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Editor's Note

Higher ed must adapt to the 'flat world.'

University Business, Aug 2006

Judging by the standing-room-only crowd that turned out to hear keynote speaker Thomas Friedman at the "Campus of the Future" conference last month in Honolulu, I may be one of the few people left who hasn't read his book, The World is Flat. (The book is on my night stand, along with other books I haven't gotten around to reading yet, including, ironically, David Allen's Getting Things Done.)

Friedman, addressing the joint conference of NACUBO, SCUP, and APPA, told the audience the warning he was given that inspired his bestselling book: "The global economy playing field is being leveled and America is not ready."

When The World is Flat first came out in 2004, he said, many people interpreted it as an obituary of sorts: America had lost the global race to countries like India and China that had the foresight to adapt, while the rest of the world was "sleeping." That foresight was realized in part by the flood of outsourcing that has eliminated so many of the jobs for which traditional forms of education have prepared graduates.

But Friedman continued his research after the book came out, and saw enough hope for the future that he expanded the original volume (to "version 2.0") with what he believes are the strategies college graduates-and the rest of us-will need to stay competitive in the race.

Key to that strategy is the emergence of new "middle jobs," or jobs that can't be outsourced. But how do we prepare today's students for those jobs? "We don't just need more education, we need the right education," he said.

That education must satisfy the unique needs of the future job market. It will encourage and build upon skills that define the types of jobs that will encompass the global economy. It will involve new ways of teaching. It will also likely involve combining two or more disciplines to create a new area of study specifically geared to accommodate "flat world" economy.

Friedman outlined eight new middle jobs for which educators must prepare their students. The new middle jobs will be held by people who are:

"We don't just need more education, we need the
right education." -Thomas Friedman

Great collaborators. Those who have learned to work effectively with others whether in the same office or on other continents via internet technology.

Great "leveragers." People who have learned to do the job of 20 people using technology will always be in demand.

Great synthesizers. This is a person who can take two different products or ideas to create something new that enhances the value of both.

Great explainers. Friedman's "flat world" is so complex it will need new "guides" to lead the way for the rest of us.

Great localizers. The internet has made every small business a potential global player.

Green adapters. "Deriving alternatives to fossil fuels and sustainable societies will always be in demand," he said.

Passionate people. Those who have the ability to bring a unique personal touch to "vanilla" jobs will keep them safe from the threat of outsourcing.

Great adapters. Friedman said the winners in the future job market will be those who make quick changes. He said it's like training for the Olympics without knowing what sport you'll compete in.

Once the unquestioned leader in technology, he said, America won't win this race by default, only by understanding the new flat world and becoming part of it. Friedman called on the audience of educators to take heart that the battle is not lost. Some innovative schools, such as Georgia Tech, "get it," he said.

"When the world is flat, whatever can be done will be done," he said. "The question is, will it be done by you or to you?"

Write to Tim Goral at

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