Be a Gumby

A while back I did a workshop in London, Ontario. With the permission of the organizers, I was able to invite one of the members of our information technology team to attend. While the majority of our team is based in Alberta, Chris just happened to live in London.  The organizers were surprised to learn that although we had hired Chris on a contract over a year before, the workshop was the very first time we had ever met face to face.

This week we hired a young woman named Montana as our new Knowledge Transfer Coordinator. Although now based in Toronto, it was exciting to find that in addition to having a degree in Business from Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, she was also a graduate of Niagara College in the Business Administration - Marketing Co-op Program.

So why am I telling you this? 

The point is that where you work these days is becoming less and less relevant. The world is indeed flat.

I first heard the expression, “the world is flat” a number of years when I listened to New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, deliver a keynote address related to his bestselling book of the same name.

While at the time I’m not sure I totally grasped his concept of globalization, the book title is a metaphor for explaining how unprecedented advances in technology have leveled the global (and in our case the pan Canadian) playing field. Everyone is a player regardless of where they live.

As Friedman put it, “In a flat world, you can innovate without having to emigrate.”

Friedman isn’t alone in presenting this viewpoint. Economists have been suggesting for the past several decades that the leveling effects of progress in technology will decrease the economic importance of geographic place.

Friedman believes there are a number of factors that have contributed to the “flatness” over the last several decades. These include the fall of the Berlin Wall because it signaled the end of the Cold War, Windows powered PCs (personal computers) that allowed individuals to create their own content and connect to one another,  Netscape and the Web because it opened the use of the Internet to a wider audience, and technology advances such as software, wireless, voice over Internet, file sharing, and personal digital devices that allow for multiple forms of global collaboration and thus the rise of outsourcing and offshoring.

Friedman says these “flatteners” converged around the year 2000, and “created a flat world: a global, web-enabled platform for multiple forms of sharing knowledge and work, irrespective of time, distance, geography and increasingly, language.”

At the time this platform emerged, three huge economies materialized—those of India, China, and the former Soviet Union—“and three billion people who had been out of the game, walked onto the playing field.” That explains why companies based in India and China are able to provide call centre operators, accountants, and computer programmers who have become integral parts of the often complex global supply chains for large corporations.

So, while it’s clear a flat world has impacted corporations, are there transferable learnings for the rest of us?

Perhaps the most important is that we need new ways of working within this flat world. Instead of collaborating vertically (the top-down method of collaboration, where innovation comes from the top), we need to do more collaborating horizontally. Horizontalization means people, organizations, businesses, and types and levels of government need to collaborate with one another if they are to deliver value, creativity, and innovation. Those currently hanging on to power need to understand that in today’s world, collaboration is the new leadership.

Additionally, for all of us to be more successful in this increasingly flattened world, we need a workforce that brings the mindset and the skills of employees like our Chris and Montana. The more technical skills one has, the better one is at playing nice with others, and the more flexible, and nimble you are, the more employable you will be.

In other words, be a Gumby.

Posted on 04-03-11


When I was young, I always wished I had a transporter like on Star Trek.  Then I could live or work anywhere but only be a step away from my friends.  The new ‘flatness’ that you mentioned is almost like a ‘transporter’ for knowledge.  Hurrah!  Now only if I had the USS Enterprise to whisk me away to a warmer location with no snow!

•Posted by Janet Naclia  on  04/05/11  at  12:32 PM


I will tell you honestly, I don’t really know what a gumby is. But thanks to google I know now. Now, I can relate and understand what you’re talking about.

•Posted by Queensland Government  on  07/08/11  at  03:42 PM

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