largest domestic consumer market, with the most first adopters, in the world, which means that if you are introducing a new product, technology, or service, you have to have a presence in America. All this means a steady flow of jobs for Americans. There is also the little-discussed American attribute of political stability. Yes, China has had a good run for the past twenty-five years, and it may make the transition from communism to a more pluralistic system without the wheels coming off. But it may not. Who would want all his or her eggs in that basket?

Finally, the United States has become one of the great meeting points in the world, a place where lots of different people bond and learn to trust one another. An Indian student who is educated at the University of Oklahoma and then gets his first job with a software firm in Oklahoma City forges bonds of trust and understanding that are really important for future collaboration, even if he winds up returning to India.

Nothing illustrates this point better than Yale University's outsourcing of research to China. Yale president Richard C. Levin explained to me that Yale has two big research operations running in China today, one at Peking University in Beijing and the other at Fudan University in Shanghai. "Most of these institutional collaborations arise not from top-down directives of university administrators, but rather from long-standing personal relationships among scholars and scientists," said Levin.

How did the Yale-Fudan collaboration arise? To begin with, said Levin, Yale professor Tian Xu, its director, had a deep affiliation with both institutions. He did his undergraduate work at Fudan and received his Ph.D. from Yale. "Five of Professor Xu's collaborators, who are now professors at Fudan, were also trained at Yale," explained Levin. One was Professor Xu's friend when both were Yale graduate students; another was a visiting scholar in the laboratory of a Yale colleague; one was an exchange student who came to Yale from Fudan and returned to earn his Ph.D. in China; and the other two were postdoctoral fellows in Professor Xu's Yale lab. A similar story underlies the formation of the Peking-Yale Joint Center for Plant Molecular Genetics

and Agrobiotechnology.

Professor Xu is a leading expert on genetics and has won grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Howard Hughes Foundation to study the connection between genetics and cancer and certain neuro-degenerative diseases. This kind of research requires the study of large numbers of genetic mutations in lab animals. "When you want to test many genes and trace for a given gene that may be responsible for certain diseases, you need to run a lot of tests. Having a bigger staff is a huge advantage," explained Levin. So what Yale did was essentially outsource the lab work to Fudan by creating the Fudan-Yale Biomedical Research Center. Each university pays for its own staff and research, so no money changes hands, but the Chinese side does the basic technical work using large numbers of technicians and lab animals, which cost so much less in China, and Yale does the high-end analysis of the data. The Fudan staff, students, and technicians get great exposure to high-end research, and Yale gets a large-scale testing facility that would have been prohibitively expensive if Yale had tried to duplicate it in New Haven. A support lab in America for a project like this one might have 30 technicians, but the one in Fudan has 150.

"The gains are very much two-way," said Levin. "Our investigators get substantially enhanced productivity, and the Chinese get their graduate students trained, and their young faculty become collaborators with our professors, who are the leaders in their fields. It builds human capital for China and innovation for Yale." Graduate students from both universities go back and forth, forging relationships that will no doubt produce more collaborations in the future. At the same time, he added, a lot of legal preparation went into this collaboration to make sure that Yale would be able to harvest the intellectual property that is created.

"There is one world of science out there," said Levin, "and this kind of international division of labor makes a lot of sense." Yale, he said, also insisted that the working conditions at the Chinese labs be world-class, and, as a result, it has also helped to lift the quality of the Chinese facilities. "The living conditions of the lab animals are right up to U.S. standards," remarked Levin. "These are not mouse sweatshops."

Every law of economics tells us that if we connect all the knowledge pools in the world, and promote greater and greater trade and integration, the global pie will grow wider and more complex. And if America, or any other country, nurtures a labor force that is increasingly made up of men and women who are special, specialized, or constantly adapting to higher-value-added jobs, it will grab its slice of that growing pie. But we will have to work at it. Because if current trends prevail, countries like India and China and whole regions like Eastern Europe are certain to narrow the gap with America, just as Korea and Japan and Taiwan did during the Cold War. They will keep upping their standards.

So are we still working at it? Are we tending to the secrets of our sauce? America still looks great on paper, especially if you look backward, or compare it only to India and China of today and not tomorrow. But have we really been investing in our future and preparing our children the way we need to for the race ahead? See the next chapter. But here's a quick hint: The answer is no.

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