Book Summary: The World is Flat

The World is Flat Book: The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century
Author: Thomas L. Friedman

The Ten Forces That Flattened the World

These are the ten factors describing how the world is becoming “flat” or globally interconnected, thereby allowing businesses all over the world to compete on a more equal playing field.

  1. The New Age of Creativity (the fall of the Berlin Wall)

    This event “tipped the balance of power across the world toward those advocating democratic, consensual, free-market-oriented governance, and away from those advocating authoritarian rule with centrally planned economies.”

  2. The New Age of Connectivity (the rise of the Web)

    This event “enabled more people to communicate and interact with more other people anywhere on the planet than ever before.”

  3. Work Flow Software

    This force “enabled more people in more places to design, display, manage, and collaborate on business data previously handled manually,” resulting in more work to be able to flow “between companies and continents faster than ever.”

  4. Uploading (open online collaboration and communities)

    This force gave “newfound power [to] individuals and communities to send up, out, and around their own products and ideas, often for free, rather than just passively downloading them from commercial enterprises or traditional hierarchies,” thereby “reshaping the flow of creativity, innovation, political mobilization, and information gathering and dissemination.”

  5. Outsourcing

    This force meant “taking some specific, but limited, function that your company is doing in-house… and having another company perform that exact same function for you and then reintegrating their work back into your overall operation.”

  6. Offshoring

    This force meant being able to manufacture “the very same product in the very same way, only with cheaper labor, lower taxes, subsidized energy, and lower health-care costs” in another country, “then integrating it into [your] global supply chains.”

  7. Supply-Chaining

    This force allowed “[horizontal collaboration]—among suppliers, retailers, and customers—to create value,” resulting in “the adoption of common standards between companies” and more efficient “global collaboration.”

  8. Insourcing

    This force allowed “small companies could suddenly see around the world” and sell their products and services globally, while large companies could “act really small” and “customize products at the last minute.”

  9. In-forming

    This force gave “all the world’s knowledge, or even just a big chunk of it… to anyone and everyone, anytime, anywhere,” resulting in “becoming your own self-directed and self-empowered researcher, editor, and selector of entertainment, without having to go to the library or the movie theater or through network television.”

  10. The Steriods (computers, the Internet, wireless, and personalization)

    This force, made up of specific technologies, supercharged all the other flatteners.

The Triple Convergence

These are the three factors that came together to set off the flattening of the world.

  1. Convergence I

    This is the “convergence of the ten flatteners [into] a whole new platform. It is a global, Web-enabled platform for multiple forms of collaboration [that] enables individuals, groups, companies, and universities anywhere in the world to collaborate… without regard to geography, distance, time, and, in the near future, even language… —for the purposes of innovation, production, education, research, entertainment, and, alas, war-making—like no creative platform ever before.”

  2. Convergence II

    This is the “emergence of a large cadre of managers, innovators, business consultants, business schools, designers, IT specialists, CEOs, and workers.”

  3. Convergence III

    This is the creation of “horizontal collaboration and value-creation processes and habits that could take advantage of this new, flatter playing field.”

The Great Sorting Out

These are the issues that will need to be resolved in the flat world.

  1. Offshoring: Who is Exploiting Who?

    This is where “the world starts to flatten out and value increasingly gets created horizontally… who is on the top and who is on the bottom, who is the exploiter and who is the exploited, gets very complicated.” The US workers who are out of jobs? The US customers and citizens who pay lower prices and less taxes? The Indian workers who are paid comparably low wages? The Indian workers who’s comparably low wages raises their standard of living?

  2. Where Do Companies Stop and Start?

    This is where “businesses define their interests and labor opportunities more globally than domestically [and than where they are headquartered],” and “the whole shareholding process demands more and more that these companies perform against global standards, opportunities, and resources.”

  3. From Command and Control to Collaborate and Connect

    This is where “hierarchies are not being leveled just by little people being able to act big. They are also being leveled by big people being able to act really small—in the sense that they are enabled to do many more things on their own.”

  4. Multiple Identity Disorder

    This is where “the tensions among our identities as consumers, employees, citizens, taxpayers, and shareholders are going to come into sharper and sharper conflict.” For instance, “the Wal-Mart shareholder and shopper in us wans Wal-Mart to be [keep company profits high] and prices low.” “But the Wal-Mart worker in us hates the limited benefits and low pay packages.” “And the Wal-Mart citizen in us knows that because [Wal-Mart doesn’t fully cover employee health care costs], the taxpayers will end up picking up the tab.”

  5. Who Owns What?

    This is where we need to decide whether we “build legal barriers to protect an innovator’s intellectual property so he or she can reap its financial benefits and plow those profits into a new invention, [or] keep [the] walls low enough so that we encourage the sharing of intellectual property, which is required more and more to do cutting-edge innovation.”

  6. Death of the Salesmen

    This is where efficiency and automation is replacing human beings. “It’s hard to create a human bond with e-mail and streaming Internet.”

America and Free Trade

This is the idea that “even as the world gets flat, America as a whole will benefit more by sticking to the general principles of free trade, as it always has, than by trying to erect walls, which will only provoke others to do the same and impoverish us all.” And “while protectionism would be counter-productive, a policy of free trade, while necessary, is not enough by itself. It must be accompanied by a focused domestic strategy aimed at upgrading the education of every American, so that he or she will be able to compete for the new jobs in the flat world.”

The New Middlers

These are the job categories that will make up the new middle-class in the flat world.

  1. Great Collaborators and Orchestrators

    These are jobs that “involve collaborating with others or orchestrating collaboration within and between companies, especially those employing diverse workforces from around the world.”

  2. The Great Synthesizers

    These are jobs that involve “putting together disparate things that you would not think of as going together.”

  3. The Great Explainers

    These are jobs that involve “[seeing] the complexity but [explaining] it with simplicity.”

  4. The Great Leveragers

    These are jobs that involve “combining the best of what computers can do with the best of what humans can do, and then constantly reintegrating the new best practices the humans are innovating back into the system to make the whole… that much more productive.”

  5. The Great Adapters

    These are jobs that involve being “adaptable and versatile” and “are capable not only of constantly adapting but also of constantly learning and growing.”

  6. The Green People

    These are jobs that involve designing and building “renewable energies and environmentally sustainable systems.”

  7. The Passionate Personalizers

    These are jobs that involve “pure passion… pure entertainment… [and] a creative touch that no one else thought of adding.”

  8. The Great Localizers

    These are jobs that involve “[understanding] the emerging global infrastructure, and then [adapting] all the new tools it offers to local needs and demands.”

The Right Stuff

These are the abilities that will help individuals compete effectively in the flat world.

  1. Learn How to Learn

    This is the ability to “constantly absorb, and teach yourself, new ways of doing old things or new ways of doing new things.”

  2. Passion and Curiosity

    This is the ability to be passionate and curious “for a job, for success, for a subject area or even a hobby,” because “nobody works harder at learning than a curious kid.”

  3. Play Well With Others

    This is the ability to “be good at managing or interacting with other people.”

  4. The Right-Brain Stuff

    This is the ability to “nurture more of your right brain [(creative thought)] as well as your left [(analytical thought)].”

The Quiet Crisis

These are the six “dirty little secrets” of the US that are preventing this country from properly preparing for the flat world.

  1. The Numbers Gap

    “The generation of scientists and engineers who were motivated to go into science… are reaching their retirement years and are not being replaced in the numbers that they must be if an advanced economy like that of the United States is to remain at the head of the pack.”

  2. The Education Gap at the Top

    “We simply are not educating, or even interesting, enough of our own young people in advanced math, science, and engineering.”

  3. The Ambition Gap

    “Not only is [outsourcing] cheaper and efficient, but the quality and productivity [boost] is huge” because of “our love of television and video and online games.”

  4. The Education Gap at the Bottom

    “If you went to an elite private school or public school in a wealthy neighborhood, you got an education that reinforced innovation and creativity, while the worst public high schools focused on just getting the kids through with the bread-and-butter basics.”

  5. The Funding Gap

    “Federal funding for research in physical and mathematical sciences and engineering, as a share of GDP, actually declined,” and “the effects are starting to show,” as other nations surpass the US in scientific research and innovations.

  6. The Infrastructure Gap

    “In the first three years of the Bush Administration, the United States dropped from 4th to 13th place in the global rankings of broadband Internet usage [and] most U.S. homes can access only ‘basic’ broadband, among the slowest, most expensive, and least reliable in the developed world.” Even worse is the US’s standing in the mobile market.

What the US Should Do

These are the five actions the US should take to remain competitive in the flat world.

  1. Leadership

    This is where “we need politicians who are able and willing to” “help educate and explain to people what world they are living in and what they need to do if they want to thrive in it.” ‘Summoning all our [nation’s] strengths and skills to produce a twenty-first-century renewable energy source is George W. Bush’s opportunity to be both Nison going to China and JFK going to the moon in one move.”

  2. Muscles

    This is where the government and companies “can guarantee you that [they] will concentrate on giving you the tools to make yourself more lifetime employable—more able to acquire the knowledge or the experience needed to be a good adapter, synthesizer, collaborator, etc.”

  3. Cushioning

    This is the concept of wage insurance that “would compensate you for your old specific skills, for a set period of time, while you take a new job and learn new specific skills.”

  4. Social Activism

    This is where global corporations must develop moral consciences because they “are going to command more power, not only to create value but also to transmit values, than any transnational institutions on the planet.”

  5. Parenting

    This is where “we need a new generation of parents ready to administer tough love: There comes a time when you’ve got to put away the Game Boys, turn off the television, shut off the iPod, and get your kids down to work.”

What Developing Countries Should Do

These are the actions a developing country should take to remain competitive in the flat world.

  1. Introspection

    This is where a country asks itself “to what extent is my country advancing or being left behind by the flattening of the world, and to what extent is it adapting to and taking advantage of all the new platforms for collaboration and competition?”

  2. Reform Wholesale

    This is where a country “[focuses] on improving education and infrastructure and, in particular, adopting better governance [and] market-friendly macroeconomic policies [on a strategic, high level].”

  3. Reform Retail

    This is where a country “[looks] at infrastructure, education, and governance and [upgrades] each one [on a tactical, detailed level], so more of your people have the tools and legal framework to innovate and collaborate at the highest levels.”

  4. Culture and Glocalization

    This is where a country asks itself “how outward your culture is: To what degree is it open to foreign influence and ideas? How well does it ‘glocalize’ [(adopt foreign ideas)]?” as well as “how inward your culture is:” “To what degree is there a sense of national solidarity and a focus on development, to what degree is there trust within the society for strangers to collaborate together, and to what degree are the elites in the country concerned with the masses and ready to invest at home?”

  5. The Intangible Things

    This is where a society increases its “ability and willingness to pull together and sacrifice for the sake of economic development” as well as has “leaders with the vision to see what needs to be done in terms of development and the willingness to use power to push for change rather than to enrich themselves and preserve the status quo.”

How Companies Cope

These are ways companies can remain competitive in the flat world.

  1. Be Unique

    This is where companies “[dig] inside themselves to locate [their] real core competency” to avoid commoditization, which is “happening faster and faster across a whole range of industries” in the flat world.

  2. And The Small Shall Act Big

    This is where companies “[take] advantage of several new forms of collaboration—supply-chaining, outsourcing, insourcing, and all the steriods—to make [their small companies] very big.”

  3. And The Big Shall Act Small

    This is where companies “create a platform that allows individual customers to serve themselves in their own way, at their own pace, in their own time, according to their own tastes.”

  4. Be Collaborative

    This is where companies “take advantage of the triple convergence to collaborate with the smartest, most efficient people you can find anywhere in the world.”

  5. Get Regular X-rays

    This is where companies “constantly identify and strengthen their niches and outsource the stuff that is not very differentiating.”

  6. Outsource to Win

    This is where companies “[outsource] to acquire knowledge talent to grow their business faster, not simply to cut costs and cut back.”

  7. Be Socially Responsible

    This is where companies “pioneer socially responsible outsourcing [where it’s not just about] saving money they can invest somewhere else, [it’s about] creating better lives for some of the poor citizens of the world.”

The Unflat World

These are the issues holding the world back from becoming truly flat.

  1. Too Sick

    These are people “who are too sick… whose lives are stalked everyday by HIV-AIDS, malaria, TB, and polio, and who do not even enjoy steady electricity or potable water.”

  2. Too Disempowered

    These are people “who don’t have the tools or the skills or the infrastructure to participate in any meaningful or sustained way” with the flat world.

  3. Too Frustrated

    These are people who “are threatened, frustrated, and even humiliated by this close contact [with the flat world], which, among other things, makes it very easy for people to see where they stand in the world vis-a-vis everyone else.”

  4. Too Many Toyotas

    This is where the flattening of the world will “set off a global struggle for natural resources and junk up, heat up, garbage up, smoke up, and devour up our little planet faster than at any time in the history of the world.”

The Globalization of the Local

This is the “phenomenon that allows diaspora communities around the world to use today’s global media networks to cling to their local mores, news, traditions, and friends—no matter where they are living.” “It is not the global which comes and envelops us. It is the local which goes global.”

The Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention

This is the theory that “no two countries that are both part of a major global supply chain, like Dell’s, will ever fight a war against each other as long as both are part of the same global supply chain.”

Author: Mike Lee

An idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student.

8 thoughts on “Book Summary: The World is Flat”

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  2. The book summary on “The World id Flat” is very well done. I find that reading a summary of a book I have read (or intend reading) is very useful and greatly enhances my understanding and retension.

    Well done Mike. Do add some new book sumaries.

    Shriyantha Perera, Sri Lanka

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