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The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Mark Koscinski

Mark has a doctorate from Drew University and teaches accounting classes. He is a writer, editor and has experience in public and private accounting.

In this lesson you learn about the book ''The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century'' written by Thomas Friedman, which covers how technology combined with other historic events changed the world.

Job Security In A Flat World

Say you have a good career as a radiologist. You make a decent living reading x-rays for several large orthopedic practices. Sounds like a secure professional future, or does it? The big downside is you have limited patient contact and your work can be easily digitized and sent anywhere in the world for evaluation. Not feeling so secure now?

Thomas L. Friedman is an American journalist, author and columnist. He is perhaps best known for his book, The World Is Flat, A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. Released in 2005, Friedman shares several insights resulting from his experiences during a trip to Bangalore, India where he discovers the world is indeed flat!i

Technology Flattened the World

During his trip to India, Friedman visited several companies changing the way business is transacted around the world. He met with chief executive officers to gain their perspective on how business has changed. What he learned from them was both sobering and frightening.

As computing power increased, processing speeds multiplied at an exponential rate and technology became more accessible and cheaper. Advancements in data transmission made it possible for information to travel around the world in seconds. Technology is the main reason the world flattened out, making us all global neighbors.

Globalization 3.0

Friedman calls this new globalization of technology Globalization 3.0, which allowed people to collaborate and compete in real time. Intellectual work can now be dissected, distributed, returned and re-assembled in minutes via email. This caused the global competitive playing field to be leveled or 'flattened'.

Friedman notes that prior Globalizations 1.0 and 2.0 were marked by countries and companies globalizing respectively. It is now software leading the change, not horsepower or hardware.

Ten Flattening Forces

Friedman writes extensively about what he calls the 10 Flatteners. He explains that ''The world has been flattened by the convergence of ten major political events, innovations, and companies.'' These are:

  1. Fall of the Berlin Wall - This event liberated millions of people and signaled the end of communism. It also shifted much of the world from centrally planned economies to democratic free-market oriented governments.

  2. World Wide Web and the Internet - Users can now save, retrieve, send and share intellectual content electronically and instantly. The internet created a platform for connectivity and the web made information sharing possible.

  3. Workflow Software - People were now able to collaborate while working remotely. Users were able to design, display, manage and collaborate on projects and share data that was once handled manually and locally.

  4. Uploading - Provided free access to community developed software. Computer applications were no longer 'bought'. They could be downloaded for free off the web.

  5. Outsourcing - Specific functions or tasks performed in-house such as tax preparation, research or call-center operations are now performed by another company at a lower cost.

  6. Offshoring - Different from outsourcing, offshoring moves an entire operation, factory and function to a completely different location. All things are equal expect for labor costs, lower taxes and subsidized energy. The combined savings creates a lower cost product.

  7. Supply Chaining - Collaboration among suppliers, retailers and customers to create value during the production and distribution of a product. Supply chain methodologies also forces the adoption of common industrial standards.

  8. Insourcing - Small and mid-sized companies are able to provide services to large supply chains without prohibitive expense, such as UPS fixing computers for Toshiba.

  9. Informing - Provides universal access to knowledge information and research. Anyone with an internet connection can access knowledge from the world's libraries.

  10. Wireless Connectivity - Wireless access created a mobile society so work was no longer tethered to a hard-wired connection. All content could now be digitized, shared remotely and reshaped.

More on Outsourcing

Software makes outsourcing cheap and easy like reading x-rays overnight. While American radiologists are fast asleep, doctors halfway around the world are now able to read these films and provide a full report by morning.

Other basic tasks requiring little specialization or human interaction are prime candidates for outsourcing, where work is performed for a fraction of the cost. A word of advice from Freidman: goods are traded, but services are consumed. Everything but hands-on services can be outsourced.

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