Good Work and the Global Financial Crises
Susanna took Howard Gardner’s course “GoodWork in Education: When Excellence, Engagement, and Ethics Meet during the Fall 2011 semester. This memo was in response to the generative question: What opportunities and challenges does globalization have on the three “E’s” of good work?
Similar to earlier significant advances in sharing information, such as written language and printed press, globalization holds potential for humanity to take a leap forward. However, the speed of globalization and its wide reach present some challenges. Each of the three “E’s” of good work – excellence, engagement and ethics – are affected by globalization.
Globalization aids the pursuit of excellence by providing ample instantaneous means of sharing expertise, experiences, and instructions. Professional standards for excellence are easily disseminated the world over. At the same time, increased competition motivates some companies to saturate the market with inferior quality products and services, resulting in limited access to superior products and services. In extreme cases, the consumers are scammed into purchasing products and services of compromised quality.
Globalization greatly supports engagement by providing unprecedented opportunities for collaboration. Today, it is easier than ever to connect with others in the field, participate in professional associations and access a wealth of information on topics of interest. However, the increasing amount of communication that takes place remotely can be de-motivating to those who thrive on personal interactions with colleagues and customers. One needs a unique set of skills and competencies in order to succeed in the rapidly expanding and fluid environment. In Globalization: Culture and education in the new millennium M. Suarez – Orozco and D.B. Qin – Hilliard state: “The skills needed for analyzing and mobilizing to solve problems from multiple perspectives will require individuals who are cognitively flexible, culturally sophisticated, and able to work collaboratively in groups made up of diverse individuals”. In the same article, Howard Gardner further illustrates: “Trends in our increasingly globalized society have brought interdisciplinary concerns to the fore. Issues like poverty reduction, anti-terrorism, privacy, prevention of disease, energy conservation, ecological balance – and the list could be expanded at will – all require input from and syntheses of various forms of disciplinary knowledge and methods.” It seems to me that the number of persons achieving this level of cognitive function and interpersonal savvy will be quite limited; first by access to education that can prepare for those new ways of problem defining and solving, and second by nature, in that few possess an aptitude for thinking and operating in such evolved ways. Many of those called upon to exercise these sophisticated skills will be unable or unprepared to do so. Consequently, they will be ineffective and their engagement, along with engagement of those working alongside of them, will diminish.
Globalization poses extraordinary challenges in the area of ethics. Even coming from different cultures, it is relatively easy to arrive at a common understanding of what constitutes excellence in a particular field. While what makes work meaningful differs greatly from person to person, engagement with one’s profession is unmistakable in feeling and universally recognizable in external manifestation. What makes work socially (globally?) responsible is much harder to bridge in a multi-cultural setting. In the words of M. Suarez – Orozco and D.B. Qin – Hilliard in Globalization: Culture and education in the new millennium “While many observers see globalization as positive, promoting economic developments and intercultural exchanges, there are also corrosive developments, such as globalization’s threat to century-long traditions, religious identities, authority structures, values and worldviews.” Earlier in the semester, our class discussed behavior that the American educational system defines as plagiarism and cheating, and how certain other cultures consider the same behavior collaboration. Views on what constitutes acceptable conduct, respectful communication, appropriate recognition and fair disciplinary process are just as disparate in a global setting. Different interpretations of freedom of choice, equality and justice add layers of complexity to an already complex nature of ethics at work. The concept of cultural sensitivity is taken to a whole new level in global context. Globalization presently poses much greater challenges than opportunities for ethics than it does for excellence and engagement.
Excellence, engagement and especially ethics have been shaped by countless opportunities and challenges over the course of many centuries. Globalization rapidly increases the pace of workplace change and influences the nature of the opportunities and challenges. The transformation of the three “E’s” in the coming decades is certain to be fascinating.