When Thomas Friedman began his career as a journalist more than twenty years ago, “average” was good enough. But according to Friedman, in this age of hyper-connectivity and globalization, average doesn’t mean much anymore. Instead, America’s workers will need to have something “extra” and invent their own jobs, he told a large crowd at the Tivoli Theatre.

Thomas Friedman

“Average is officially over. If all you ever do is all you’ve ever done, you will no longer get all you ever got. You will get less,” Friedman said.

Friedman was the second speaker in the Hunter Lecture Series. He has written extensively on international affairs, including globalization, the Middle East, and climate change. He joined The New York Times in 1981 and was appointed Beirut bureau chief in 1982. Friedman was awarded the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting (from Lebanon) and the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting (from Israel).

The merger of globalization and information technology means employers now have cheaper, easier access to above average computer software, automation, and labor, Friedman said.

“When the world gets this hyper-connected, the whole global curve rises. It’s as if the world is a single math class at UTC and the curve has gone up. That means we all have to raise our game and find our unique value contribution. We’re not going to own the future by default,” he said.

This new world means big changes for the college students and recent college graduates. Freidman advises young people to think more creatively in their careers.

“When I graduated from college, I got to find a job. Recent college graduates will have to invent a job. You’ll have to reinvent, reengineer, and redesign that job. And to keep that job, you’ll always have to demonstrate your ‘extra.’ Your unique value contribution will justify why you should be hired, promoted or retained,” he said.

Friedman did provide some hope for college graduates, saying students who are able to adapt to the quick and many changes throughout their careers will be better in this new economy.

“If a student graduates from UTC with the ability to learn and relearn, if a student is able to apply what they know when what they know constantly changes, then they will be just fine,” he said.

Freidman ended his lecture by telling the audience to think differently. He likened the new way to thrive in the hyper-connected world to adopting the attitudes of an immigrant, artisan, starter-upper, and waitress.

“Immigrants are paranoid optimists. They’re persistent and adaptable. We are all new immigrants in the hyper-connected world. Think like an artisan. They make every item individually by hand. The best artisans put so much ‘extra’ into their work that they carved their initials into it. Always think like a starter-upper, like you’re in beta. Your work is never done. You’re constantly inventing and reinventing,” he said.

And how did a waitress at Perkin’s Pancake House, Friedman’s favorite restaurant, think differently? When Friedman was visiting with a friend, the waitress brought them their meal and told the friend, “I gave you extra fruit.” Her “extra” earned her a 50 percent tip.

“She didn’t control much, but she did control the fruit ladle. That was her ‘extra.’ In her own little way, she was thinking entrepreneurial and using whatever tools she had,” Friedman said.

Now in it’s fifth year, the George T. Hunter Lecture Series is a partnership of The Benwood Foundation and The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The goal is to raise awareness of some of our most important public policy issues by bringing community opinion leaders, residents, students, and scholars together to hear from and engage in dialogue with national leaders. For more information, visit www.benwood.org.

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