Succeeding in the Borderless Economy

Judith M. Bardwick, Ph.D.

The loss of the protection of Entitlement is one of the great social and economic transformations of our time. In the second half of the twentieth century, Entitlement became the dominant culture of the United States and most other nations. Over the decades, people came to assume and depend on its’ “kindness,” on the fact that the culture protected and nurtured them, regardless of what they did or didn’t do. But the conditions that created Entitlement are gone forever. Organizations and nations must now cope with people who have had too much protection and now fear they have none. That’s why people cling to the protections of Entitlement even as reality peels it away.

The earth’s tectonic plates are shifting and that is changing economies, governments and social values. We’ve moved from predictable “peacetime” conditions to the unpredictable ones of “wartime”. Technology, deregulation and international economic integration have created a boundary less economy. The result is that organizations and individuals have lost the protection traditionally given by time and distance. Since no country can afford to be isolationist, the boundary less economy and a competitive, risky wartime footing are permanent. Everyone, everywhere, faces ever-increasing competition and change.

Today’s Darwinian reality is killing Entitlement because of its’ extreme expense. No one can afford Entitlement because it encourages inefficiency. Though that scares many people, over the long run that will be a good thing. In every instance, prolonged Entitlement bankrupts economic health. Even worse, Entitlement erodes the moral and psychological health of the population, especially those who came to believe they were victimized. Long-term Entitlement leads to psychological dependence and an abdication of responsibility for one’s self as well as the larger community.

Many of today’s business gurus view the world through mechanical lenses, regarding people as interchangeable, predicting the end of organizations, of jobs, of any kind of security and predictability. This won’t be true because it can’t be true. People and their organizations cannot flourish where there are prolonged levels of high insecurity and fear. That’s why throughout history, people have banded together and why organizations must make commitments to their employees. But unlike the absolute job security of Entitlement, today’s security is conditional on performance and profit.

The organizations that will succeed in the faster, riskier, more volatile competition of a boundary less world will replace leaders whose idol is Genghis Khan. While leaders who manage to fear can dismantle organizations, they can’t build them because they don’t have the trust and consensus of today’s mobile employees. Successful wartime leaders create an emotional following as they manage to success. They know sustained, thrilling levels of performance requires both business and psychological success. Effective leaders celebrate success generously, spontaneously, and personally.

Achieving success in the borderless economy requires a sense of urgency about customers and competition and a totally results-driven mindset. If it doesn’t fly in the market place, move on! Successful organizations continuously revisit the question, What is the business of this business?, as the answer defines where results matter? Everything that’s done is as simple, direct and focused as possible. At a time when process is a growth industry, winning organizations know that processes can never be more than a way to achieve a goal. They never confuse process for the goals that really matter.

Even more than education, people need an entrepreneurial mindset and organizations need strategies to encourage it. Cohesion and a commitment to the organization’s goals and ideals need to drive decisions. And leaders have to be models of the organization’s values. For that reason, they need to be selected for their existing personal qualities as well as their technical abilities.

Everyone needs to give up the illusion of the status quo that is created by denying reality. The truth must be seen and said. Speak the Unspeakable. Identify the gap between where you are and where you must go, and ferret out the barriers to getting there.

In the midst of extraordinary change, people who really lead create hope and a clear understanding of the way to success. Be optimistic: The people and the organizations who will thrive in the continuous competition and change of the boundary less economy will be those who see more opportunity than threat in change.

There is more at issue than economics. A vibrant democracy requires self-governing voters, people whose choices are bound by moral criteria of right and wrong. The nation needs citizens who are thoughtful, who have an ingrained sense of responsibility, who are committed to the community, the civil aspects of society and, at the same time, are independent. Reality calls for people who are confident and resilient, who can flourish in turbulence and risk. Neither meritorious citizens nor prosperity are achieved with the protectionist policies of Entitlement or the panic created by chaos.

The best outcomes are achieved when people are held responsible for what they do, in a world where the rules are clear, in the open market of a meritocracy.

No one ever says, Thanks for giving me a hard time. But, in fact, they should. It’s only when we cope with hard times that we deliver at levels of accomplishment we never knew we could reach. Hard times force us to focus on what really matters and perform at the highest level. It is then, when we have to meet real challenge, that we develop the skills and the conviction we can deal with anything life throws our way. Have hope for the future. While it may be harder, it will be better for the people who move forward, into the opportunities that change always creates.

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