Friedman: ‘Average Is Officially Over’

By Dana Wilkie Jun 23, 2014


ORLANDO, FLA.—Because technology and globalization are dramatically redefining the economy and education, making once-coveted jobs obsolete and squeezing out high-wage, middle-skilled workers, the future workplace will be one where “average is officially over,” author Thomas Friedman said June 23 during a keynote speech at the 2014 Society for Human Resource Management Annual Conference & Exposition. 

“It’s really, really going to be difficult to be a worker in this world… because the single most important socioeconomic fact of this hyper-connected world—the new thing it created—is that average is officially over,” said Friedman.

“It’s not enough anymore even to say ‘I’m not routine.’ You have to be creative nonroutine. You have to be incredibly adaptable nonroutine. You’ve got to find your extra—your unique value contribution that justifies why you should be hired, why you should be promoted and why you should be advanced every year."

Admittedly, Friedman said, this is “creating huge anxiety out there in every one of your labor forces.”

Even law, medicine and teaching—once considered the sort of “top tier” professions that parents hoped their children would enter—are being replaced by software, robots and online programs. Because nearly every imaginable piece of information now is available on the Internet, Friedman said, the company of the future will be less interested in where job applicants studied or even what they learned, but instead what they can do with the information they have.

For instance, he said, as much as 14 percent of some of Google’s technology teams never went to college.

“Google doesn’t care what you know,” said Friedman, an internationally renowned author, reporter and columnist, recipient of three Pulitzer Prizes and author of six best-selling books. “The Google machine knows everything. All Google cares about is what you can do with what you know. And that’s all anybody cares about anymore. And they don’t care where you learned it, when you learned it or how you learned it—from Matchbox University, MIT or studying at home. ... They only care, and will only pay for, what you can do with what you know.

The three ways in which education must prepare tomorrow’s workers, he said, is by making young people not college-ready but “innovation-ready;” by fostering creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking; and by instilling in students what he called “the big M”—motivation.

“Self-motivation is going to be so much more important in the hyper-connected world,” he said. “Everyone on the planet will have a smartphone and a network connection and when that happens … the big divide in the world is going to be the motivational divide. Who has the self-motivation to use that connectivity to start a business? To constantly upgrade their learning? To access foreign markets and the best workers in the world?”

Friedman said some of the job-market principles he’s drilled into his own daughters include:

  • Think like a new immigrant; stay hungry. “New immigrants are paranoid optimists. They’re optimists because they came from somewhere bad to someplace they thought was better. But they are paranoid because they think it can be taken away from them any moment.”

  • Think like an artisan; take pride. “Do your job every day as if you brought so much extra to it you want to carve your initials in it.”

  • Think like a start-up in Silicon Valley; always be in ‘beta.’ “Think of yourself as a work in progress—needing to learn, relearn and re-engineer for your whole life.”

  • Remember that PQ plus CQ will always trump IQ. “Give me a young person today with a high passion quotient and a high curiosity quotient … and I will take them over a kid with a high intelligence quotient seven days a week.

  • Always think like a waitress at Perkins Pancake House in Minneapolis; be relentlessly entrepreneurial.When a waitress gave Friedman’s friend extra fruit with his pancakes, Friedman and his colleague gave the server a 50 percent tip. “She didn’t control much, but she controlled the fruit ladle,” he said.

“We all really do now live in Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon,” Friedman said, referring to the fictional town Keillor talks of in his radio show “A Prairie Home Companion”—“where all the men are strong, all the women are beautiful and all the children need to be above average.”

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.​


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