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The immigrant, the artisan, the waitress: 3 mindsets to change the status quo

March 25, 2012

The words below have been oft repeated and reblogged, but I am continually reminded of their relevance. The words are from Thomas Friedman, delivered in a lecture a few years ago. They address the continual flattening of the world as he first described in 2004, and the way in which people can best approach what is effectively a new world order of economics and business – where traditional strengths are now weaknesses, and vice versa.

“When I wrote The World is Flat [2004], Facebook didn’t exist, twitter was a sound, the cloud was in the sky, 4G was a parking space, applications were what you sent to college, linked-in was a prison, and Skype — for most people — was a typo. All of that has happened in six years.”

He later goes on to address three mindsets that pave the way forward. They are mindsets borne of humility and not of pride. They are reflected in the world’s history of the last 100 years,  where it was those who challenged the status quo from below who became successful,  and those who accepted it from a vantage point of success quickly fell. For those of us who work in around the media, and in technology firms seeking to change the way people consume information (which pretty much addresses every tech startup), they are words to live by.

The immigrant, the artisan, the waitress

“Think like an immigrant. Think like an artisan. Think like a waitress. Those are my three pieces of advice for my kids.

Every American worker today should think of himself as an immigrant. What does it mean to think like an immigrant? Its means approaching the world with the view that nothing is owed you, nothing is given, that you have to make it on your own. There is no legacy slot waiting for you at Harvard, or the family firm, or anywhere else. You’ve got to go out and earn or create your place in the world. And you have to pay very close attention to the world in which you are living. That’s what immigrants do.

Everyone should also think of themselves as an artisan. That’s the argument of Professor Lawrence Katz at Harvard. He’s a labor economist. Larry argues “artisan” was the term used before the advent of mass manufacturing to describe people who made things or provided services with a distinctive touch and flare in which they took personal pride (which was almost everyone prior to the industrial revolution). The shoemaker, the doctor, the dress-maker, the saddle-maker — artisans gave such a personal touch to whatever they did they often carved their own initials in somewhere. They lived in a world where they were all defined by their ‘extra’. Again, it’s a good mindset to have for whatever job you are doing: would you want to put your initials on it when it’s done?

Finally: think like a waitress. So in August 2010 I was back in Minneapolis, my home town, having breakfast at the Perkins Pancake House with my best friend Ken Grere. It was seven in the morning and he ordered two scrambled eggs and fruit, and I ordered two scrambled eggs and three buttermilk pancakes. The waitress came, put down our plates, and all she said to Ken was, “I gave you extra fruit.” She got a fifty percent tip from us, because she didn’t control much, but she controlled the fruit ladle, that was her ‘extra’.

So whether you are the waitress or the artisan or the new immigrant, all of us have got to think, ‘What is the ‘extra’ we can bring to what we do?’ “

Remembering that the original purpose of this blog was to question the status quo in a few areas of the professional world in which I dwell (media, advertising, technology, social media and social commerce in Australia), theses are good words to live by.

Deliriant Isti Romani – These Romans are crazy!

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