The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century by Thomas L. Friedman.
Recommended for: Anyone who has a job! Students about to enter the real world, parents.
Thomas Friedman is the New York Times‘s Foreign Affairs columnist and the recipient of three Pulitzer Prizes. He travels the globe extensively to get a better understanding of his work. The World is Flat, which explores globalization was #1 New York Times bestseller and received the inaugural Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award in November 2005. I’d heard a lot about this book over the last year or so and was glad to finally get a chance to read it.
Friedman said the purpose of the book is to create a framework to maximize and manage globalization to our benefit. Many of us are uneasy about the ‘flattening’ of the world (some of his stories certainly scared the bejezus out of me). Friedman says its natural. He says it happens every time we have a technological revolution. The difference this time is its happening a lot faster.
This was another book that was tough to narrow down to my favorite parts. Friedman had fascinating examples of outsourcing, the reasons why the world globalized, how India became our tech center, and the dangers of oil dependencies.
After a lot of work, I narrowed it down to 25 points:
The Scary Stuff
- He didn’t use these exact words, but Friedman makes no bones that what can be outsourced will be outsourced.
- Venture firms want new companies to become profitable quickly so they can then sell them, also, they want to make sure companies are hiring the brightest– this leads to outsourcing.
- The average wage of a high skills mechanist in America is $3,000-$4,000 a month. The average for China is $150.
- The problem is not just that outsourced companies will work for less, that will work more hours, they don’t take the same amount of holidays or days off. Other countries’ employees will work 15-18 hour days and come in on the weekends. They are doing this because they have a dream to work at Microsoft.
- Other countries do not want to work for us or be us, they want to dominate us. They want to be the ones creating the companies of the future. They are not content on where they are.
Why Are We Struggling?
- We are a leisure-time society. In China, Bill Gates is Britney Spears. In the U.S., Britney Spears is Britney Spears.
- Our culture needs to better prize education. Immigrants’ children inhabit the top ranks of math and science. Our kids aren’t interested in it. China and India have a long tradition of parents telling their children that the greatest thing they can be in life is an engineer or a doctor. (My wife pointed out that this is actually not prizing education as much as it is prizing an occupation. We still need firefighters, teachers, public servants, etc.).
- This has happened before. It happened when we connected New York to California by rail. It happened when we connected America to Western Europe and Japan. It happened again when we connected America, Europe, Japan, to India, and China. We will get through it and get better because of it.
- One reason people fear globalization is because they believe that there are only so many jobs to go around and we are losing them. This is wrong headed. The pie is not a fixed amount. As these jobs are sent overseas, people have more of an income to spend, and it creates a larger pie.
- It is easy to demonize free markets and the freedom to outsource and offshore because it is so much easier to see people being laid off than being hired.
- In the end, everyone is going to benefit, there will always be fear, but the fear is good, because it stimulates a willingness to change and explore and find things to do better.
- America still has huge advantages– we have innovative businesses, good universities, labs, retailers, and the best regulated and most efficient capital markets in the world for taking ideas and turning them into products and services. We are the best country for taking a risk on an idea. We also have an advantage with intellectual property protection, the most flexible labor laws, the world’s largest domestic consumer market, the most first adopters (if you starting something new—you better have a presence in America). We also have had political stability. Finally, we are a great place for different types of people to come together and meet. China, India, and other countries will not be successful until they have successful capital markets and they won’t have these until they have rule of law that protects minority interests under conditions of risk.
What to do
- As the world flattens and new ways to collaborate are made available to more people, those who will succeed will be those who learn the habits, processes, and skills the quickest (there is no guarantee that this will be America).
- You have to constantly upgrade your skills. There will be plenty of good jobs out there in the flat world for people with knowledge and ideas to seize them.
- People need to become less specialty tools and become more Swiss army knives.
- The most important attribute you can have is creative imagination—the ability to be the first on your block to figure out how all these enabling tools can be put together in new and exciting ways to create products, communities, opportunities, and profits.
- Management, shareholders, and investors don’t really care where the profits come from, but they do care about sustainability.
- “Transformation begins with a sense of crisis or urgency. No institution will go through fundamental change unless it believes it is in deep trouble and needs to do something different to survive.” Lou Gestner.
- Sometimes the best strategy is to get the big players to the right things for the wrong reasons because waiting for them to do the right thing for the right reason can mean waiting forever.
- When it comes to economic activities, one of the greatest virtues a country or community can have is a culture of tolerance.
- Trust is essential in a flat world—you have up to a thousand people involved in a company and who have never met before.
Respect for People
- Friedman believes terrorism is spawned by the poverty of dignity, not money. Terrorists often talk about being humiliated. He said humiliation is the most underestimated force in international relations and in human relations.
- Ali Salem, an Egyptian playwright said terrorists are “walking the streets of life, searching for tall buildings—for towers to bring down, because they are not able to be tall like them.”
- People do not change only when they must. They change when they see that others like themselves have changed and flourished.
- He used to say that no two countries that had a McDonalds had ever gone to war with each other. He calls is the Golden Arches theory of Conflict Prevention. He now has the Dell Theory– no two countries that are both part of a major global supply chain will ever fight a war against each other as long as they are both part of the same global supply chain. It would bring both countries to their knees and wouldn’t be worth it.
The book isn’t without its critics. Many have argued the world is not as flat as Friedman is making out. I tried a couple of things he said we can do now (such as finding the address of someone just by Googling their phone number and looking up people on the internet to find out more about them—no dice). Still, I think we can all agree that we are heading in that direction, though, and we need to get a jump on it. This book certainly gave me a wake up call, increased my awareness for what the world has become, helped me better plan what I can do to do a better job in it, and what I can do to help others be prepared (such as my kids.)
The book can be bought here.