Speaker Series: Thomas Friedman on his new book “That Used to Be Us”

October 28, 2011

Ed. note: New York Times Columnist and renowned author, Thomas Friedman, made his second appearance at our LinkedIn Speaker series this past week. Here are some personal thoughts from Jagan, one of our colleagues who attended the event, as he recaps Tom's presentation.  

One of the truly great things about working at LinkedIn is being able to interact with some of the world’s most transformational thinkers who visit us during the LinkedIn Speaker Series. Last week, three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and famed New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman came in to talk about his latest book “That Used to Be Us."

Tom’s latest book “That Used to Be Us” picks up where “The World is Flat” left off, as he turns his insights inward into how we can transform America and move past the economic downturn that’s roiling both America and the world at large today.

Tom talked about how the world has rapidly evolved into a hyper-connected one in just the past few years thanks to the proliferation of information producers as well as the means to consume content via smart mobile devices. In order to individually succeed in today's world, he called out the need for each of us to have an internal OODA - Observe, Orient, Decide, Act - loop that is faster than that of our competition.

He also stressed on the critical importance of realizing that “average is over”; and, also that the economy of the future will reward individuals who deliver “extra” in their roles and “invent, re-invent, and re-re-invent” the way they drive value out of their jobs. Finally, Tom spent time enumerating the challenges we face as a country in this new world and how we could overcome them.

The Role of Professionals

My core takeaway from his talk was a comforting one; that citizens and professionals in a country have a strong role to play in deciding whether or not we reassert a nation’s leadership and progress.

As he said, it is up to us to decide if our “future is all used up”. So, what are the core values that are going to get our country moving along the right direction, again?

At an individual level, Tom stressed on the need to prioritize spending our dollars on education over infrastructure. Making education out of reach to most Americans, at a time when some of our strongest competitors are increasing their investment in education, would sound a death knell to progress.

On the other hand, Tom also suggested if we believe that our ecosystem (government-sponsored research, a competitive immigration policy, etc.) is exceptional, we need to preserve that at a higher priority than education. Lest we forget, the omnipresent Internet was the fruit of government sponsored research; and, several of today’s industrial giants would not exist without the efforts and dynamism of our forebears coming from different parts of the world.

Tom’s talk inspired me to spend the time to understand the core issues behind the challenges we face, and to participate in overcoming them by sharing my thoughts with our local Congressional leaders. I believe it will take reflection and participation from the entire country to identify what we each personally think makes America what it is today and what trade-offs we as individuals are willing to make to ensure it stays that way.