Category Archives: global issues

Cooperation around Problems rather than Institutions

It may not be a bad time to wake up to something about our “nation state” world order.

The idea of the nation state evolved out of the terrible wars of religion that we call the “thirty years war”. Those wars were quite terrible because they were fought over a core idea – what is the basis of authority to rule? Catholics claimed that it was conferred through the Catholic Church from God. Protestants claimed that the Catholic Church had no such right or power. Their interpretation of the word of God was superior. Neither could live with the other’s view, so they started killing each other.

The Treaty of Westphaia brought an end to the killing and it was a compromise. Neither side won. Both agreed to leave each other alone,, in effect conferring a right that had not existed before. A nation state had the right to be left alone. Nation states could and then did govern themselves.

Moving forward to our times, there is a bit of a problem here. Nation states as structures are not “problem solving” based. While nation states do make it easier to solve some problems, they are really bad at solving others. For example, they are not very good at promoting innovation as a problem solving tool. that requires networking of a sort that nation states do not do.

Al Wenger brings this out in his post today. We need new types of empowered networks that develop, tryout and and share new ideas for the problems that trouble them.

I agree.  And I would go a step further. These networks need access to financing tools so that they can move faster.

Kickstart your Career with Training

One of the more interesting trends these days relates to how “work” is changing. In the old days, the world of work was pretty well fixed. One found a job that started him or her on a career track. And one hoped that with high levels of job performance, the employer would offer the tools to get ahead — including, but not limited to mentoring and training.

Employers still want great workers. But employer needs are changing. They are looking for different things that they used to. More precisely, they are looking for technical knowledge and soft skills. And with a more rapidly changing workplace, employers are less able to guarantee that they can offer you the knowledge and skills that you need to get ahead in your career.

Here is an example. A statement from the CEO of ProtoLabs on who they want to hire.

(we recognize) how important STEM fields are within manufacturing today, and it’s why Proto Labs actively reaches out to college grads who may not be familiar with the current state of manufacturing — a tech-driven industry that is undergoing a digital renaissance

This is a brave new world. And targeted training will play a greater role to upgrade worker skills sets and knowledge bases for workers to fit in. That may be for entry level technical positions. And it may be for ongoing skills development.

Where will you get this? Good question.  Probably not from your school or university. Academics are not that well connected to the above world of work. We are talking about a private intermediary who is networking with employers and offering programming for workers.

I will be searching for the best of these around the globe and bring back reports as I go.

Stay tuned!

Global Trends

McKensey has an interesting post about the 4 global trends that are shaping our future. This quote gets your attention

We need to realize that much of what we think we know about how the world works is wrong;

And this one

Compared with the Industrial Revolution, we estimate that (21st century) change is happening ten times faster and at 300 times the scale, or roughly 3,000 times the impact. Although we all know that these disruptions are happening, most of us fail to comprehend their full magnitude and the second- and third-order effects that will result. Much as waves can amplify one another, these trends are gaining strength, magnitude, and influence as they interact with, coincide with, and feed upon one another. Together, these four fundamental disruptive trends are producing monumental change.

Japan’s Solar Future

Part of the fallout (excuse the pun please) from the disaster at Fukushima is that Japan has to re-think its energy policy.  It is.

Japan is retiring nearly 2.4 gigawatts of expensive and polluting oil-fired energy plants by March next year and switching to alternative fuels. Japan’s 43 nuclear reactors have been closed in the wake of the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima power plant after an earthquake and a tsunami – since then, renewable energy capacity has tripled to 25 gigawatts, with solar accounting for more than 80 percent of that.

This is an interesting trend. And who is next? Consider India, which is largely coal fired.

Looking Behind the News

One of the biggest news stories of this autumn has been the dramatic fall in the price of crude oil.  Few predicted it, and as far as  I know, none predicted that prices would fall to this level. Let’s categorize this, therefore, as a surprise.

Surprises happen and when they do they carry strategic consequences. Most important, we need to re-think what is behind the news. Why were we surprised?

The funny thing in this case is that we really do not know for sure. Sure there was over-supply. But why?

One line of thought is that conventional wisdom about the path of global economic growth was wrong.

The “well known fact” with regards to oil over the last decade read like this: because of huge GDP growth in emerging markets like China, there were going to be 400 million new middle class citizens born of uninterrupted prosperity; they were going to want all the autos, consumer goods, $10,000 watches and food that Americans have.

The demand for commodities was going to be endless because capitalism practiced under authoritarian control was going to be better than the “invisible hand” of the free market. No recessions or depressions required.

Hmmm … keep in mind several things about China as you think about this. First, we know that the accuracy of data coming out of China about its economy is lacking. In other words, we hear what the Chinese government wants us to hear. Second, even based on that data — the stuff we can get — , there are signs that the Chinese economy is in some distress.

I do not propose here that this explains everything. I do propose that we should be keeping our eyes open in the next months for more information about global economic trends. We might be in for a wild ride in 2015.

The Battle for Donetsk

The crisis in Ukraine is in a delicate phase. Initial Russian euphoria after the annexation of Crimea had a real basis. There were serious hopes for gaining colony enclaves or even annexing parts of eastern Ukraine.  But then came sanctions and then the downing of the Malaysian airliner and the mood shifted.

These changed circumstances provided Ukraine’s leadership with a choice. They could hold back and hope that Russia might negotiate or they could attack and try to force a negotiation. Attacking risked invasion. Holding back risked losing key parts of the country. They chose to attack.

The Russians have equivocated. They have supplied more weapons but they have not invaded. This remained the case even as Ukrainian forces began to take back strategic areas, and began to threaten Donetsk. If Donetsk falls, the Russian game is essentially over. Its bluff will have been called.

So the news of a high level meeting between Putin, the Ukrainian president and Germany’s Merkel next week is interesting. It may lead to a deal where Putin can save face. There is a chance. Let’s see how it plays out.

US Air Powser in Iraq

The crisis in Iraq has taken a turn. In the last chapter, ISIS seemed unstoppable. They even threatened the Kurdish capital, Erbil. The pesh merga were being defeated. Then President Obama authorized air strikes. The initial strikes were just pin pricks. But they went further.  This comment from an Iraqi special forces commander says it all

“When I came here three weeks ago, they were moving fast and easy with armored vehicles,” said Gen. Mansour Barzani, the commander of the ground forces who reclaimed the dam. “Now, they don’t dare to move anymore.”

The underlying story: US air power has been decisive in turning the tide of battle.  So what next? The stage is now set to move this conflict to the next step. The US has leverage now to get the Shiia and Kurds to come to an agreement on how to re-shape Iraqi governance. Let’s see if the US uses this leverage wisely.

The more general story is that US air power is a bit like British naval power used to be in the days of empire. It can be applied to achieve political objectives without putting large numbers of soldiers on the ground.  That is something to think about.