Thursday, January 26, 2017

Thomas Friedman talking at the Bristol Festival of Ideas…

Last night, Moira and I went to hear Thomas L Friedman (why do people insist on using their middle name initial?) talk about his current book ‘Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations’ as part of the excellent Bristol Festival of Ideas. The pre-talk blurb described it thus: “In today’s changing world of Brexit and Donald Trump’s promises of walls and tariffs, Friedman argues that it is only openness to ideas and trade that will allow us all to thrive. He addresses the need for politically moral leadership…”.
Born in 1953, Friedman is an American journalist, internationally-renowned author and three time Pulitzer Prize winner. He currently writes a weekly column for The New York Times.
I went along with an open mind… ‘this could be inspiring or really, really depressing’!
Well, it proved to be an absolutely fascinating, stimulating evening. He spoke for 45 minutes, without notes. Evidently, he’d been giving this talk around the world since last May… but suitably updated in the light of Mr Trump (and Brexit)! He’s a confident, articulate and engaging speaker.
I can’t begin to summarise Friedman’s wide-ranging talk… so I’ll just highlight a few things that struck me.
He talked about the significance of the year 2007: Steve Job launching the iPhone; facebook; Kindle; The Cloud; YouTube; the beginnings of Airbnb… followed, somewhat ironically, by the worldwide economic recession of 2008. Although we didn’t perhaps notice at the time, digital globilisation and the exponential growth in microchips were transforming our lives.
The pace of change and the pace of new ideas is almost overwhelming… or, as Friedman put it: “Google lives in the future and sends us letters home”.
He talked about the way many of the large Corporations were moving – analysing the capabilities of their employees and being prepared to train them, free of charge, in areas where they needed specific help or improvement… BUT for them to undertake the training in their own time… and if they didn’t fancy that, then they’d be given a redundancy package and removed from the organisation. Corporations see life-long learning as CRUCIAL.

Friedman talked about politics (and specifically US and UK politics)… and how our current political parties are designed to think and work “with an old situation”… in his view, they needed to be “blown up (not literally, hopefully) and re-started… "the age of acceleration is going to be just too fast for them”.
He talked very briefly about taxation… feeling that the current systems should be abandoned in favour of universal carbon taxes and sugar taxes.
He talked about us living in a world where “one of us can kill all of us” (he didn’t specifically mention the Trident ‘deterrent’ but, clearly, implied that such policies were hugely outdated and ineffective).
He talked about ethics; about a cyber world where no one's ‘in charge’; and, perhaps somewhat strangely in the context of the evening(?), about the need for us all to live by the old ‘golden rule’ (“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”); about the need for ‘strong families’ and ‘strong communities’(?)… and about ‘applied hope’. There were lots of things I wanted him to explain more fully, but time didn’t allow… yes, I know, I should have bought his book!
It was all inspiring, fascinating stuff… but even now, writing this the morning after, I’m not sure if his words made me feel depressed or encouraged. They’ve certainly underlined my own naivety in some areas… or, as Friedman put it: “naivety is the new realism”!

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