The World is Flat: Brief History of the Twenty-first Century
By: Thomas L Friedman
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Price: $49.95

Analogies, no matter how conceptually clever, can become strained. But the underlying story in this book is so compelling that the author’s decision to draw parallel between his personal journey of discovery and Christopher Columbus’ world-shaping trip to the “West Indies” is forgivable.
The world is flat, according to Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Thomas Friedman, because globalisation has made it so. And since 1492 when Columbus set sail and effectively opened up trade between the new and old worlds, it has been getting progressively flatter. Simultaneously the world has shrunk until now it is not just small but positively “tiny” and the playing field is simply one grand bowling green.
There’s little in this book that most informed leaders don’t already know about the state of our rapidly transforming world. Its success rests with its intelligent drawing together of critical strands and the author’s masterful making of connections. It is both snapshot and an x-ray of our life and times – revealing and disturbing, particularly for those tad squeamish about the world’s general condition.
There are, Friedman argues, 10 contemporary forces that flattened the world in the last 10 or so years before the turn of the 20th century. The first of those forces accompanied the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Then, Netscape went public; work flow software “did for the service industry what Henry Ford did for manufacturing”; open-sourcing created new “collaborative communities”; outsourcing emerged; offshoring converged; supply chaining super-charged Wal-Mart et al; insourcing transformed organisations; Google, Yahoo! and MSN web searching revolutionised information gathering and finally, the steroids of digital, mobile, personal and virtual kicked in.
What made Friedman’s 10 “flatteners” potent and relevant was the turn of the century tipping point called “a triple convergence”. The first of these led to the creation of global web-enabled playing field “that allows for multiple forms of collaboration”. And then there was the convergence of organisations and of economies once locked out of the process of collaboration: Russia, China, India, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Central Asia. Their economies and political systems opened up in the ’90s leaving individuals increasingly free to “join the free market game”. This triple convergence of new players, on new playing field, developing new processes and habits for horizontal collaboration is, in Friedman’s mind, “the most important force shaping global economies and politics in the early 21st century”.
Friedman eloquently describes the impacts of flattened world on America, on developing economies, on business and on global geopolitics. The World is Flat is fascinating read that every CEO with an eye to the immediate future must read. It also pinpoints why Telecom has, with the Government’s complicity, created serious economic problems for New Zealand. There are lessons here for everyone.

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