Friedman extols our ‘Gutenberg’ moment

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Friedman extols our ‘Gutenberg’ moment


Columnist Thomas Friedman speaks at The New York Times Global Forum Asia at Singapore’s Four Seasons Hotel Friday. [JoongAng Ilbo]

SINGAPORE - New York Times long-time foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman outlined a new era at The New York Times Global Forum Asia at Singapore’s Four Seasons Hotel last Friday.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist said we are living a new “Gutenberg moment,” a time when changes come as fast as they did after the invention of the printing process. The combination of technology and wider access to information has redefined the way people lead their lives, he said.

The mind-boggling amount of information available on the Web, especially with the advent of cloud computing, has brought us into a “hyper-connected” world.

“Something really big happened while you were sleeping,” he said.

The plumbing and wiring of the world “took us to connected to hyper-connected and inter-connected to inter-dependent,” the American columnist said.

The key to faring well in the new era, he said, is to act like “an artisan” who is always in “work-in-progress” mode, ready to embrace new ideas and willing to do “extra” things in your work.

The 60-year-old journalist took the example of a waitress he encountered at a pancake restaurant. The woman didn’t act like a passive employee but displayed entrepreneurship by serving more fresh fruit on top of regular desert items.

Another tip is to develop one’s own “uniqueness,” he said, because customers now demand something special about services.

“Everyone has to justify a unique value of contribution. There is increasingly no such thing as high-wage, middle-skilled jobs,” he said at a forum celebrating the renaming of the International Herald Tribune as The International New York Times.

Along with advice on how to live in what he defined as a new era, Friedman also expressed concerns about the leadership in both the United States and in the international community.

The columnist described the current U.S. political system as “hyper-polarized” and U.S. democracy as a “veto-cracy,” apparently alluding to the recent U.S. government shutdown.

“The system that the Founding Fathers brilliantly designed to divide the power has been destroyed,” Friedman noted.

The problem is not confined to the United States. The European Union faces growing challenges because “it has monetary union without political union,” he said.

The absence of political union will result in monetary policies that lack consistency. Many European countries don’t appear to have the capability to coordinate both fiscal and monetary policy.

As for Arab countries going through messy transitions, the root cause of many conflicts is the absence of a new capable leader for countries that emerged from the oppression of an “iron-fist” dictatorship.

He suggested that the ideal leadership be based on “two-way communication.” Good leaders also need to develop moral authority as well as formal authority, and moral authority carries more weight than formal authority in the modern world.

“You got to lead through people, not above people,” Friedman said.

The core criteria for successful leaders is not a high IQ but PQ (persistence and passion) and CQ (curiosity).

His speech lasted 40 minutes and was part of a one-day forum that ran from 8:40 a.m. until 4 p.m.

At the Four Seasons Hotel, Friedman also hosted 10 conversations with business leaders and other prominent figures at the forefront of the digital economy. The figures include Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Meg Whitman and James Manyika, a senior partner of the consultancy company McKinsey.

The forum was attended by chief executive officers, technology leaders, government officials, decision-makers and scholars.


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