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Thomas Friedman on Thriving in the Age of Acceleration

As technology gallops ahead, how should we update our companies, governments and educational institutions? How can we retool ourselves for a rapidly changing jobs market?

He has been called ‘the most influential columnist in America’, and is read by everyone from small-business owners to President Obama. As a star columnist of The New York Times, Thomas Friedman has won the Pulitzer Prize three times. Although he has been dubbed ‘the high priest of globalisation’, Friedman is well aware that it is the tensions created by globalisation which have paved the way for the election of Donald Trump. Nevertheless, when he came to the Intelligence Squared stage, Friedman argued that contrary to Trump’s promises of walls and tariffs, it is openness to trade and ideas that will allow us all to thrive amid the rapid, startling changes sweeping through the world.

Given the dizzying whirlwind of technological change which has wiped out jobs and transformed workplaces, it is no wonder that electorates have reached for Trump’s protectionist solutions in the US and nativist retrenchment in the UK. But, as Friedman argued, the forces of globalisation needn’t spell disaster. Instead, it is how we respond to these accelerating changes that will determine whether we falter or flourish. Both the EU referendum and the US presidential election were contests not between left and right, but between what Friedman calls ‘Wall People’ — those who feel their identity threatened by globalisation — and ‘Web People’: those who instinctively embrace the current pace of change and are keen to collaborate in a world without walls.

In this major event, Friedman offered his guide to updating our lives and institutions for the accelerating changes of the 21st century. For example:

  • We need to innovate not just technologically, but politically: moral leadership in a complex world is becoming ever more essential
  • Political leaders should be accelerating local start-ups in both the economic sector and the social sector, to build resilient and prospering citizens
  • The ideal skill set for the jobs of the future is ‘stempathy’: science, technology, maths — and empathy

He explained how the new asset class is not information but ‘human capital talent’, and how we can all thrive in the age of acceleration.



Emily Maitlis

Award-winning journalist and presenter of The News Agents podcast

Award-winning journalist and broadcaster, and presenter of the Gold Award winning daily podcast, The News Agents. Having covered elections in the US and UK for the BBC, she fronted Newsnight, becoming a stalwart of the broadcaster’s news output and a trusted voice with the viewing public. She was recognised by GQ Magazine as one of the most influential people in Britain.  

Thomas Friedman

Author, reporter, and op-ed columnist for the NYT

Foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times. His books include The World Is Flat (2005), which won the first Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award; Hot, Flat, and Crowded (2008); and Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations (2016), which was shortlisted for the FT and McKinsey Business Book of the Year.