Summary of Thomas L. Friedman’s, “It's a Flat World, After All”

Please read this summary along with Friedman’s full article, “It's a Flat World, After All."

Events and forces that helped flatten the world:

  1. 11/9/89—Berlin Wall came down

  2. 6/1990—Microsoft Windows 3.0 operating system

  3. 8/9/95—Netscape went public: gave the browser to display images and data stored on Web sites; and, the Netscape stock offering triggered the dot-com boom, which triggered the dot-com bubble, which triggered the massive overinvestment of billions of dollars in fiber-optic telecommunications cable.

Workflow is shorthand for all the software applications, standards and electronic transmission pipes, like middleware, that connected all those computers and fiber-optic cable. What the workflow revolution did was connect applications to applications so that people all over the world could work together in manipulating and shaping words, data and images on computers like never before.

This breakthrough in people-to-people and application-to-application connectivity produced, in short order, six more flatteners–six new ways in which individuals and companies could collaborate on work and share knowledge.

  1. Outsourcing—Work done for a company by people other than the company's full-time employees.
  2. Offshoring—companies send entire divisions or their entire operation to another location outside the country, e.g., Canton, Ohio, to Canton, China.
  3. Open-sourcing-free collaboration and open sharing of all data.
  4. Insourcing—let a company like UPS come inside my company and take over my whole logistics operation—everything from filling my orders online to delivering my goods to repairing them for customers when they break.
  5. Supply-chaining—create a global supply chain down to the last atom of efficiency so that if I sell an item in Arkansas, another is immediately made in China.
  6. Informing—allow anyone to collaborate with, and mine (as in dig), unlimited data all by themselves.
  7. The 10th flattener I call “The steroids”—wireless access and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP). What the steroids do is turbocharge all these new forms of collaboration, so you can now do any one of them, from anywhere, with any device.

Hierarchies are being flattened and value is being created less and less within vertical silos and more and more through horizontal collaboration within companies, between companies and among individuals.

The last 20 years were about forging, sharpening and distributing all the new tools to collaborate and connect. Now the real information revolution is about to begin as all the complementarities among these collaborative tools start to converge.

Jobs will go to that corner of the world where there is the least resistance and the most opportunity.

The main challenge to America today is from those practicing extreme capitalism, . . . and the main objective in this era is building strong individuals.

Meeting the challenges of flatism requires as comprehensive, energetic and focused a response as did meeting the challenge of Communism. It requires a president who can summon the nation to work harder, get smarter, attract more young women and men to science and engineering and build the broadband infrastructure, portable pensions and health care that will help every American become more employable in an age in which no one can guarantee you lifetime employment.

These are some of the reasons that Bill Gates, the Microsoft chairman, warned the governors' conference in a Feb. 26 speech that American high-school education is ''obsolete.'' As Gates put it: ''When I compare our high schools to what I see when I'm traveling abroad, I am terrified for our work force of tomorrow. In math and science, our fourth graders are among the top students in the world. By eighth grade, they're in the middle of the pack. By 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring near the bottom of all industrialized nations. . . . The percentage of a population with a college degree is important, but so are sheer numbers. In 2001, India graduated almost a million more students from college than the United States did. China graduates twice as many students with bachelor's degrees as the U.S., and they have six times as many graduates majoring in engineering. In the international competition to have the biggest and best supply of knowledge workers, America is falling behind.''

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