The Importance of The Local in Global

February 26th 2013

My Futurist Question Remains…..

The question is whether the entry and cementation of digital natives in the workforce will change the importance of local connections. Some believe it will. And the reason for this is digital collaboration. There is currently millions of people online, playing and collaborating on multi-player platforms like World of Warcraft, and they are creating new types of behaviours, leadership skills, and communication efficiencies.

World of Warcraft has 10 million plus subscribers who are collaborating in virtual teams across the world, and co-creating a virtual reality. For them analogue place is less important than cyberspace when they’re in in-game mode. According to John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas, the in-game mode, and the gamer’s disposition, develops digital skills, which should translate into analogue behaviours that modern, globally diversified organisations ought to seek. Seely Brown and Thomas describe gamers as:

  1. bottom-line oriented – they seek to be evaluated and are focussed on results. The goal is meritocracy and improvement.
  2. understanding of the power of diversity – the strongest teams in virtual worlds are teams with diverse talents, and by definition each team member is incomplete.
  3. thriving on change – nothing is constant in a game. Gamers create change, and expect flux.
  4. seeing learning as fun – learning in-game provides knowledge on how to overcome obstacles, and adding to a gamer’s resourcefulness.
  5. marinating on the “edge” – gamers innovate and create on the edge of the possible, and solving a task is as much of a challenge, as is finding a novel way to do so.

Anders Sorman-Nilsson World of Warcraft

These five attributes, so goes the argument, make for employees who are flexible, resourceful, improvisational, eager for a quest, believers in meritocracy, and foes of bureaucracy.

Many of our Fortune 500 clients would love to see these types of attributes in their employees.

BUT DOES THIS TRANSLATE INTO A TIPPING POINT WHERE DIGITAL CYBERSPACE BECOMES MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANALOGUE LOCATION? NOT YET.

While we have seen online collaboration and innovation work well in the case of open source software creation like MySQL and Linux, the corporate world at large has been slow to break their nexus with analogue location.

Interestingly, even cyberspace has a sense of place, though, because even a world like World of Warcraft has geography and a distinctness to it, and is created in a virtual physicality, that is not dissimilar to the “real worlds” we have built in locations like Silicon Valley. It is certainly foreseeable, and in fact largely inevitable, that the digital gamer attributes outlined above will become more mainstream. As a generation of Generation Zers (b. 1994-2010) start graduating, and shaping the workforce with new demands and contributions, digital collaboration will increase.

IF YOU WERE BORN AFTER 1994 YOU DON’T KNOW A WORLD WITHOUT THE INTERNET, AND IF YOU HAVE GROWN UP ON A DIET OF MYSPACE, FACEBOOK, JUSTIN BIEBER, TWITTER AND BIG BROTHER, YOUR ANALOGUE SKILLS ARE LIKELY TO DIFFER FROM A BABY BOOMER, GENERATION XER OR MILLENIAL.

On the flipside your technical, and digital acuity could well be out of this world. Literally. This holds promise for the future of digital.

But in the meantime, business is still local. Since the 1980s we have been told by management consultants to ‘think global, act local’. Glocalization refers to the practice of conducting business according to both local and global considerations. Two of the flag bearers that you might associate with this global / local trend are the mantras of HSBC’s ‘The World’s Local Bank’, and IBM’s ‘Solutions for a Small Planet’. Both tune into the analogue, the micro, the local.

Equally, business strategists have known that local adaptation is key in their Go-to-Market strategies and thus multinational corporations are encouraged to build local roots. Coca-Cola’s locally adapted World Cup 2010 vocal advertorials and McDonald’s Chicken Maharaja Mac are examples of localising products for their analogue locations. It’s kind of the reverse of provenance marketing. The latter speaks highly of where a product or service emanates (iPhone – ‘Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China’) while the former, like Maharaja Mac takes local considerations and diet into account in the way McDonald’s pitches a product in India. The key in the latter example is turning a global brand into one that is locally relevant. The argument according to John Quelch and Katherine Jocz, the authors of “All Business is Local”, is that customers just want the best products and the best experience in the area they know best – their own neighborhoods.

Anders Sorman-Nilsson Maccas India

FOR ALL THE TALK OF THINKING GLOBAL, HAVING OUR HEADS IN THE CLOUD, AND BEING DIGITALLY CONNECTED, IT SEEMS CUSTOMERS STILL HAVE THEIR FEET FIRMLY PLANTED ON THE GROUND – LOCALLY.

The analogue local impacts the most digitally disruptive of them all. Google. This Silicon Valley firm is not beyond geography and physical boundaries. Instead, geography, and analogue location is impacting its digital reach, and its innovation strategies. In 2010, Google closed down the analogue and digital presence of Google.cn. Because of consistent privacy breaches and censorship regulations, Google moved its offices and servers to Hong Kong. At the same time, perhaps ironically, Google faced invasion of privacy lawsuits in Germany after its StreetView product was found to be photographing private homes. This digital company, with no physical product in the market place in 2010, suddenly became very aware of analogue geography, and location-specific eccentricities. Meanwhile in China, the local search engine, Baidu, got to cement its market leadership. Digital disruptors are not immune to analogue location, and brands more broadly, need to create innovations that are localized.

ANALOGUE LOCATION IS ECCENTRIC. IT’S SPECIFIC. IT’S ROOTED IN GEOLOGY. IT’S SHAPED BY GEOGRAPHY. IT’S SHAPED BY LOCAL CUSTOMS AND REGULATIONS. IT’S ABOUT PEOPLE. IT’S ABOUT GLUE. IT’S ABOUT SUBTLE SIGNS. IT’S ABOUT SWEATY PALMS IN A HANDSHAKE. IT’S ABOUT SERENDIPITY. IT’S ABOUT PASSION.

And talent is attracted by passionate, analogue spikes in creativity. Like Silicon Valley. It’s human to want to be immersed in location. In the present moment. Namaste. And in the near-term it will not be replaced by the digital. Analogue location drives digital innovation, and that the most disruptive of digital players still get affected by analogue location.

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The Importance of The Local in Global
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