Some not so random thoughts on the future

March 15, 2010
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Times are changing. Once a global leader in manufacturing, our country is in the process of transforming itself into one of the world's technology and idea incubators.

Where we once prided ourselves on how well we could “make things,” our foundation now has become firmly grounded within our intellectual property. Education, once a privilege, has become a necessity if individuals expect to find work within this changed world. Life-long learning has become a necessity to advance in (or even retain) a job. 

A Career Readiness Certificate is becoming a requirement for employment rather than something that might simply open the door for an interview. No longer able to thrive by servicing a local market, business must now compete on an international stage. Organizations just now thinking about change are probably a bit late in their transformation, having been left behind by more proactive peers.

Unless we intentionally move forward toward new opportunity, we will be relegated to picking up the pieces of "life as we knew it."

Lost in the call for change is the definition of reality. What is ahead for business in Michigan? Is the light at the end of the tunnel one of hope or one of impending disaster? Is the best way to prepare for the future to dwell on what didn’t work, or to seek what hasn’t yet been tried?

Far too many people look into the tunnel, rather than beyond it. They see a light at its end but do not see the horizon where it might lead. Every tunnel provides two perspectives: One can look into a tunnel as a portal that may be entered, not knowing where it may lead, or conversely, one may look to the new horizons that are revealed when we look outside of the tunnel.

Personally, I prefer to look back just long enough to acknowledge shortcomings, analyze why an action may not have resulted in a desirable reaction, and then move forward toward a brighter tomorrow. Understanding yesterday’s mistakes helps them become tomorrow’s memories, rather than a predictor of future action.

The only way a community will thrive is by learning to accept the previously unacceptable — to innovate rather than dwelling in the comfort of what always was, because it may never be again.

We once sought knowledge so we could perform a job by applying our "learning" to known, well-defined situations. In today’s world, we must learn to think, rather than simply "doing as expected." Our educational institutions must reinvent themselves to meet this expectation, making sure that students grasp core concepts and how they are applied, rather than memorizing answers to questions that may never be asked.

We must move away from rewarding effort toward recognizing accomplishment. We must strengthen teams but insure that there is competent leadership within each group, driving it toward a common goal, motivating its members toward a common conclusion. Everyone is not equal. We all have different gifts and must be provided with the opportunity to embrace how our diverse individual perspectives can contribute to the accomplishments of the whole.

Michigan is transforming itself into a globally competitive leader by doing what it always does: innovating, creating and recognizing opportunity. Embracing the opportunities that an uncertain future offers is much more productive than worrying about things we cannot control, or obsessing over change that will happen with or without us. Don't be left behind as your peers become embroiled within a global revolution. Knowledge is power but the application of that power translates into wisdom. But is knowledge and wisdom sufficient?

While knowing the facts is important, and applying the information that we know toward the resolution of an issue critical, what about our responsibility to share best practices with those around us to make the region stronger? Without wisdom, we will fall by the wayside, finding ourselves trapped hopelessly within a tunnel having no exit rather than seeing the vast potential that can become reality if only we look outside ourselves, sharing what we see with those around us.

We need not share trade secrets nor redistribute personal gain, but until we shine our light as a beacon to those around us, preventing their crashing into the shore, we cannot thrive within a global market. It is not our responsibility to furnish jobs to the community, but rather to create a product, service or the intellectual capital that will insure the stability of our economy so that jobs follow. Wealth is not a product that is created — it is the byproduct of innovation that has been leveraged into action by those who see the potential outside of the tunnel rather than the darkness within.

David J. Smith is president and CEO of The Employers’ Association, a not-for-profit provider of human resource solutions since 1939.

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