It’s a right brain flat world

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As Thomas Friedman points out in his book, the world is becoming flatter; that is, communication and logistical networks are reducing the friction and distance between people. In this world “Anything that can be done, will be done. Will it be done by you or to you?” Friedman asks.

I attended the thought-provoking Flat World symposium in NYC last week. The panel will be available in podcast form soon enough so I won’t bother repeating much of it here; but I found a discussion on right brain thinking to be interesting.

A common contention is that the 19th century belonged to Britain, the 20th century to the U.S. and that the 21st century will inevitably belong to China. Thomas Friedman and Brian Behlendorf make the counter argument that comptetive advantage in a flat world will come from creative thinking, synthesis, innovation, and other right brain activities. This seems to be playing out on a smaller scale in the U.S. in the way that cities with appeal to the creative classes are enhancing their competitiveness.

I’m an engineer by trade but an artist by vocation so I find this argument comforting on a personal level. If the right brain thesis is correct, my career should flourish even as my hard engineering skills continue to decay asymptotically to nothing. However, a more important question is how much of a competitive advantage will we as a nation sustain from it? It is widely reported that many U.S. companies that originally outsourced offshore for competive pricing are now doing it to tap into the creatitivity of engineers closest to the their target markets. China may censor the Internet, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that individuals’ cannot think with the right side’s of their brains.

And given that not all geo-competition is of an economic nature, in the defense space where I work, is there any right brain thinking at all?

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