Outsourcing as Social Transformation
October 4, 2005
One of the subjects in Optimal Friction (the book), will be about relationship management, with the notion that healthy work relationships bring about better outcomes – not only on projects, but also between people, teams, groups, and companies. If you believe the adage, “Work is the place where we play out the energy of our relationships,” then you might view work as a sandbox of sorts, where the interplay and dynamics between people have a stage theater to play themselves out.
With that, I just received an interesting book from my hosts at the POPTech Conference in Camden, Maine. (POPTech was conceived by John Scully (former CEO of Pepsico and Apple) and Bob Metcalfe (inventor of the Ethernet, and founder of 3Com), among others. Once I asked John if POPTech was really created by him and Bob as a way to get his friends to come to Camden, and he replied, “That’s about right.”)
Anyway, back to the book – it’s “Maximum City, Bombay Lost and Found”, by Suketu Mehta, a speaker at this year’s conference. According to the POPTech cover letter, it was short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize and named Book of the Year by the Economist. It tells gripping stories of a city transformed by the pressures of globalization and struggling under the weight of massive growth and huge divisions between rich and poor. It’s remarkable that, before one of the seminal technology conferences in the U.S., I am receiving a book about life in India.
What receiving this book has triggered for me is a reminder of what I feel is a different, larger dynamic going on with the whole subject of outsourcing. I’ll cut to the chase: In one sense, outsourcing can be viewed as an instrument of massive social re-organization on a global scale. Global economics are yielding an inter-continental, inter-cultural “marriage” between East and West. In this model, both halves bring to the relationship aspects that are not present in the other. India achieves a certain level of economic prosperity unprecedented in its history, while some say that western cultures – aside from accessing lower cost intellectual capital – gain from exposure to the culture and spirituality from eastern philosophies. Both sides are enriched.
But this is not without its difficulties when it comes to managing complex inter-cultural relationships. Because of the lens through which both partners view the world, there will be inevitable challenges that this marriage faces. Each culture is steeped deeply in the perspectives and mindsets born out of a long history. Being in an inter-cultural marriage myself, where my ancestry is from the East, and with my spouse’s from the West, I can say that my own relationship can be playfully described as outsourcing writ small. Basic partner issues aside, cultural differences can make it really tricky. And yet, the diversity of it all is what makes it so incredibly rich and remarkable.
The same goes with cross-cultural relationships on a massively global scale. It reminds me of the eastern philosophy of inter-dependence. Now, more than ever, interdependence is playing itself out in the huge social re-organizations that all started with changing how we work, and who we ask to team up with us on our projects.
I doubt that this was considered by folks considering outsourcing their Information Technology, but there’s no doubt that something on a much larger scale is playing itself out. It will be up to those of us involved in this to make it work, since it poses unique challenges that most of us have never faced before.