The World Is Flat- Critique #2

The World is Flat – Book Critique
August 11, 2008
In his book The World is Flat, Tom Friedman makes the argument that the world is undergoing a flattening process. This “flat world” phenomenon, which Friedman refers to throughout the book without ever specifically defining the term, actually refers to the effects of a new globalization era (referred to as Globalization 3.0) on the business markets everywhere around the globe. He goes on to explain the ten events, or flatteners, that fueled this unprecedented level of interaction between individuals and businesses.
In the first chapter of the book Friedman introduces his point of view by demonstrating just how quickly we jumped into this new era, and how some of us may not even realize that we’ve reached such a point in foreign relations and the free market enterprise. His main point in saying that is that this new level of globalization is actually the result of a series of events and new technologies that both allowed and streamlined our dive into a definite and complete information age.
Friedman refers to these technologies and events as flatteners – simply because of their undeniable influence in jump-starting the world into Globalization 3.0. These flatteners vary from major historical events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, to recent business practices such as outsourcing and offshoring. He then goes on to explain each flattener and describe exactly how and why was it significant in igniting Globalization 3.0. While events like the creation of Netscape, work flow software and open-sourcing have an obvious and very visible impact on the world around us, other events like supply-chaining, insourcing, and in-forming are almost unheard of for your average person not involved in the big business world.
The ten flatteners are only the building blocks of this new era, however, and the Globalization 3.0 house would not stand up without the series of events both political and economical that would converge all the flatteners into an incredibly powerful business tools. The most important of these converging forces is probably the creation of the internet, which enabled global markets to operate in an infinitely more efficient way; the other two factors are the skills that came from this technology and the introduction to the global world of billions of people that were previously behind or under the shadow of the iron curtain of communism.
Friedman throughout the book gives several examples of the ten flatteners and how are companies currently using them to get an advantage over their competitors in this increasingly flatter world. Most notable of these companies is probably Wal-Mart, which is responsible for a flattener itself – supply-chaining. The way Wal-Mart does business is to not produce anything themselves, but basically buy the cheapest possible from a series of suppliers that are naturally very interested in having their products on display on the thousand of Wal-Marts everywhere. That approach in itself isn’t innovative, the way Wal-Mart streamlines its production and delivery with its suppliers is. They use a state of the art supply chain (the Wal-Mart Symphony) to basically have every product where it is most likely to be bought at all times. The advantages of such a chain-like supply method are clear, they (almost) always have every product in stock and are even likely to predict consumer buying trends in a daily basis and adjust its storehouses to take advantage of it.
Another interesting example of how a company adapted itself for this new era of Globalization 3.0 is UPS. The old traditional delivery company has kept itself ahead of its competitors by insourcing services to the companies it does business with and creating the largest package flow delivery system in the world. UPS will, for example, setup its own notebook repair facility to repair Toshiba laptops much faster than if Toshiba were to do the repair them themselves.
Friedman does give some very real and in some cases even enlightening reports of how the world market is changing and how are companies being able to take advantage of it. He does, however, tend to exaggerate the extent of these changes and greatly overestimate the effects that some minor companies in India and China are having in the global market. He also writes the book with an underlined sense of panic and urgency, which contradicts some of what he is saying in the second chapter of the book – it seems like some of the companies that are taking the greatest advantage of the new technologies are actually American companies.
Overall The World is Flat is a very informative and eye-opening book. Despite being side-tracked by both trivialities and his natural journalistic style of writing Friedman does make his point clear: We are now in a new era of globalization and if we don’t adapt to this changing world we will eventually lose our position as the sole super power in the world. It is a very interesting read for anyone interested in business, public affairs, or even international relations.

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