Students must think less like Americans

As college students head back to campus, I have what may seem a strange request for them: try to think less like an American.

Don’t get me wrong. We all should have pride in the U.S. and its many achievements. But I’m not talking about nationalism – I’m talking about globalism.

In order for U.S. companies to continue to increase their market share and their competitive edge, corporate America needs graduates who are global thinkers who have an abiding curiosity about people and places unseen. These are people who want to know how the world works. They understand that a world hungry for the best ideas values diversity over uniformity.

Increasingly, U.S.-based companies, including UPS, where I am the chief financial officer, face increased competition from hungry entrepreneurs across the globe. If we’re not careful, we’ll fall behind in innovation, we’ll become less competitive and our reputation will suffer.

Just consider the trends. A billion people joined the middle class in the last decade. And a billion more are on the way. You know about China and India. What many may not know is that seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa.

Today, the United States accounts for 27 percent of global Gross Domestic Product, but by 2050 it will represent just 19 percent. Emerging countries are innovating and the world is buying their goods. We’ve come to expect the future to be invented in Silicon Valley or New York, not Bangladesh or Jakarta; but that is changing.

I understand that American universities are in the business of delivering students ready to take on the world, not packages. But consider what business needs from our institutions of higher learning. We want to make sure we’re investing not only in the best and brightest, but also those who can comprehend a world beyond our shores.

We want people with smarts and the ability to commit to something bigger than themselves. But we also need students who excel at critical thinking – problem solvers and independent thinkers.

We also need communicators. If there’s one complaint you hear consistently about the bright young talent coming into our organizations, it’s that they can write an algorithm, but not a letter. In an age of collaboration, communication is the force that brings the parts together. It creates focus and keeps us moving in the same direction.

Speaking a foreign language is also a major advantage. You can debate what learning a language adds to your lifetime earnings. But when I see a U.S. job candidate who speaks more than one language, I see someone who had the foresight to envision a flatter, smaller, more connected world, along with the determination to be part of it.

For U.S. companies and for the students, the challenges are great. But so are the potential rewards, especially for those who learn to think less like an American.