Book Report: The World is Flat

Monday, March 27, 2006 8:42
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A couple months ago I saw Thomas Friedman speak at an event at the 3 on the Bund art gallery. He was there to promote his recent release The World is Flat while doing some research for his next book.

Since hearing him speak, I have seen executives from all over the world carrying this book. Last time I came back from the West coast, I counted 5 copies alone just walking to the back of the plane. His book has hit a nerve no doubt and it now is the book for executives who are now being faced with the reality that it is a global economy.

Following his speak I borrowed a copy of the book primarily to follow up some reservations I had following his presentation.

It was actually during the first 5 minutes of the presentation, that I started taking a tally of things that struck me as odd. These are the things that you cannot fully describe, but know them when you see them….

The foundation for this comes in the first chapter when he is describing the history of the book and from where the title gets its name. In it he says that while interviewing the CEO of Infosys, Mr. Nilekani, he is told that the “playing field has been leveled”… and it was at that night that Mr. Friedman called his wife and told her that his next book would be called The World is Flat.

Forgive me for nitpicking, however these two sentences create in my mind two very different foundations from which to begin a book. Where “The world is flat” is a condition whereby no on ehas an advantage and there are no hills to fight for. “The world has been leveled” to me involves intent, opportunity, and the dynamics involved with balance and inbalance. In short “Flat” is a permanent condition and “leveled” is a tempory state of balance that could change at anytime.

Where the book goes wrong in my opinion is that the author does not give enough credit to the human side of this phenomenon. For those in China and India, the hunger is visible.

A duck paddling in water is often used to describe how things can often appear at peace, when under the water there is chaos. In China and India though, the reverse is true. The Chaos is evident and leads many to believe that everything is in chaos when in fact the governments are providing a stable backing to ensure that no matter how chaotic it may appear, progress continues.

Removing the human element would also allow one to believe that the situation can be reverse, and this is a typical American response given the success of “taking it back” from the Japanese in the 80s. Again, by removing the human element, the author misses the critical difference between the progress/ threat the Japanese posed versus the Chinese.

Whereas the Japanese used technology to improve existing products on a quality and user interface basis, and competing on a quality basis, the Chinese are taking those same products and making them cheaper and thus competing on a pricing basis.

To “take back” what gains the Japanese meant, it forced the Americans to improve technologies, apply those to Japanese products, and win back the hearts of the consumer through marketing campaigns like “Buy American it could be your job!”.

However, the Chinese are not appealing to the hearts of consumers, but their wallets.. and that is their real advantage.

In the end, the author did a great job of laying out the effects of technology and how it provided a playing field that was more flattened. However, it does not go far enough to explain why the world is actually level, and it does not address the real reason for why many Americans will soon be asking “Why is the world inverted?”

I do suggest this book as one that everyone should read as it does go farther than most of the books out there. however, it should be understood that the book is a book about the history and application of technology rather than an account of why the World Is Level.

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