• Stevie Hanna

Small Words for Big Ideas: Unpacking the Global-Local Continuum and How It Drives Innovation

Great Lakes GrowthWorks straddles the local and the global. We’re passionate about Michigan, but we hail from a broad range of international experiences and we work with both big and small clients. In thinking about how both the global and the local fit in our model, it’s tempting to see them as two worlds apart. But really, the Global-Local is a continuum; one that we all experience and negotiate, consciously or not. Phil recently introduced some thoughts on this issue, and today we just want to dive in a little more and unpack these deceptively simple-sounding groups of the “Global” and the “Local” and how being aware of the ways they intersect helps GLGW access and guide their innovative power.

Although we can’t take credit for the insight of the global-local continuum, we can and do assert that this understanding holds the untapped potential to generate powerful insights for business. There’s a strong tendency to simplify “global” as large, multinational corporations (MNCs) and the “local” as tiny, mom and pop stores or aspiring entrepreneurial start-ups. Following that logic, we’re right back talking about the advantages of scale and the dynamics of acquisitions. And of course there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s an important angle and one that we at Great Lakes GrowthWorks are personally very excited about. However, that territory is receiving plenty of great coverage already. We’d like to open a broader discussion on how shifting our perspective of the global, the local, and the complex nature of their relationship can help us tap into a tremendous source of innovation.

For starters, “Global” means so much more than organizations with international reach. In fact, a lot of what falls under the umbrella of global isn’t concrete or organized. It helps me to think of it as ‘placelessness’ or ‘facelessness.’ It’s the things that are so widespread, we take them for granted. “Global” includes ideas and systems, like capitalism and democracy, which structure our lives and work on the broadest scale, and also ideas like brunch or happy hour, which structure our lives on a much more personal level. By the same token, some sites can also be understood as part of the global. While there’s a plethora of distinct cafes or markets in the world today, there also exists a broader, global understanding of their function, organization, and atmosphere as commercial and social sites. Technologies and media are another crucial component of the global. Beyond specific brands and platforms, there are devices and formats that shape and reflect life on a local level but can and should be understood on a global level as well, be it smartphones or pop music. To bring this back to more concrete terms for products and services offered, the global can mean a generic form that is then adapted to unique circumstances, rather than emphasizing its uniqueness.

So if the “Global” is deterritorialized, then the “Local” is that which is rooted in specific location(s) or communities. This can be true for companies with international reach too, the way Shinola is rooted to Detroit. The local doesn’t have to be limited to a single physical geographical presence. Locality is part of an organization’s story or purpose; a framework through which the global is filtered. An organization can have a large scale and maintain a local identity at the same time.

The “Local” can also be understood as everyday spaces and lifestyle. Individual consumers are also negotiating these Global-Local forces and intersections daily in their work, consumption, relationships, and identity formation. It’s crucial to understand how these increasingly complex dynamics shape consumer needs and experiences.

The Local is often seen as a source of authenticity and innovation, but that doesn’t mean everything new is created from scratch or that the local mindlessly recreates through traditional methods. The global and the local permeate each other, are framed by each other’s realities. As the global and local constantly negotiate, provoking and inspiring, reacting and adapting, they generate countless innovations. It’s at these points of intersection that the real action takes place. But we’ll come back to that next time.