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Summary of Thomas Friedmans The World Is Flat

In The World Is Flat, Thomas L. Friedman discusses events and technologies that are flattening the world and increasing globalization. Friedman feels the world is highly interconnected without regard to hierarchy, distance, organizational size, individual status, culture, or language. He describes ten "flatteners" that are reshaping the world.

Flattener 1 Fall of the Berlin Wall

The end of the Cold War broke down barriers between people. To catch your attention he identifies this flattener with 9/11. November 9, 1989 is when the Berlin Wall fell. He contrasts it with 9/11 which is journalistically neat but not terribly pertinent. But Friedman doesn't stop with a political-historical event. About the same time (the 1980s), Apple and Microsoft were making personal computers available to the world. Not only did the Berlin wall fall but Microsoft Windows opened [cute]. Part of flattener #1 is the personal computer, the ability of individuals to put their thoughts in digital form.

Flattener 2 The Internet

On August 9, 1995 Netscape went public with first internet browser available to the public at large. Now people could access information from all over the world.

Flattener 3 - Workflow software

Many software developments, standards, and protocols enable computers and other digital devices to interact over the internet so that work and other projects can be done by people any where in the world. Friedman notes that with the first three flatteners a collaboration platform is emerging for people to share digital content inexpensively all over the world. In the mid to late 1990s the world changed. The remaining flatteners expand on this opportunity for collaboration, "steadily flattening the world even more."

Flattener 4 - Uploading
Uploading is Friedman's word for people creating content and contributing to the Internet. This document is an example. Perhaps the most significant is the development of open source software. Hierarchy and organization are not required; quality content and work product can come from anywhere.

Flattener 5 Outsourcing
Friedman recounts the story of Jack Welch at GE forcing his IT people to contract out some of their work to Indian vendors, starting a tidal wave of change.

Flattener 6 - Offshoring
With instant and virtually cost free global transmission of data and communication, companies can place each business department responsible for one part of the value chain in the most productive geographic location.

Flattener 7 - Supply-Chaining
The rapid, accurate global movement of components and finished goods is now possible on an unimaginable scale. Freidman describes a Wal-Mart distribution center as an example.

Flattener 8 - Insourcing
If a company has an extraordinary skill, it may market that skill as a service even though the company appears to be getting into something totally unrelated to their basic business. Freidman used UPS as an example. UPS, the package delivery company, has a major hub at Louisville Airport. Toshibas turn around time on the repair of laptop computers was too long and affecting customer satisfaction. They turned to UPS to operate the repair shop in Louisville. Computers are returned to the customer in 3 days. UPS is also managing Papa John's pizza delivery as well as their supply logistics. UPS is good at scheduling, delivering and keeping track of items. UPS sells that skill as a service.

Flattener 9 - In-Forming
Friedman describes this as "the individual's personal analog to uploading, outsourcing, insourcing, supply-chaining and offshoring... the ability to build and deploy your own personal supply chain - a supply chain of information, knowledge and entertainment."

Flattener 10 - Steroids
All sorts of things are happening to magnify the previous nine flatteners. Examples are the continued effects of Moore's Law, wi-fi, instant messaging, file sharing, P2P, VoIP, videoconferencing... Next he talks about "the triple convergence" which brings home how these ten flatteners are changing and will change the world. His first point is the sum is more than the parts. Each development has value in itself but it is much more valuable when combined with the others. A PC is great, but coupled with the internet the possibilities expand tremendously. The ten flatteners taken together constitute a quantum leap and "created a whole new platform. It is a global Web-enabled platform for multiple forms of collaboration". The second convergence addresses the fact that the world today looks much the same as the world yesterday. With any major technological advance there is a lag between invention and major impact because organizations, processes, and facilities have to be redesigned around the new capability. Friedman gives various examples starting with light bulbs and electric motors. Each changed society but there was a lag. The third convergence is globalization. He speaks of "new players, on a new playing field, developing new processes and habits for horizontal collaboration - that I believe is the most potent force... The scale of the global community that is soon going to be able to participate in all sorts of discovery and innovation is something the world has simply never seen before." He sites many examples of international developments.

Related Subject Matter

In the 1990s there were a number of books attempting to predict the shape of the postCold War world. Paul M. Kennedy wrote The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers expressing the US was a superpower but like many superpowers before, it will lose its position due to financial and geographic over extension, internal weariness, coalescing opposition, and changing circumstances. In The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama proclaimed that free markets and liberal democracy had triumphed and many nations would model themselves on those principles Samuel P. Huntington (The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order) talked of major, multi-national cultural groups competing with one another, e.g. Islam versus liberal, democratic western nations. Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree describes the power and force for change of the developing global economy. It also describes the deep rooted emotional reaction and opposition to change.