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GLOBAL INNOVATION

Fusion Series

How World Class Innovators Create the Unexpected

Connectography

Geography, ICT, and a Newly-Connected World Order

 

The Fusion Series Part 5: Fusing

Parag Khanna fused:
- geography & ICT infrastructure
- business, government, & academia
- world-travel experience & International-Relations theory

“Beneath the chaos of a world that appears to be falling apart is a new foundation of connectivity pulling it together.”*

“I’m not a natural writer. I don’t even like to write. In fact, I hate it.”

“Right. You’re a best-selling author and you hate to write. Is this why you’ve just handed me a thousand-page manuscript? A thousand pages — really?”

“OK, OK — I already know what comes into my head jumps onto paper. But everywhere I go, everything I see — there’s a connection to what I’m doing.”

“We have to cut this. 50,000 words on nodes and economic zones and inter-city competition? That goes.”

“Fine, but you can’t touch the stuff on Eastern philosophy and how it underlies geopolitical futures.”

“Why are you reading Eastern philosophy? You’re an international relations specialist.”

“The past tells us a great deal about the future.”

“And what’s this book all about, again?”

Connectography 1
 

“Well, with USD 10 Trillion a year being invested in energy, transportation, IT, and communications infrastructures linking the world’s growing megacities, connectivity is the new arms race. We’re reengineering the planet, and I’m laying out a fusion of geography and connectivity, showing a new world order. Being in a city now means more than being in a country, and we’re accelerating into a future shaped less by countries than by connectivity. The most connected powers — and people — will win. The book is an amalgamation of my research, with diametrically-opposed scenarios in different disciplines.”

“And why are you doing this? To become the world’s top something?”

“No, I don’t want to be at the top of any particular field, ignoring all the rest. My goal has always been one thing: to give the most accurate account of what’s happening. My yardstick is reality — accuracy — truth — not to please some boss or get promoted. Who cares? What’s fun is when I find tremendous support for opposing arguments and discover they’re both right. I need to reconcile them — integrate them by creating something new.”

“No boss, huh? So, companies pay you for consulting? Governments?”

“That’s part of what I do. Companies need geopolitical advisory for long-term planning, as well as when they least expect it. I also advise governments on scenarios for their strategic decision-making as well. Whatever their interest in my work, I want to help them find the relevance. It’s really for everyone.”

“So we cut the 50,000.”

“OK, but we keep Eastern Philosophy.”

“Deal.”

 

Connectography 2

 

Uniquely (and Globally) Parag

Born in India, Parag grew up in the Middle East, US, Germany, Switzerland, and London. He now lives in Singapore, which is part home and part platform for a global life. He’s the kind of person one refers to as a Global Citizen and speaks English, French, German, Hindi, Spanish, and basic Arabic.

He started collecting maps, globes, and other geographic- and travel-related artifacts during his “itinerant” childhood. Despite the constant change, he describes it as stable, happy, and normal. He feels it has a lot to do with his inner calmness and inspiration, which brings clarity and helps him freely connect people and ideas.

A great deal of what he writes has grown out of a seminar he took when he was a 19-year-old student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. The course was called Map of the Modern World. He’s still responding to that professor, with whom he corresponds, even now. Connectography is in some regard a commercialization of that class so that everyone can access the ideas and use them.

In short, Parag brings together the normally separate worlds of academia, business, and government — as well as connecting leaders and the people they serve.

The last book in his best-selling trilogy, Connectography, follows The Second World (on geopolitical structure and how multi-polar competition operates in emerging markets) and How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance (on the future of diplomacy — basically his doctoral thesis rewritten for popular press).

In How to Run the World, he proposes that we harness technology and connectedness to emerge from stalemates of East vs. West, rich vs. poor, democracy vs. authoritarianism, free market vs. state capitalism, and business vs. government, into a new Renaissance. He outlines how a new “mega-diplomacy” of integrated coalitions among activists, technocrats, executives, super-philanthropists, and everyday people can engender the world we want.

“If we focus on the lines that cross borders, the infrastructure lines, then we’ll wind up with the world we want, a borderless one…. by wrapping the world in such seamless physical and digital connectivity, we evolve towards a world in which people can rise above their geographic constraints.”
 — Parag Khanna, “How Megacities Are Changing the Map of the World”, TED.com (transcript)

 

Connectography 3
 

Traveling & Collecting

Beyond business, government, and academia, Parag also fuses theory and experience. He reads voraciously and actively researches topics of importance, but he takes a step further — many steps, in fact. He travels to places he writes about, converses with people (in their own language, where possible), and experiences situations first-hand.

“You cannot discount the things you see with your own eyes. Read widely, travel a lot, and think of everyone as a teacher — because everyone is. I remember them. If you turn to page 416 and point to something and ask who taught me this, I can tell you. I’ll remember sitting in a café with someone (for example) in Tripoli, learning about Libyan history.”

Sometimes, experience and theory don’t align, and that’s where the fun begins.

“You have to reconcile the disparate experiences, ideas, and literatures. That’s what makes this fun. You have to come up with a theory or explanation for why they don’t mesh. For example, one of the major dichotomies in the book is globalization vs. deglobalization. There’s research strongly supporting both positions. My job is to investigate and come up with a fusion that explains it all.”

His explanation, called “Devolution Aggregation,” seems to fit reality better than either globalization or deglobalization. Is the world falling apart or coming together? The answer is apparently yes — both. If we have more and smaller political units, then they have to integrate (to trade for food, water, and everything else), so what looks like fragmentation is actually a necessary precondition for integration.

“You cannot be right without taking into account the exact opposite. And you cannot discount what you see because it doesn’t fit your theory — or someone else’s.”

Parag collects an eclectic array of ideas, people, conversations, and experiences. Beyond research and travel, he receives Google alerts, listserves (article summaries on various topics and trends), and takes part in a variety of networks (associations, annual conferences, regular talks by experts, etc.).

 

Connectography 4
 

“He makes an effort to experience things and meet a lot of people, and that gives him a very unique perspective. He’s got good insights nobody else is coming up with.” 
 — Karan Khemka, Georgetown classmate and friend

Collecting & Connecting

“He’s one of the most connected people I’ve ever met, and he’s wonderfully generous about sharing those connections. It’s not a connectedness that’s self-serving.”
- Aaron Maniam, Young Global Leader — World Economic Forum

Friends describe Parag as a brilliantly extroverted, driven, well-thought-through provocateur — a great intellectual sparring partner. He cultivates relationships and debates ideas with people all over the world. He’s also a good listener (which good debaters often aren’t).

Adventurous and open to new ideas, experiences, people, and insights, he’s not only curious about what’s happening in the world but is also aware of himself, how he reacts to ideas, and how they might fit together.

“After a while, the ideas kind of co-mingle. They end up being greater than sum of their parts.”

An ideas person, Parag is not noted for emotional empathy, however he is notedly compassionate and readily steps into others’ perspectives, for example at conferences where he repeatedly paraphrases and synthesizes the ideas of other speakers. Being an extrovert, he derives a huge amount of energy from interacting with others, in addition to refueling with sports, meditation, and time with his wife and kids.

 

Connectography 5

 

Charting His Own Course

Parag understands he doesn’t need to be a tenure-track professor to do research, a politician to make a difference, or a businessperson to earn a living. He sits in each of those worlds and in the space between them, bringing something to everyone they don’t separately have.

In academia, he’s a Senior Research Fellow in the Centre on Asia and Globalization at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (NUS). In the area of policy, he’s a leading international strategist, CNN Global Contributor, and influential author. His 2008 story on the cover of New York Times Magazine (“Waving Goodbye to Hegemony”) is one of the most influential and hotly-debated essays since the Cold War. As a businessperson, he’s the Co-Founder and CEO of Factotum, a content branding agency, as well as Managing Partner of Hybrid Reality, a strategic advisory firm serving corporations and governments. He’s shown there’s real value in big ideas.

His message to businesspeople is not just to respond to global integration but also to foster it:

“To succeed in this global marketplace, multinational companies must learn to become metanational: truly stateless. This requires thinking long-term about new growth centers, recruiting and training an international workforce comfortable across functions and locations, developing more locally tailored products and services, and restructuring management into partnership models that devolve authority.”
 — Parag Khanna, “How Megacities Are Changing the Map of the World”, TED.com (transcript)

 

Connectography 6

 

The Journey to What’s Next

Voraciously curious, Parag is constantly on the road learning and discovering.

“It has to start with that fundamental orientation of curiosity. Everything else, the energy, the drive to do it, the use of technology to build networks and community — all of that is secondary.“
- Aaron Maniam, Young Global Leader — World Economic Forum

The more he travels and learns across fields, the more unique he becomes. The more he integrates, the bigger value he creates.

“He’s shown that you can really be yourself — uniquely yourself — and succeed.”
 — Karan Khemka, Georgetown classmate and friend

With 50,000 words removed from his manuscript, he’s traveling a bit lighter these days, and there’s always room on journeys for his wife and two children. When “the four little Khannas” set off on a new journey of learning and discovery, they go with light bags and blank iPad screens, typing what they see and hear, finding new ideas and experiences to unravel and integrate into something new — not the least of which is their ever-evolving, continually-new selves.

Where will you go, to see and listen, learn and grow?

What will you read and research?

How will you integrate them — into new ideas and a new you?

Connectography 7

 

fusioneer
ˈfjuːʒ(ə)nɪə/
noun
1. one who innovates across domains of industry, field, country, social class, etc.
◦ s radical innovator, interdisciplinary creator, T-shaped person, borderless freethinker, boundary-crossing integrator, oddball;

Dr. Parag Khanna is Co-Founder and CEO of Factotum (a content branding agency that creates multi-media thought leadership for companies and governments), Managing Partner of Hybrid Reality (a geostrategic advisory firm), and Senior Research Fellow in the Centre on Asia and Globalization (Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore). This leading transnational strategist, CNN Global Contributor, and best-selling author is “from” India, Germany, Singapore, Switzerland, the US, and the UAE (lived 6 months+, countries listed in alphabetical order). For more information on his work, see : LinkedIn, Factotum, Hybrid Reality, his faculty page at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, his Amazon author’s page, CNN Global Contributor profile, YouTube Channel, and TED talks on Cross-Border Conflicts and Megacities.

I thank the participants in this study (Fusioneers and Friends) for your insights, sharing, help, and patience. You inspire me, and I am honoured to know you. Special thanks go to Gladys Lee for her marketing excellence and video- and podcast-production brilliance, as well as the host of creative professionals involved in producing the videos and podcasts (you’re all listed on YouTube, iTunes, etc.). I extend a warm thanks to Fusion Research Assistant Dr. Lee Poh Chin for her continually-wise and dedicated contribution to this research, as well as i2i Executive Shareff Uthuman for managing the rats-nest of global research travel and budgets. I thank Nitish Jain and the S P Jain School of Global Management for supporting this research — you’re the foundation that enables the whole project. You are all God-sends. It takes a village to write a paper.

* Ref: Parag Khanna, Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, Random House 2016 (abstract)

Photo/video cuts courtesy of Dr. Parag Khanna, Depositphotos, and our own creative team.

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