Dealing With Reality

The hand-wringing began in earnest a couple of weeks ago when Citibank, Merrill Lynch and other financial services giants announced that they were turning to countries like China, Singapore and Kuwait for the billions of dollars they desperately need to cover their losses from the mortgage meltdown. Now, as the U.S. IT industry giants increasingly look overseas for the business and investment they need to stay in the black, IT hands will be doing much of the wringing.

The idea of the wealthiest, most powerful nation on Earth being forced to depend so heavily on foreign investment for its economic well-being is repulsive to some, uncomfortable for many. So when we reported online last week that IBM, the quintessential American IT company, relies on foreign interests for nearly two-thirds of its business and is positioning itself as a champion of globalization, many in the IT community were no doubt troubled.

The simple fact is, globalization is inevitable. So if youre one of those people who have a problem with that, you have some changing to do.

I fully expect to hear from a fair number of IT pros in the trenches who will express their disgust with that proclamation from my ivory publishing tower. But theres a very fitting analogy at work here. We in publishing have also had to face the inevitable and choose whether to fight it or embrace it.

All of us with any kind of tenure in this profession have lived and breathed the printed page throughout our careers. Yet with the surge in online publishing and the relentless decline of print, weve been left with a choice: We can stubbornly cling to the comfort of print, or we can embrace the opportunity that online affords.

At Computerworld, the choice was easy, a no-brainer. Its executing on the choice thats difficult. It required us to adapt, to retrain, to let go, to explore, to learn, to risk, to try, to accept. No longer could we thrive in the insularity of print. Weve had to welcome the expanse and the unfamiliarity of online. Failing to do so would have meant our demise, because what we faced was unstoppable.

There is nothing more unstoppable than globalization. It is happening, and it will continue to happen, only at an accelerating pace. And nothing short of a seismic shift in thinking will enable us to deal effectively with that reality. Perhaps a quick anecdote will clarify what I mean.

In the late 90s, when I was living and working in Hong Kong, I met a guy named Lee Richardson, who at the time was the director of Asia-Pacific operations at SAS Institute, the North Carolina-based business intelligence software vendor. In those days, it wasnt uncommon for the executives in charge of the region to live in the U.S., and that was the case with Richardson.

I feel like I have, from a personal point of view, the best of both worlds, Richardson told me. I get to live in wonderful North Carolina, which is a great place to live; and at the same time, I get to deal with some of the most exciting cultures and countries and economies and people in the world, like China, India, Korea, Hong Kong. So I just feel like Im a very lucky person.

My reaction to that comment was recorded in a column I wrote shortly thereafter.

Isnt that just super? Lucky Lee has the best of both worlds. He gets to do all those fun things in our world without having to actually live in it, I wrote. I cannot be alone in my concern that [Richardsons] best of both worlds comment bespeaks a we-and-they mind-set that is alien to the type of global orientation that successful businesses need to foster.

I concluded with this reminder: There arent two worlds, Lee. Theres only one.

Recognizing that fact, and altering our outlook accordingly, is the seismic shift that will inevitably occur. Those who fight it will be left languishing in futility.

Don Tennant is editorial director of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Contact him at, and visit his blog at

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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