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“Students: Think Less Like Americans.”

In a smaller, more connected world, students must become global thinkers.

Kurt Kuehn | UPS

As college students across the United States prepare for graduation, I have what may seem a strange bit of advice:

Try to think less like an American.

Don’t get me wrong. We all should have pride in the U.S. and its many achievements. But I’m not talking about nationalism – I’m talking about globalism.

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Companies need graduates who have an abiding curiosity about people and places unseen.

In order for U.S. companies to continue to increase their market share and their competitive edge – and continue to grow – corporate America needs graduates who are global thinkers. We need graduates who have an abiding curiosity about people and places unseen.

Diversity and Intellectual Humility

These are people who want to know how the world works. They understand that a world hungry for the best ideas values diversity over uniformity.

They need the intellectual humility to accept that good things are not always invented here in the United States.

Increasingly, U.S.-based companies — including UPS, where I am the chief financial officer — face increased competition from hungry entrepreneurs across the globe. If we’re not careful, if we’re arrogant or asleep at the wheel, they’ll clean our clocks. We’ll fall behind in innovation, we’ll become less competitive, and our reputation will suffer.

Fortunately, we have a strong defense against those forces. It comes in the collective strength of all those newly minted graduates. But they need to think less like an American because they’re entering a world that thinks less like Americans.

The African Lions

Just consider the trends, as the twin powers of information technology and consumer choice transform the world as we knew it.

A billion people joined the middle class in the last decade. And a billion more are on the way. The centers of economic power are shifting. You know about China and India.

What many may not know is that 7 of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa. The consulting firm McKinsey & Company has given this group a name: The African Lions.

Today, the United States accounts for 27 percent of global Gross Domestic Product, but by 2050 it will represent just 19 percent of the global economy. There’s also something very interesting going on in emerging countries. They’re innovating and the world is buying their goods.

It’s a phenomenon known as “reverse innovation.” We’ve come to expect the future to be invented in Silicon Valley or New York, not Bangladesh or Jakarta. But just the reverse is happening.

By most rankings, the U.S. is still the world’s most powerful engine of global innovation. But unlike most of the past century, there are other engines.

The Innovation Race

Every year, Bloomberg publishes its Innovation Quotient, based on measures like research and development and patent activity. The U.S. came in third in the latest rankings — behind South Korea and Sweden, and ahead of Japan and Germany. China, in case you’re wondering, finished 25th. But who doubts that will change?

It’s not that we’re losing in the innovation race, it’s that we no longer own the competition.

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A common criticism of today’s students is that they can write an algorithm, but not a letter.

I understand that American colleges and universities are in the business of delivering students ready to take on the world, not packages.

But let’s consider what a business like mine needs from our institutions of higher learning. After all, it is to business that many of the college graduates will turn for careers.

We want to make sure we’re investing not only in the best and brightest, but also those who can comprehend a world beyond our shores.

Solvers and Thinkers

Of course, we want people with the basics of smarts and the ability to commit to something bigger than themselves. But we also need students who excel at critical thinking – problem solvers and independent thinkers.

We also need communicators. If there’s one complaint you hear consistently about the bright young talent coming into our organizations, it’s that they can write an algorithm, but not a letter. In an age of collaboration, communication is the force that brings the parts together. It creates focus and keeps us moving in the same direction.

A big plus is the ability to speak a foreign language.

You can debate what learning a language adds to your lifetime earnings. But when I see a U.S. job candidate who speaks more than one language, I see someone who had the foresight to envision a flatter, smaller, more connected world, along with the determination to be part of it.

For U.S. companies and for the students who become part of their teams, the challenges are great. But so are the potential rewards, especially for those who learn to think less like an American. goldbrown2

This article was adapted from a speech Kuehn gave in April 2014 at the “Internationalization of U.S. Education in the 21st Century” conference in Williamsburg, Va.

KK
Kurt Kuehn is the former CFO of UPS. He retired in 2015

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Reprinted with permission of Longitudes, the UPS blog devoted to the trends shaping the global economy.

8 Comments

  1. Pingback: “Students: Think Less Like Americans.&rdq...

  2. Kellie Aamodt

    Great discussion for our youth! As a previous foreign exchange student, I learned more from the actual experience of living overseas than I ever learned in the classroom. All Americans should be proud of our country and lead the way for other countries to grow as well.

  3. Steven Ramage

    This is a great thought piece. We (a small British company) are working increasingly more with colleagues in the US (not so many graduates, but some). Our collaborators either ‘get’ what we are doing or have literally no concept of the issues surrounding poor or inadequate global addressing (think of having no zip codes or street addressing). Our work is related to helping the circa 135 countries that have poor or inadequate addressing: http://www.what3words.com/about and is fundamentally about communicating (precise location) using languages (curated word lists).

    I know some mid and C-level executives that I deal with are actually more likely to read a well-crafted letter than any email from a prospective supplier or job candidate, so couldn’t agree more that it’s a dying art that may actually benefit and differentiate the next generation of graduates.

  4. Pingback: The Secret of Singapore’s Success | Longitudes

  5. Pingback: Students: Think Less Like Americans | Those Who Wander

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