Last summer I was amazed by Thomas Friedmans book “The World is Flat”. Unfortunately I haven’t been close to a place, where he gives a speech, but Alex Soojung-Kim Pang has:

Thomas Friedman on… wait for it… The World is Flat: ”

At Castilleja School this morning, listening to Thomas Friedman talking about The World is Flat. (As with all notes, a caveat: this isn’t a perfect transcription, but what I managed to hear, make sense of, and translate into text.)

Until 9/11, Friedman says, he worked on ‘Lexus issues’ versus ‘olive tree issues:’ flying ‘from Silicon Valley to the Bekka Valley,’ as he puts it. The World is Flat got started when Friedman decided to visit call centers around the world, and interview people who spend their days imitating Americans– and providing services to Americans. ‘Somewhere between the Indian entrepreneur who wanted to process my tax return from Bangalore, and the Indian entrepreneur who wanted to read my X-rays from Bangalore, and the Indian entrepreneur who wanted to write my software, and the Indian entrepreneur who wanted to trace my lost luggage from Bangalore,’ he realized that this was a big story.

Came up with The World is Flat in the car on the way from an interview with the head of Infosys. Got a leave after telling his bosses, if he didn’t go write this book, ‘I’m going to write something really stupid in the New York Times. It’s a great way to get a leave.’

We’re living through the third age of globalization.

Globalization 1.0 (1500-1800): Countries globalized in the Age of Discovery through imperialism.

Globalization 2.0 (1800-2000): Companies globalized by expanding to international markets.

Globalization 3.0 (2000-today): Not built around countries or companies; it’s built around individuals. ‘You as individual young women can globalize yourselves.’

[How many times has he given this talk, I wonder?]

Ten flatteners

  1. 11/9/89. The Berlin Wall came down. The PC started becoming a mass-market device. It allowed people ‘to become authors of their own content in digital form,’ which makes that content more fungible, distributable, and sharable.
  2. 8/9/95. Netscape went public, inaugurating both the spread of the Web and triggered the dot-com boom (some parents smile a bit– they were part of that). This prompted $1 trillion in fiber optic cable, a huge overbuilding that ‘accidentally made Moscow, Bangalore, and Castilleja School next door neighbors.’
  3. Mid-1990s. Workflow software and interoperability allowed easier exchange of information, and lowered the barriers to collaboration.
  4. Outsourcing.
  5. Offshoring.
  6. Uploading. The ability of the individual to send personal content anywhere: blogging, open source, podcasting, wikis.
  7. Supply chaining. What Wal-Mart does.
  8. Insourcing. What UPS does: ‘they come into your company, and take over your entire internal logistics operation.’ Toshiba laptops are repaired by UPS people in Louisville, KY, not Toshiba; UPS handles distribution of Nike shoes, Papa John’s supply delivery.
  9. Informing. What Google does– or what people do using Google.
  10. Steroids. Wireless and other technologies that make these other forms of collaboration mobile and more widely distributed.

All ten flatteners started to converge around 2000; at that point, we started seeing network effects and synergies. Going ‘from a world of vertical to horizontal.’ Says it three times. This is as big as Gutenberg. And it’s accelerated by the fact that 3 billion people from India, China, and Russia arrived on the global playing field, just when the flatteners were kicking into high gear. The shift is similar to that in the early 20th century, when the diffusion of electric power in industry forced redesign of factories, workflow, work practices, and managerial standards.

The scale of participation in this world of innovation, consumption, etc., is so vast that ‘anything that can be done will be done.’ It’s no longer ‘finish your dinner, there are people in India starving,’ but ‘finish your homework, there are people in India starving for your jobs.’ The only ones that won’t be up for grabs are ones that are highly specialized (Michael Jordan), or highly localized (the corner baker).

To succeed if you’re not in one of those two, you have to be a great collaborator (have a facility for languages, ability to get live abroad– Infosys got 9,000 internship applications from all over the world); great leverager (can seriously boost productivity); great synthesizer (can think horizontally, creatively); passionate personalizers (do a conventional job really passionately); anything green (‘3 billion people want the American dream,’ but if they get it ); great localizer (create local services or places that leverage flatteners); great explainer (like Tom Friedman); or a great adapter (staying ‘one step ahead of the Pac Man’).

What’s the education of the future? It’s like training for the Olympics without knowing what sport you’re competing in. Learning how to learn is critical. High curiosity and passion beat raw intelligence. It’s a right-brain world: computers and cheap labor will beat your left brain.

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(Via IFTF’s Future Now.)