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The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman

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Published: Fri, 28 Apr 2017

I. Summary

The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman intends to warn the environment for governments, businesses and individuals that they must stay informed and learn to become ahead of the trends in order to compete in the ever evolving world. From descriptions along with interviews, and statistics he provides throughout the text, Friedman’s point is obvious that we need to be well-prepared and be educated about this matter, because this trend is undeniable and unstoppable. In much of straight forward manner, he gives us an image of our world evolving faster than most believe. Friedman as a tour guide and the readers as tourists, we explore places of ever-evolving economic world. As we go along, he exhibits the problems which we are facing, which we are about to face, and also possible answers and preemptive actions. Friedman takes the readers on tour in both historical and geographical manners, with real stories from 1500s when Columbus found the American Continent thinking it was India, to modern days; from an outsourced Indian call-center to home office in the United States.

His notion of world becoming flat emerges from the convergence of two ideas; the global is becoming an entirely new playing field; and the complexness of 21st century globalization. In explaining what is causing the world to become flat, Friedman introduces 10 influencing factors that led to globalization and flattening of the world. He points at internet as the most influential source: broadened audiences for the internet which enabled communication and the search engines such as Google and Yahoo are claimed to have given a major boost on sharing information as well as personal digital services such as mobile phones, PDAs, and instant messengers. Other accompanying factors include outsourcing, off-shoring, workflow software, and etc. Friedman insists that theses 10 forces could not have functioned to flatten the world on their own, explaining that as each one of the factors converged together, they had to extend and create the situation rich for flattening.

The World Is Flat is a window to Friedman’s account of the new world coming toward us-a world that is growing at a speed of an express train. This change has started only recently but is claimed to be in the pace never seen before in the history. This newly anticipated, flatter world is being formed under the convergence of technology and collaboration of economies. Friedman believes it to change all of the existing economic theories, politics, societies, and jobs as well. As Friedman narrates the entire text with forthrightness, he enlightens the readers that we must learn how to adapt and change faster, if we are to compete in a global economy platform and to succeed in the ever-flattening world. Surviving in this new world will increase competition and will require more innovative, ingenious, and independent attitude.

II. Concept I: Globalization

Throughout the text, Friedman’s theory of world being flat is explained by the concept of globalization. Stiglitz, an economist contend that globalization is basically the closer assimilation of the countries and people in the globe which has been brought about by the enormous reduction of costs on transportation and communication and the demolishing barriers to the flows of capital, goods, services, knowledge, and people across borders. (Stiglitz 2003) Thus globalization is a collection of these factors each acting individually yet in many cases interactively. Friedman takes the readers into various journeys where he experienced the globalization by skin in many parts of the world. In the first chapter While I Was Sleeping, he takes us to Bangalore, India, where he unexpectedly realizes that he was surrounded by advertisements of all-American firms such as Pizza Hut and HP while playing golf. Traveling around with a group of people from the Discovery Times channel, he meets Indian workers and businessmen currently working for American firms, speaking fluently and even calling themselves in American names in their own country. The workers tell him they are even trained to speak with British, American, or Canadian accents. In India, he feels more certain that the world is flatter than ever before and that India is a promising key to the future global economy. Friedman also shows the ever-increasing speed of globalization with the people he came across such as Jerry Rao, an outsourced Indian businessman. In this situation, Jerry is employed as a replacement of an American worker due to inexpensive salary with similar level of ability. Friedman learns the process of online information exchange and its positive effect such as performing business activities from remote locations. Friedman introduces these cases to open the eyes of the readers how other parts of the world are being Americanized; furthermore explains the world is getting flat. Friedman expresses the “world” as a commerce field, and his explanation prove his assertion that the globalization is making every player possible to have equal opportunity in this world.

III. Concept II: Supply-Chaining

In Chapter 2, Friedman proves his theory of world being flat by introducing 10 factors that contributed to his finding. Throughout his explanation, he connects the supply chaining as a motivation for firms to outsource their manpower, therefore creating a business globally. This also continues with the globalization mentioned in the above section. Among the 10 factors Friedman presents supply-chaining, a system of working together horizontally among retailers, suppliers, and customers to create value. Important human resources in creating a product such as manufacturers, marketers, and designers used to work at a single facility; but under supply chining, they spread all around the world in institutes with different languages, cultures and business goal. In recent years, many manufacturing and retail firms have been relocating their sourcing strategies to the East. The reason in the globalization of supply chain is undoubtedly to lower the cost of resources and labor, and also to benefit from favorable exchange rates. According to the researchers of InfoSys, empirical evidence suggests that supply chains are forming to help deliver to the flattening forces. Multiple supply chain structures such as loosely-coupled global supply chains and increased use of counter trade in cross country businesses are emerging to effectively address changes caused by flattening forces. As we can see, the supply chain once a factor of flatter world, is now changing to meet the needs of the flat world. While Friedman dissects the benefits and detriments of supply chaining, he continues to prove the world is flat–from Shanghai to Silicon Valley, from al Qaeda to Wal-Mart.

IV. Criticism

Just a few decades ago, the world was wired and connected through internet. China, India, and the Russia (former Soviet Union) embraced capitalism and eventually had 3 billion people competing for jobs in the global economy as dirt-cheap factory workers and highly-skilled knowledge workers paid rock-bottom salary. As firms travel around the globe in search of cheapest labor, globalization is the greatest reformation of the world since the Industrial Revolution. Desire and desperation for knowledge about that most powerful source changing our lives, many of people tuned into Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, to gain an understanding of what globalization actually is. Unfortunately, it felt like they are served up stories from Friedman’s friends, elite CEOs, and other personal contacts. I couldn’t help but feel Friedman’s image of a flat world is an outlook of the world from a plane in business class. He only uses the word “flat” to refer to the transnational search of companies for cheaper labor. This image disregards the occurrence of global inequality and the reality that many of the developing nations remain stuck in poverty. Globalization generates winners and losers. It is those losers whom should be concerned but are ignored in the book. While at some point the world really is being flattened by globalization and westernization, more suitable expression would be a carpet covering muddled floor. Indeed there are flat parts but also there are lumps and bumps of different magnitude. In addition he is telling the Americans to give up their old age pensions plans, health care, public education, and all the things we used to call “advancement” because Indian workers are willing to work 40 hour a day when we are trying to protect 40 hours a week of work. Throughout the book, he makes the same familiar messages over and over again. That is, the world is getting smaller and flatter, this seems inevitable, and so many things are changing, so we should be prepared for this. What I felt reading his warnings, China on the supply side and the US on the demand side are two major engines of the world economy. But in the flat world as Friedman keeps stating, these two engines would be working together in an almost perfect harmony. I doubt this will happen in the future.

V. Recommendation

Friedman’s own analysis on globalization throughout the book is true in corporate respect but disregards the matter of life and death for millions. It fails to take the importance of the world’s geo-political hierarchy which secures the provision of property rights, stability and other international public goods. Globalization in the 21st century is more about inequality and discrimination between nations than the integration of a flat world. In my personal thoughts, I would not recommend this book to the management students. Friedman’s assertions and examples are sourced from his personal contacts and it may deceive students learning management to only realize globalization at the corporate side.


Stiglitz, Joseph (2003). Globalization and its Discontents. W.W. Norton and Company New York

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