With a greater international exchange of ideas, goods, services, and talent today, our world has never been more wired and connected. Globalization has wholly transformed how people across continents absorb information and interact with each other. I believe it also has subtly changed how we think and act as individuals.
Take the unfortunate consequence of globalization after the anti-Muslim “movie” was posted online. Middle East violence against the U.S. erupted because of drastically conflicting ideas between freedom of speech and derogatory insults against a religion. In a recent Foreign Policy blog, Abdulaziz H. Al-Fahad calls for mutual tolerance in our “shrinking world,” explaining, “The world is increasingly pulled together by the relentless push of modern technology and integrated economic systems on the one hand, and simmering conflicts periodically manifested on the cultural realm, on the other.”
Events need not be so significant to make a difference. I recently revisited the ideas from one of my favorite business books, The Tipping Point, in which bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell uses real-world examples of little things that spread like wildfire. He says that “the best way to understand the emergence of fashion trends, the ebb and flow of crime waves … or any number of the other mysterious changes that mark everyday life is to think of them as epidemics.”
Facebook has been incredibly infectious. Since its miniscule beginnings at Harvard eight years ago, the social media site’s popularity as an online place to connect and exchange ideas and photos has proliferated, attracting 1 billion monthly active users today. This figure is nearly 15 percent of the world and three times the size of the population of the United States.
According to ITU World Telecommunication, 2.3 billion people worldwide were using the Internet at the end of 2011—that means that a significant portion of the online world has a Facebook account.
The Super S-Curve in global population is also significantly affecting our ideas, opinions and ways of live. While it took about 150 years for the world population to grow from 1 billion to 3 billion people, it took less than 15 years to add the next subsequent billion. Now there are 7 billion of us, with many people on the planet acquiring a little more wealth every year. The World Bank said that about 1.3 billion people around the world live on less than a $1.25 a day. This is the lowest number of people ever.
Back when the world only contained 3 billion people, the economic and political footprint of India and China did not exist. Now the two most populous countries in the world are pursuing policies that are encouraging economic growth and improving standards of lives for their residents. I believe these countries are creating a domino chain of reaction felt around the world.
In The Washington Quarterly, William Overholt from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government outlined his view on how China’s economy will develop as the pyramid of power shifts to new leadership. He says many see China as a “successor to British and U.S. leadership through globalization,” and one final step in that global direction is to develop a “globalization of talent” in the country.
To that end, China insists that all residents must take seven years of English before graduating from high school. Many elite families in the country have children in Ivy League universities, and Chinese vice ministers much spend a semester at Harvard “to ensure their understanding of global best practice.”
In addition, more than 70 percent of Chinese university presidents and research lab heads obtained Ph.D.s from foreign institutions, says Overholt.
Time will only tell whether China takes over as the world’s largest economic superpower. What’s important for investors is to be aware of the ideas and behaviors that are catching, and how our social networks can be contagions, as suggested by Harvard’s Nicholas Christakis in a recent TED Talk.
Likewise, Gladwell shows how minor changes in our external environment can have a dramatic effect on how we behave and who we are.
Next time you read a headline on your TV, phone or newspaper, I hope you are inspired to think of ways that local and global biases and opinions infiltrate your world.