Monday, August 13, 2007

The World is Flat

This is a stimulating look at the changes in the competitive world of business enterprise at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Thomas Friedman has filled his book with examples of the changes taking place, in particular those special ones that are "flattening" our world, i.e. bringing us closer together in time and space. When I was working in systems support at a large bank I would tell my team that we were working to reduce the time and space needed for the operations that our systems supported. Friedman is telling us this on a global scale with this book. His style is easy to read and he has a compelling narrative with fascinating examples. However the more of the book that I read, the more I have the feeling that he is focused primarily on the superficial, the symptoms of change, without really examining the true basis for these events.

Change in business is not new and the main features of the changes noted by Friedman that are different than previous eras are 1) the speed with which the changes are taking place, and 2) the medium, primarily information technology. The book seems to be more a catalog of these events which the author neglects some fundamental ideas and does not clearly provide serious overall conclusions. One example of a fundamental element that is neglected is the importance of the consumer in motivating and validating the changes. All the new technology in the world will not survive if it is not used. The supply chain revolution of Wal-Mart is driven ultimately by consumers who have chosen to shop at these stores.

A consumer glancing at the cover of this book would see the subtitle "a brief history of the twenty-first century". Hopefully he would explore a little further before purchasing the book because it is neither brief nor "history". Interesting as it may be it is merely an extended foray into business journalism that provides some information about our current world, but leaves a bit more to be desired.

The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, 2006.

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