Be a life-long learner: Thomas Friedman

NS Vageesh Nov 16 | Updated on January 09, 2018

Three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas L Friedman is seen signing his book at Tata Literature Live-The Mumbai LitFest in Mumbai on Friday   -  Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

You need to be a life-long learner in order to hold life-long employment, said Thomas Friedman, three-time Pulitzer winner and New York Times Columnist at the Tata Literature Live! festival in Mumbai on Friday. He was speaking to an audience of enthralled book aficionados on the theme of his last book, Thank you for being late: An optimist's guide to thriving in the age of accelerations.

On skills and transformation

He said that a four-year college degree will not help any one coast along in employment for the next thirty years. "That is so 1960s!", he said. Citing the example of American telecom giant AT&T which sheds large number of employees (about 10,000) every year and hires for new skills, he said that employees there were offered opportunities to train for new skill sets. But they have to do it at night and on their time - not on the company's time. The management lists the top skills that are required every year and employees can get 'nano degrees' for new skills to improve their chances of staying in the job. This is the kind of change that will soon come to your neighbourhood, he said. He said that coping with these changes would require many to cross the self-motivation divide which he said was much more difficult than bridging the 'digital divide'.

He said that the transformation underway is much more than just changes but a fundamental reshaping of the world, while emphasising that Moore's Law (the number of transistors in a integrated circuit doubles every two years) is still very much relevant and that its obituary written by some experts was rather premature. He pointed out that 2007 was actually a tipping point for the technological revolution but it was missed by every one because of the global financial crisis that overtook every one the very next year (2008). The bigger changes are still underway and, he said, they will unfold very soon.

The forces that are reshaping the world affect five major issues — workplace, ethics, politics, geopolitics, community.

Ethics and being 'God-like'

On the issue of ethics, he said that for the first time in history, mankind (individuals) have the power to destroy while also collectively having the resources to fix their problems. "We have never been more 'God-like' ", he said while contrasting that with a relatively difficult environment with multiple problems including climate change, population growth, environmental degradation and other issues.

He commenced his talk with a brief explanation of his role as a columnist. He said that as an opinion writer, he sought to 'provoke', stoke an emotion and get a reaction. He would provide both 'heat' and 'light', he said — alluding to the emotions mentioned earlier and the need to illuminate subjects for readers. The thunderous ovation that greeted his talk attested to his having succeeded in doing both.

Published on November 17, 2017

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