I’ve pretty much been travelling the world on business non-stop for thirty years, and something has fundamentally changed during that period. Obviously, the internet and mobile and global connectivity, but also the homogeneity of globalisation. I remember flying into Singapore’s brand spanking new Changi Airport in 1987 and my disappointment at being greeted by McDonald’s. Thirty years later, everywhere has the same global brands popping up and blandifying our landscape: KFC, Starbucks, BMW, Apple, Tesla, Huawei, Lenovo … it is just the result of three decades of market globalisation. Now, we are all being advertised the same brands everywhere, and little girls want to grow up to join Little Mix and little boys Lionel Messi.
In fact, we have all been homogenised. When I used to travel the world, no one spoke English and yet today, everyone speaks some. Thanks to the dominance of America and the internet, everyone has had to learn English as a second language if they want to do business online. You only have to look at this article about Dutch universities who, by law, are meant to teach in Dutch but have switched to English to realise why. In fact, I remember President Mitterrand thinking there should be a French language version of CNN. He assembled a group to write a blueprint for the channel and, after they completed all their research, they came back with the idea of French News Network (FNN) that would present interesting things about everything related to the world … in English.
But we need a common global language because everyone is connected globally in real-time to share, like and retweet everything. That’s not a bad thing – I actually think it brings around far greater human understanding – but it’s an interesting change in my story of the fourth revolution of humanity. When everyone wants the same things, what makes us different?
Leadership. In my constant travels, I find that the commonest thing about humans is that we all just want the same thing: safety, security and prosperity for our family and friends. In fact, I find nearly all humans are basically good people led by idiots, and it’s just how extreme the idiot is that makes the difference. One of my mates said that I was wrong as when he was travelling in East Russia, they were really not nice people. I said they probably would be nice if their conditions weren’t so harsh and if the news propaganda didn’t’ make them so miserable. We agreed to disagree but it’s an interest idea. If we all want the same things in terms of basic needs – security and safety – and higher needs – self-worth, prosperity – then the only thing that makes us different is our beliefs instilled in us by our leaders. It is our shared beliefs that makes us different as we don’t share the same beliefs.
This came home to me when my colleagues on a recent trip to Lebanon were talking about their experience of the Civil War in the 1970s, and the issues in Syria today. They were telling me that even the Lebanese people cannot get on with each other because there are so many different groups of people, with differing religious beliefs. It’s not whether you’re a Muslim or even a Shi’ite or Sunni Muslim, but even Sunni Muslims can disagree on their shared beliefs. If you cannot share the same beliefs, then that is what makes you different and leads to disagreements, arguments and eventually wars.
Shame, as if we could only live in harmony on a global digital platform, wouldn’t the world be a better place?