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Jonathan Andrew Wolter

Thoughts from Thomas Friedman’s talk

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Reading time: 8 – 12 minutes

I just watched this webcast from Information Week and CollabNet. They assembled an impressive panel of thought leaders from technology, media, and the press for the distinct purpose of discussing what it really means for the world to be flat. What has changed in the two years since the publishing of The World is Flat?

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Friedman’s take on how the world is even flatter now

Friedman recently gave a talk to the US Naval Academy. Upon returning home he had an email waiting for him from his daughter. She knew where he was giving his talk, because she just responded to a midshipman’s facebook friend request. After Thomas’ talk – in which he mentioned his daughter was at school in New Haven, CT – one of the men looked her up on facebook and befriended her.

“When the world is flat, whatever can be done will be done. The only question is will it be done by you or to you” – Thomas Friedman

Thomas and his wife were on an eco-tour in Peru with Conservation International. The guide was sharing with Friedman a story of how a Peruvian merchant was selling his dish ware on the internet. Yet, that was not the startling part.

“The Peruvian dish maker recently discovered he could manufacture his Peruvian dish ware in China cheaper than in Peru. He now sells Peruvian dish ware on the internet, that is manufactured in China.”

He was recently in Budapest, Hungary at a conference. His cab driver was returning him to the airport and asked “Mr. Tom” to give him any referrals he may know that could use a cab driver in Hungary. The cab driver proceeded to share with Friedman that he had a website in Magyar, German and English – with music – and it features services for diplomats, tourists, and more.

Brian Behlendorf says Open Source is fundamental to the flattening

Brian is CTO and co-founder of CollabNet, a software company with products including the source code collaboration tool, Subversion. He has also been involved in the Apache web server project from the very beginning.

Open source is a natural continuation of the trend that started 20 years ago in open systems, open standards, and now open source… [It] is a reaction of dissatisfied customers rebelling against poor software in the 90’s… People are working with each other, building off each other’s code, and adding real value.

One of the very prolific contributors of Subversion, Peter Lundblad from Sweden, has worked on the open source project for half a decade, yet is blind.

Tim O’Reilly on web 2.0 flattening

Web 2.0 is enabling more and more flattening of the world.

Web 2.0 is building systems that harness network effects so the systems get better as more people use them.

Other non-web places where businesses can look for web 2.0 innovation are vast databases, ripe for harvesting:

  • How could a company use what their customers type in a piece of software to help automatically fill that similar information in for subsequent users?
  • For mobile phone companies, how could they use your call logs and turn that inside out to a network address book that would help retain customers?
  • How could credit card companies share with you your purchase information (which they already monitor) back to you in a useful way?lan
  • Intut’s QuickBooks is doing this via a partnership with Google AdWords. They look at your inventory and list them using Google’s marketing tools. In TurboTax when you donate items, they look up the tax write off value based on eBay prices.

“What are we monitoring?”

“How can we get collective value out of that?”

What we saw in the open source communities (people submitting bugs, fixing bugs, contributing code) is also happening in other marketplaces. O’Reilly Media just hired a contractor who was a prolific commenter on Tim’s blog. That communication relationship transformed into a monetary relationship. Only a few years ago this never would have happened.

Devin Wenig on flattening 2.0

Devin is COO of Reuters.

Flattener 1.0 was companies moving from the US and western Europe to industrializing nations for simple wage arbitrage advantages. It was a clear cost cutting play. The Flattener 2.0 is a radical shift in the traditional roles of producers and consumers. Traditionally someone goes and produces [software, news, products] and then throws it over the wall and hopes people consume it. Now we are getting real time on the fly communication with customers… The roles of publishers are now as moderators. Co-innovation is 2.0.

He continues with the second wave of flattening, which is more about revenue growth, collaboration, and tight feedback loops. Real time feedback from customers and prospects.

Only two years ago “the story” was what a journalist wrote in the paper or on the web. Now with user contributed content, interactivity, and collaboration, the story is a discussion from all across the world.

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Three things Friedman thinks enabled the world to be flat

  1. The PC. It allowed individuals to become the authors of their own content, in digital form.
  2. The Internet, browsers in the Dot Com boom. The world was over-wired with fiber optic cables. Now such a large number of people could electronically connect.
  3. Software and transmission protocols. People could collaborate with others in their content.

In a provocative statement, Friedman sees the flat world as “net worried.” When Infosys is competing in a flat marketplace, so is Al-Qaeda. He later recants this and declares everything a very exciting and promising future.

Tim O’Reilly asks Friedman if corporations will become more important than nations in a flat world

Clearly, we are still very early in this flattening, says Friedman. Yet he does not thing sovereignty of nations will diminish in the importance of people. In his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, he writes how the Olive Tree instincts: religion, society, cultural norms are still very strong, and won’t be overthrown by the Lexus… not just quite yet.

He then continues sharing his stance on free trade:

I used to be a free trade advocate. I am not any more.

Now I am a radical free trader.

No surprise here, Mr. Friedman.

Every employee is a volunteer

Today people do not stay at the same company for a lifetime. Many do not even stay for five years. Peter Drucker has said this before, and the panel takes off and highlights how in a flatter world employers must recognize this. When employers know those they hire are really volunteering, they will more aggressively seek to captivate, challenge, and retain employees.

Truly profound productivity only occurs when people are passionate about what they do. If you are an employer, how can you help your volunteers stay passionate? (Discussed more in The Mythical Man Month.)

The world is flat and education

So how does education change when the world is flat?

What is the new middle class? And what jobs will people be doing in a flat-world middle class?

How will learning environments need to change for children?

These questions and more are asked and some answers are touched upon. The conversation was very interesting to listen to and ruminate upon.

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If you enjoyed this post, consider:

The following video between Bill Gates and Tim O’Reilly at MIX 06 conference.

John Seely Brown is the Chief of Confusion at Xerox Parc and he has quite a few interesting papers and videos related to transforming Education in a flat, highly digital, world. Here’s one of his talks he gave at MIT on education in a long tail, flat world. Kathy Sierra also has a post about how awesome John Seely Brown is. Jim McGee covers one of Brown’s more interesting education papers.

FundRace.org – a mashup of political campaign spending and contributions with your locality. TheyWorkForYou is in the UK and it shows how every parliamentary member voted (and if they voted), so now more are needing to show up because people are monitoring their activity through this website.

And other ideas: how can you use government data and mash it up with say google maps and create a participatory democracy where voters can see and drill down through how their tax dollars are spent and how bills influence their communities.

How can India -in a flat world- export not natural resources, but intelligence and innovation?

What would a world look like where our best friends were in other countries?

Another book that may intrigue you is Democratizing Innovation by Eric Von Hippel.

What if a device existed in your phone that could scan products at a store and it would show where it has been. How would information of the manufacturing facilities, worker conditions, or carbon permits involved in this product change buying habits? That idea was explored are discussed in the How The World Works column on Salon (I didn’t find that exact post).

The flat world, Thomas Friedman says, will be a right brain world. Everything left brained will be done by a computer faster, or an Indian cheaper. (No offense intended for my Indian friends, I just share this from Friedman). Interested? You might like this book: A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.

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Written by Jonathan

February 18th, 2007 at 2:59 am

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