Written by Mona Pearl

How the US Fell Behind in the World it Invented and How We Can Come Back

I was at a Chicago Council on Global Affairs event, where Mr. Friedman discussed his book, “That Used To Be Us”.  America is in trouble, according to Thomas L. Friedman. Globalization, the information technology revolution, chronic deficits, and the nation’s excessive energy consumption are all major challenges facing the country today. Moreover, the current political factionalism in Washington has undermined the United States’ ability to tackle these dilemmas and further threatens the country’s position as a global leader.

Is that all?  And what else? I will argue and add that there is a major fourth challenge we face as a nation, one that stands in our way to succeed:  it is our unwillingness to play in the sandbox with the other nations.  Or, is it that we are so spoiled that we don’t know how?  I am not talking about simply leading the world where there is no competition, the way it used to be.  My point is that the power in the world has shifted and we are no longer alone at the top; a few nations have emerged and take some of our place in limelight and we need to learn to collaborate and not only dictate. Is it arrogance or ignorance?  Or a bit of both?

In my book, “Grow Globally”, I explain outline how US companies can thrive, lead and succeed, but need to acquire a few skills to help them navigate in this new global economy.  Historically, the US has been the leader in the world’s economy (well, this history started about 200 years ago!).  As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, that position has changed.  We’re not even second or third!  According to the 2010-2011 Global Competitiveness Report, the US ranks fourth, behind Switzerland, Sweden, and Singapore.

Fueled by our rugged individualistic and isolationist heritage, it’s no surprise that collaboration across international borders requires a significant level of reconditioning. The United States must move beyond the “us-against-them” approach and recognize that a prosperous world translates to more business for U.S. companies—a win-win situation for all. This attitude is necessary for the United States to maintain its long-standing and valued leadership in the world. Fortunately, with a large dose of commitment, mindset can be corrected, and this challenge can be overcome. How quickly depends on how serious American companies are about joining the global marketplace. As proven in previous decades, when American business embraces challenge, it finds success.

While it is tempting for U.S. businesses of all sizes to focus and dwell on the many overwhelming issues of the day, such as weak economic growth at home, an uncertain credit crisis, a shrinking pool of skill and talent, and increased foreign competition, the fact remains, these issues are not within the control of corporate management. Instead, corporate leadership must take one large step back and look into the global marketplace to discover new opportunities and new avenues to generate future growth. While larger corporations have more resources to invest in exploiting these new opportunities, smaller companies are more agile and can more readily adapt to change.

It is about execution, and since most of strategies fail in the execution phase, we need to learn new ways to get our points, products and services across borders; realize our strengths and competitiveness, and learn to share the stage, focus on teamwork.  Friedman, proudly calling himself a “nationalist”, managed to undermine his own wake- to America. What he focused on is an inward look into a great past, or, as the FT calls it “reinforce the illusions of exceptionalism”. What he emphasizes is that need to look into our own history, and although there may be things we could learn from others, we should focus inwards.

Let’s think about it: how does isolation, constant self-praise, and ignoring the rest of the world by not wanting to learn and accept the new order going to help the United States of America thrive?

It is time we get rid of the illusion that things are going to go back.  There is no going back, only forward.  We need to refine our skills, adjust our mindset, reaffirm our focus, retest our strategy and modify our direction.

\r\nSome of the information above is excerpted from Grow Globally: Opportunities for Your Middle-Market Company Around the World. Copyright (c) 2011 by Mona Pearl.  Reprinted with permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.