Sunday, February 03, 2008

Pioneers of Globalization

Jorge Nascimento Rodrigues and Tessaleno Devezas have written, Pioneers of Globalization, which has a unique take on the popular globalization theme. Their book combines the theory of the long wave, developed by Russian economist Nikolai Kondratieff, with an intriguing analysis of how Portugal's mastery of ocean navigation contributed to this tiny country's domination of global trading routes from South America to Africa and India.

What is perhaps most intriguing about the Portuguese version of globalization is that although the authors focus on a period 500 to 600 years ago, the Portuguese approach to globalization seems very modern to me. Here are the key elements that the authors articulate:

  • Strategic intent. The authors argue that Portuguese people are proactive when they have "an enterprise to executve"
  • Globalist vocation. Possibly because Portugal is a relatively small country with a limited market and finite natural resources, it chose to overcome these weaknesses with a global outlook.
  • Long-term scientific commitment. Portugal invested in research and development.
  • Knowledge management. Portugal's skills at navigation created knowledge workers who could apply these skills.
  • Looking ahead. Portugal looked beyond the current geostrategic boundaries and battles of the Mediterranean region.
  • Control of asymmetric information. Portugal had a passion for choosing the unknown over the known which gave it an advantage over other nations.
  • Incrementalism. Trial and error and pragmatic correction were the key to Portuguese strategies.
  • Critical attitude. Portugal employed the scientific method that challenged existing dogma with experiments and facts.
  • Geostrategic 'cleverness'. Portugal employed secrecy, counterintelligence, and disinformation to achieve its ends.
  • Organizational improvisation. Portugal employed a mix of improvisation and clear strategic intent to achieve its goals.
Before reading Pioneers of Globalization I had not realized how timeless these strategic principles are. But the authors make a compelling case that Portugal was pioneering them hundreds of years ago.