For the first half of my life, the dominant geopolitical fault line ran along the Berlin Wall. When you went “overseas”, chances were that you were going to Western Europe. England seemed exotic and distant, with its different currents and currency.
Which brings us to this picture (for more data behind the picture, go here):
I often tell young people to try and head for this circle, since that’s where the action is. It is where consumption will happen as millions join the middle class. It is where many future American citizens will be born. It is where your employer is likely to have operations at some point. It is where a future employer might be headquartered. I have already worked for someone who was living in Mumbai at the time, which made our business conversations either late night or early morning affairs.
One other interesting point about the circle: it’s not new. In fact, this cool video shows how there were more people living in present-day India, China and Asia back in 1000 A.D.. What’s new is the rate with which population is increasing inside the circle, and the degree to which global interconnectivity – technology, commercial, cultural – is making the life of someone inside the circle impact on the life of someone outside the circle. The dromedaries and horses of the Silk Road have been replaced by flying airplanes and electrons.
There are clearly a number of career reasons why gaining a familiarity with the inside of the circle is important, but I think the cultural reasons are more profound. When I walked down crowded streets in India and China, I sensed the incredible energy building in those countries. I better understood the intense variety of Indian culture – with it’s many languages and regions – and now enjoy asking an Indian “where are you from in India?”. It’s fun to learn the answer and get insights into how their region of India is different from others.
I once took a Mandarin Chinese language class at a local University in Avignon, France. Learning Chinese from a French professor in a two-hour class served two purposes: first, it opened my ears to the musicality of the language and it’s emphasis on intonation, and second, it served as a legitimate pretext for my classmates and I to adjourn to the nearest cafe after class for a few carafes of French wine while lamenting our decision to take Chinese in the first place. I can’t say any of the material I learned survived after I finished the final exam, but it gave me a deep sense of awe for native Mandarin speakers who participate in complex conversations with me in my own language.
Here’s another infographic that will demonstrate what is happening inside the circle (from Bill Gates’ blog):
It may not seem realistic for most of use to hop on a plane and fly to the circle, but I also know this: we humans are great at constructing reasons why we cannot do something that is strange and uncomfortable.
The question then isn’t why can’t you get to the circle, but how can you?