ISBN: 0374292884

Where were you/ what were you doing when you first realised that the world was flat?

If “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” explained Globalisation in lucid terms, then this book makes a convincing explanation the causes, links and the effects of the dotcom boom and bust, how it led to the outsourcing and insourcing trends, and the “quiet crisis” in America.

Halfway through the book, I wondered how library and information work can be kept untouchable p279.

Before reading this book I’d a glimpse of the technology, when i learned how musicians don’t need to meet face to face. Or my visit to Chicago in late 2004, when picking up a deck of souvenir playing cards that proudly proclaimed “Chicago” at the front but said “Made in China” at the back.

Everything’s Made-in-China.


But that’s not the point of the book. It’s not about the obvious (cheaper imports from china) but also about the forces that made a flat world possible.

To understand how the world is flat, check out the chapter where Friedman describes the supply-chain that transformed his phone order for a Dell computer to the delivery.

In the book (there’s an updated version, btw) Friedman starts off by explaining his bewilderment of how the world seems to be shrinking. Then concluding, with conviction, that the same enablers that allowed global supply chains to work, was also exploited by terrorists. He suggests that the flattening started with 11/9 Berlin Wall coming down to 9/11 towers coming down. And he suggests a philosophy on how developed countries can tackle this, or rather how not to tackle this. Don’t deny developing economies from enjoying what they (the developed nations have enjoyed in terms of energy use and consumption patterns). Not to preach. But to lead by example in finding better sources of energy.

My understanding, in simple terms, is that this is still a story about the globalisation phenomenon (what Friedman calls ‘Glocalisation’) but making the world more connected and interdependent, and more economically-focused, through technology.

This book can also be a book about macroeconomic forces. Or about the rise of china and india, from the perspective of an american. It can also be about the rise of cyber terrorism.

Or a book on what singapore is doing right.

There’s a philosophical approach to it, perhaps in typical Friedman’s style.

The issues surrounding globalisation is complex. As with Lexus and the Olive Tree, Friedman does an excellent job simplying but not dumbing down the issues.

As a Singaporean I won’t understand the shock that Friedman goes through. We’d probably go “been there, done that” and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration. Because we’ve never been a big player or a mover of world finance and politics. But there are lessons to be learned, our geography not withstanding. It means in a flat world, a country’s size may not be such a big factor. Global Citizendry is a way to go. Lifelong learning, the ability and drive to upgrade and stay at the top of our game (for most people), that being driven to be innovative out of necessity may be painful but could be the only way to survive.

Oh, by the end of the book, Friedman convinces me that I should refresh my Mandarin 😀

Updates his Golden Arches Theory with the Dell Theory of Conflict Resolution. Example of pakistan/ india almost going to war.

He worries that the unflattener would be war and/ or terrorism.

But friedman’s flat world theory is more than just communcations. He proposes 10 Flatteners.

10 forces that flattened the world:

  • #1 – Nov 9, 89: fall of berlin wall
  • #2 – Aug 9, 95: netscape went public (dot com boom saw billions poured into fiber optics; the bust saw those infrastructure sold cheaply and making long dist comms cheap as well)
  • #3 – programmers writing apps; software interoperability; emergence of stds
  • #4 – open sourcing & collaborative communities (p81 – IBM, good summary of the Open-source movement, intellectual commons)
  • #5 – “outsourcing Y2K” – suggests that need for many western companies to rectify Y2K error made them outsource it to Indian companies who had the competencies and could do it cheaply. After that, e-commerce was the focus and they turned to those Indian companies who proved their value.
  • #6 – offshoring: shifting production to other countries (offshore) and integrating it with their global supply chains. (insights to issues and challenges working in china)
  • #7 – supply-chaining phenomenon: wal-mart’s case study operations (calls it “the China of companies”)
  • #8 – insourcing (i feel this part is more accurate to call it Pack and Deliver Anywhere): amazing story of how UPS (“the guys in funny brown shorts”) have gone beyond just delivering packages to becoming part of an integral supply chain for companies, e.g. Its the UPS staff who wear Papa John’s pizza trucks; develop special packages for fish, UPS staff who fill order and packs for Jockey, Nike, HP. And more than just delivery but also setting up shop to do computer repairs.
  • #9 – in-forming: internet search engines being the flatteners by making access to information faster and more relevant, and leading to more information and services created online.
  • #10 – the steriods: digital, mobile, personal computing and telecomunication and wireless devices allowing individuals to connect, produce and deliver goods sometimes on the scale that matches big companies, or bec of their small size can do it faster and cheaper but as good as big companies. These devices turbocharge the flatteners.

He offers suggestions on how American should apply itself to meet the challenges of a flat world. All which i think are applicable to Singapore, and the heartening part is many of the Unflatteners may already be in place.

Watch out for how your industry, your company or organisation’s work, might turn from toppings (differentiated) to vanilla (plain, undifferentiated and therefore unable to command a premium).

p 10. The dynamic force in Globalisation 1.0 was countries globalising; in Globalisation 2.0 it was companies; in Globalisation 3.0 it’s individuals. Who do it through technology, to collaborate and compete, sometimes individuals against companies.

P. 158 quote about in the world of google, your reputation will follow you and precede you on your next stop.” Friedman writes: “search engines flatten the world by eliminating… all the walls and rocks, that people used to hide… In order to mask their reputations or parts of their past. In a flat world, you can’t run, you can’t hide, and smaller and smaller rocks are turned over. Live your life honestly, because whatever you do, whatever mistakes you make, will be searchable one day. The flatter the world becomes, the more ordinary people become transparent–and available.” [i’ll add that it’s not so much about the mistakes you made but how you show the world your recovery from the mistakes]

chapter 3 on “the triple convergence”. That all flatteners have been around since 1990s but new technology don’t mean change. He puts in bold that’s what he means by flattening – when all 10 flatteners coverge p177

p 202. How one para in Marx and Engels Communist Manifesto (1848) seem to describe the flattening phenomenon. The developments in IT are enabling companies to eliminate inefficiencies and friction from their markets and operations.

Friedman argues against protectionism, saying that globalisation and free trade may have eliminated some jobs but had also created value-added ones (structural employment). The global pie keeps growing.

chapt 5 to is devoted to how America should react in a Flat World. He worries for his own children, who have to compete with everyone else in the world. There is a ‘quiet crisis’ where the rest of the world (particular China and India) have increased investments in Science and Math education and R&D while America, while still the leading engine for innovation in the world, seems to be the other way around.

says it’s not about callously moving jobs away but “compassionate flatism”, a “policy blend” built around these five broad categories: leadership (not ptotectionsim or job guarantee but inspiring and empowering citizens), muscle building (about lifetime employability rather than lfetime employment, the muscles here being portable benefits and opportunities for lifelong learning), cushioning (wage insurance to tide over periods of unemployment but not so much that it creates disincentives to finding work), social activism (profits but not profiteering; sustainable productions and not exploitation), parenting (says America needs “a generation of parents ready to administer tough love”; not to militirise education but to push kids beyond their comfort zones)

chpt 9 – Glocalisation: “the more your culture easily absorbs foreign ideas and practices and melds with its own traditions — the greater advantage you will have in a flat world” p325.

makes the case that political leadership (rather than political ideologies) makes the difference whether a country thrives or dives in a flat world. P331 Cites Mexico’s example of how on paper, mexico seemed perfectly positioned to thrive in a flat world (fta with us and canada in 1990s, oil, next to us). They laid the groundwork but failed to capitilise on initial successes and induce broader reforms compared to the pace at which China and India has done (what Friedman also says are intangibles, like motivation and culture).

chpt 10 on how companies are affected and how they can cope in a flat world.

P340 Rule 1 – dig deep inside yourself rather than build walls
rule 2 – small companies can learn to act big, and
rule 3 – big ones to be nimble by taking advantage of the tools for collaboration

p 375 makes a confession that he knows the world is not flat. Huh? But makes the point that world is shrinking and flatenning and he enagaged in literary license in naming the title. It’s not “historically inevitable” that the flattening will continue. Devotes last few chapters to reasons why disruption may occur – war, terrorism. makes the case that hopelessness and humiliation is a breeding pool for terrorism’s recruits.

chpt 12 – the dell theory of conflict prevention: “no two countries that are both part of a major global supply chain, like dell’s, would ever fight a war against each other as long as they are both part of the same global supply chain.”
an updates version to his gloden arches theory of conflict prevention

chpt 13 – creative and destructive imaginations. Asks “does your society have more memories than dreams or more dreams than memories.”

“in societies that have more memories than dreams, too many people are spending too many days looking backward” and values like dignity, affirmation, and self-respect should be something to strive towards in future rather than in past achievements.

innovation needed in energy sources. Reliance on oil is making oil producing regimes resistant to economic reforms and not preparing their population for the challenges of a flat world (i.e. less accountability to populace since the regime doesn’t depend on the population to pay taxes, and driven to excesses). China is consuming resources at phenomenal rates (used to be net oil exporter to net importer). Impact is that it will be forced to do business with other oil producing countries (certain middle eastern and african states) whose political regimes may be engaged in unfair or, in extreme cases, immoral practices (e.g. Indirectly supporting terrorism or genocide) – Iran and Nigeria.

p 96 – the controversial side of open-source: if everyone contributes intellectual capital for free, where will the resources for new innovation come from? (no definitive answers. P 101 bill gates disagrees)
p 98 he suggests many people are ready to give away software for the intellectual challenge, “partly bec they all hate microsoft fot the way it has so dominated the market”, and many complex motives.