Companies & Industries

Toward a Kinder, Gentler Borg


Western Society is creating an endangered cultures list by assimilating other cultures, but it's not too late to stop the trend

"You must assimilate—resistance is futile!"

In Star Trek, the Borg was a society of part-biological, part-machine creatures that roamed the universe assimilating all of the cultures, people, and technology they encountered. The Borg did not destroy, the Borg assimilated. The Borg learned from each assimilated culture and grew in strength. Each new planet brought an opportunity for learning and growth. Each new person became part of the powerful Borg collective.

The West—with our great, liberal, market society—has become the Borg of our planet. We are rapidly assimilating cultures, people, and technology. I have traveled outside the U.S. more than 200 times in the past 30 years, and I can tell you that truly different people and cultures are disappearing at an amazing rate. They are being assimilated into our Borg. (In fact, if you are reading this column, you are probably a valuable contributing member of the Borg, as I am.)

Our Borg is much more powerful than the Borg of Star Trek, which had to force people to join it. We don't force people to assimilate. We make people want to assimilate. People don't run from us. Anyone can leave our Borg at any time, but almost no one wants to.

Our Borg is a market culture. We stimulate desire. We continually create new, better products people want to own. Anything that doesn't sell will quickly be eliminated.

Our Borg is also a business culture. English is the language of the Borg because English is the language of business. For better or worse, almost any leader of significance in any global corporation will speak English in the not-too-distant future. Most do now.

Some blame our Borg for the "Americanization" of the world. What they don’t realize is that our Borg is global. Globalization seems like "Americanization" because "American culture" is largely a mixture of cultures from around the world. For example, only one of the top 20 restaurants in New York serves American food. Almost all of the top 20 are French, Japanese, Italian, or some combination. Even American staples such as hamburgers or French fries came from somewhere else. U.S. culture is a mixture of things we love from around the world. The Borg culture is not American—the American culture is Borg.

Culture Is Power

Our Borg has a lot going for it. Liberal market capitalism may have its flaws, but it has produced a record of progress that far surpasses anything else. Borg members have lots of choices. We can get products and services from around the world. The Borg is strong because it gives us what we love. The Borg recognizes our humanity. We can strive to better ourselves. We can become leaders of the Borg hierarchy. Open opportunity is key to successful Borg capitalism.

Why do other cultures see us as a threat? Because we are. We don't want to eliminate other cultures; we just do. Our real power is not our weapons. Our real power is our Borg culture.

What is our challenge as leaders in a Borg world? We should stop denying the obvious. We are taking over the world—not because we want to—we just can't help it. Our Borg stuff is just too good. Given the choice, most people will eventually vote Borg. We give them what they love. They will become part of us. We will all become more alike.

A Little Cultural Diversity

I have a radical suggestion for how the Borg should deal with other cultures. We should encourage their continued existence. While we seem to care about not causing extinction in animals, we merrily go on causing extinction in cultures. If species were disappearing as fast as cultures, there would only be three or four left. In North America, there were once many distinct native cultures and languages. Today they are almost all gone.

Let's make a deal with anyone who wants to be different from the Borg. As long as you don't bother us (and you aren't blatantly evil), we will do our best to leave you alone. In fact, we may try to help you out. A little cultural diversity can at least give Borg sociologists something to study. It can give us a place to vacation that doesn't seem like everyplace else.

Visit the upscale shopping street in any Borg city around the world. The good news is you can get products from around the world. The bad news is they are all the same products. One of the reasons our species has survived so long is diversity. Our biggest threat may not be from people who are different from us, it may be from the fact so many of us are so alike.

Marshall Goldsmith, who writes Marshall and Friends every week for BusinessWeek.com, can be reached at Marshall@MarshallGoldsmith.com. He provides his articles and videos online at MarshallGoldsmithLibrary.com.

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