Thriving Locally in the Global Economy
By Rosabeth Moss Kanter
Simon & Schuster 416pp $25
If Rosabeth Moss Kanter ever calls you "local," don't take it lying down. In World Class, the Harvard business school professor has divided the world in half. "Cosmopolitans," whether they're people, companies, or communities, brim with rich opportunities for growth. They have a keen appreciation for what Kanter calls the three Cs--concepts, competence, and connections. She writes a paean to these cosmos--and a pan of locals--in attempting to show how, through enlightened globalism, people can put the power of the world into their backyards.
Kanter profiles cosmopolitan companies such as Gillette and Powersoft and shows how they tap into global markets. She goes on at great length about successes in three cities--Boston, Miami, and Spartanburg-Greenville, S.C. It's a dynamic world filled with changes. It's also frightening, especially to blinkered locals who view globalism as a dark force that ships factories abroad. In one chapter, the author gathers with locals somewhere near Boston. She hides the name of their town and gives them aliases, as if they were in the witness protection program. Yet their outrage about dollar-a-day workers in Asia taking jobs is common across America. Nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing new.
World Class is long and repetitive. Further, its profiles lack balance, reading like promotional material. Consider this ode to cosmos: "Workers at Kohler in South Carolina are also internationalists because of their company's global linkages.... They are not protectionist and do not express Buy American sentiments.... Although they miss public prayers at football games, their Southern morality does not include rabid in-group favoritism." Or maybe they were all placed in a room with a well-known business author, the plant manager, and the company flack, and they were careful to say the right things. Just guessing.
It would have made for better reading had the author compared a winner and a loser city instead of just heaping praise upon her three cosmopolitans. Most problematic, World Class offers little that's new. Readers of business magazines over the past decade are likely to find it annoyingly familiar.
The paradox is that the very people Kanter focuses on, the cosmopolitans, don't need to read her book: They're already hip to its lessons. And the locals? Life for them is threatening enough. They would be well advised to save the $25 and put it in a safe place.