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Blog // Thoughts
February 25, 2007

Think Locally Act Globally

I’ve been saying it for years (over twelve, by my rough count) and I’m far from the only one (reversing the popular saying think global, act local). The current edition of the Harvard Business Review carries a piece on this in it’s “Breakthrough Ideas for 2007” section, by Hitotsubashi University professor Yoko Ishikura. “Whereas companies […]

I’ve been saying it for years (over twelve, by my rough count) and I’m far from the only one (reversing the popular saying think global, act local). The current edition of the Harvard Business Review carries a piece on this in it’s “Breakthrough Ideas for 2007” section, by Hitotsubashi University professor Yoko Ishikura.

“Whereas companies used to be told to “think globally and act locally,” adapting their global strategy to the needs of a particular locality, they must now “act globally and think locally,” harvesting knowledge from various sources and using it to shape their global strategy.”

When we look at the most pressing problems in the world today, they require global cross-border strategy. Local action alone, or even primarily will never be enough to address poverty, women’s rights, terrorism, climate change and so on. In fact, placing too much of a priority on local action can in each of these issues exaserbate the problem by breeding narrow horizons and fundamentalisms.

By contrast, insights from the creative class and the evolutions of global cities teach us about the importance of location for thinking. Despite the evolution of communications technologies, humans are persistently social beings and want to congregate in creative communities.

I’m deeply thankful to Richard Burridge for encouraging me to think about the etymology of words like university and college, the latter of which literally means to co-read, or read together. I sometimes wonder if the future of the local church lies in the path of being more collegial, reading together for global action.

That’s doesn’t mean we abandon local action. Our local mission puts us in contact with the reality of our world in the first instance and this is the best place to start our thinking and reading of culture; it grounds us.

But if all we do is act locally and think globally, we potential leave our thinking at the level of abstraction. One insight into theological method that I owe to Andrew Walker is that sociological evidence disciplines our theological reflection. It’s harder to leave our thoughts at the abstract level if we are thinking about real people and real people’s interactions, rather than just thinking “with” people we’ve never met nor spoken with.

Action/reflection, participant observation and flanuere – the method is not critical. What matters is that we are locally engaged and gathering evidence locally to discipline our thought. In this sense, the role of the local church can grow from action to being a learning, thinking and innovating “college.” At this point we extend ourselves out from the local/global divide as we join something much bigger than ourselves in global action.

Because the great commission calls us to the whole world, not to local communities.

[tags] Theological Method, Missional [/tags]

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