Tom Friedman’s Mantra: Think Like an Immigrant!

It's indefinable, but unmistakable: that certain something that makes a person creative, uniquely insightful, and extremely successful. New York Times columnist and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Tom Friedman, has this quality in abundance, and when he talks, smart people sit up and listen, be they CEO's, economists, politicos, or academics - even presidents.

Friedman is an unapologetic globalist, one of a handful of commentators with a deep and intuitive grasp of a central fact of modern life: the days of economic nationalism are over. Economic interests don't stop at the water's edge, and like it or not, every country and every person is now a player in a world economic system where borders - though not quite irrelevant - have become vastly more permeable than ever before.

In his brilliant 2005 book, The World is Flat, Friedman argues that technological advances have lowered the barriers to entry in several key industries, creating a global marketplace in which smaller companies - even individuals - can participate directly. In the new, interconnected world he describes, the playing field is both flat and globe spanning, though it's been tilting strongly in favor of emerging powers like India and China, places with armies of well-educated graduates in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

As Vice Chair of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, I had the privilege of hearing Mr. Friedman speak, in person, at the Maryland Competitiveness Coalition event, held September 6th at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab in Howard County. Friedman revisited these themes, discussing the impact of a nearly borderless international marketplace on the American economy, workforce, and educational system. Among the take-away messages that I found particularly insightful:

  • Think like an immigrant! Be paranoid and optimistic. Paranoid, in the sense that you are always sizing up the competition, always striving to stay one step ahead, and never, ever resting on your laurels. Optimistic because anything else is self-defeating, and a luxury you can't afford.
  • Be hungry, because everyone is an immigrant in the super-connected world we live in today! Global competition is reality, and fat-and-happy is not a recipe for success.
  • Think like an artisan! Always take pride in your work, and do your job as if you were going to carve your initials into it. Develop a reputation for excellence, and make that your brand.
  • Always be in beta mode! Nothing is ever finished. The world is constantly changing, constantly in motion, and if you're standing still, it will pass you by. If you want to stay ahead of the pack, you have to try new things, and you can't be afraid to experiment. As one of the legal world's online pioneers, I know from experience that Friedman's right!
  • PQ plus CQ is always higher than IQ! What does this mean? Dogged Persistence (PQ) and high Curiosity (CQ) will always take you farther than raw intelligence alone. Just being smart is not enough. You need to harness your passion to make your dreams come true!
  • Think like a waitress at the Perkins he visited in central Iowa, who went all-out to please her customers. Although she couldn't control anything except the fruit ladle, she gave him extra fruit and got an extra 50% in her tip! Be relentlessly entrepreneurial in everything you do, and never stop thinking of creative ways to add value for your customers. Don’t just meet their needs: surprise them by going above and beyond their expectations. Then you'll truly stand out from your competition!
  • Listen well! Instead of really listening, most of us simply wait for the other person to stop talking, so we can make our point. If we truly listen - with an open heart and a fully engaged mind - people will relate to us better and respect us more. Even if they don't fully agree with everything we say, they will listen and respond more positively - and by being open to new ideas, we'll learn more!

So, the good news is that the whole world is now your market. The bad news: the whole world is also your competition. This is a sobering insight for American businesses. But far from presenting a doom-and-gloom scenario, Friedman's message is upbeat and optimistic: as Americans, we can compete in a complex world marketplace. As Friedman argues, one of our greatest strengths is that we have remained a nation of immigrants. The American melting pot brings together ideas from all over the world, and its creative synergies have unleashed innovation, job growth, and entirely new industries, especially in the technology sector.

As an immigration lawyer, I've made it my mission to bring the best and brightest here to America, so I couldn't agree more with Mr. Friedman! We need the ideas and energy and driving ambition that immigrants bring to the table - but most of all, we need their example: the tireless immigrant work ethic and can-do attitude that have built the great nation we have today!

Copyright © 2013, MURTHY LAW FIRM. All Rights Reserved

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.

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