The World Is Flat – Brief review and discussion questions

Hi. Time for our first book review, Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat. Below are a brief synopsis and questions to help you discuss the book here or with friends. Please feel free to comment on this post, and if we get enough interest, I can set up an actual chat as well.

The World Is Flat is a story of globalization perpetuated not by a group of individuals or countries, but instead by the congruence of 10 world events. World events that when they occurred seemed wholly independent and sometimes unremarkable. These ten events, or flatteners as Friedman calls them, have leveled the competition between countries and given rise to the benefits and costs of globalized trade.

The ten flatteners are:

 11/9/89, The fall of the Berlin Wall. This was the end of the Soviet experiment and heralded in free-market capitalism as the new dominant economic system. In its wake, millions of people in developing countries from India, Brazil, China and the former Soviet Union were exposed to the demand and supply of free market capitalism. Also, the fall signaled that the world was a more singular place and that ideas and policies could flow more freely between the east and the west.

8/9/95, The date that Netscape went public, the proper rise of the internet. It allowed information to be created anywhere and shared anywhere. As communication protocols became standard, this grew substantially.

Workflow software. Software that enabled people to collaborate across the firm easier. A mundane flattener that took off in that it allowed aspects of the work to be completed elsewhere. Billing need not be in the same building as receivables if there were a workflow system in place the two could talk to each other from across the country, or world.

Uploading.  The ability for ideas to be shared with anyone. BLOGS (your welcome!) Also, community developed software (Linux) and crowdsourcing tools that expanded the capabilities of existing businesses and further enabled the above flatteners.

Outsourcing. Netscape helped usher in the dot-com boom, which in turn resulted in a lot of money flowing to Internet startups. Internet startups needed bandwidth for their operations, so there was massive investment in fiber optic cables. The dot-com bust wiped out many of the companies but left in its wake this new fiber optic infrastructure. This allowed the US to be connected with India. Then Y2K required huge IT commitment to convert all the computer systems to new calendars, and much of that manpower was sourced from India.

Offshoring. Offshoring is mostly recognized as moving US manufacturing to China after it joined the WTO. Absent from the public discussion is that most of the jobs offshored to China were to directly supply Asian markets and that many foreign firms did the same to the US.

Supply-chaining. Championed by Wal-Mart. Removing and reducing inventory, by collaborating horizontally among suppliers, retailers, and customers.

Insourcing, allowing third parties to handle aspects of production or customer service in a country closer to the source, than at the traditional service point. Example being a Toshiba laptop that is broken but under warranty. The owner brings the laptop to the UPS to ship to Toshiba, but instead, Toshiba informs the UPS how to fix itself.

In-forming. The spread of information via Google, Yahoo, and MSN

And finally, the “steroids” – digital, mobile and personal tools that make the other flatteners even more powerful.

Question #1. How have these flatteners changed your work or personal life? Do you think these ten flatteners are a realistic way to view the world?

Question #2. Friedman talks about the best way to protect those adversely affected by the flattening of the world, for example, the worker whose job is offshored, is to practice “compassionate flattening,” requiring giving workers and individuals the education, skills and safety nets needed to be able to better compete. Do you think that is enough? Is there something to be said about the recent populism to combat globalization?

 Question #3. What did you like most about the book? What did you like least?

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