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Issue of April 2006 

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Navigating a flat world

“Fortune favours the prepared mind”
—Louis Pasteur

In his book, The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman closely examines globalisation. The book outlines how digitisation, virtualisation and automation change the way we live, interact and do business. It also reveals how CEOs and CIOs worldwide have realised its potential.

Flattening of the world is a metaphor for creating a new, global and Web-enabled field where millions of new players participate and collaboratively develop new processes. Triple convergence of new fields, players and processes heralds an era where discoveries are a routine. Friedman calls this phenomenon Globalisation 3.0, its main feature being individual empowerment.

The second chapter of the book chronologically traces the events, innovations and companies that have made the world more accessible. The first three flatteners—the launch of Microsoft Windows, Netscape Web browser’s availability, and workflow software—ensure that people can digitise content on computers, and communicate and collaborate with other people anywhere. The next six flatteners—open sourcing, outsourcing, offshoring, supply chain, in-sourcing and in-forming—are based on the first three flatteners. The last flattener projects an imminent scene in which everything will be digital, mobile, virtual, personal and wireless.

Title : The World is Flat: A brief history of the globalized world in the 21st century
Author : Thomas Friedman
Publisher : Allen Lane - Penguin
Pages : 488
Price : Rs 717

Triple convergence’s benefits are discussed at length in chapter three. A skilled person will get work if he knows to access the world. He can make a Web site, have an e-mail address, and demonstrate his work. If he is comfortable to work with, is diligent and transparent in his transactions, he is in business. Starting a global business has never been easier.

The fourth chapter highlights the issues that occur due to globalisation and their resolution. The sixth chapter discusses new opportunities due to flattening of the world and the ways to harness them. People will have to constantly upgrade their skills and get smarter and more creative. The chapter details jobs that cannot be outsourced, and the right education to be equipped with in a world where change is the only constant.

The eighth chapter talks about five actions to help a country progress in the flat world. There is emphasis on the need for introspection by countries to know their strengths and weaknesses. It also focusses on concepts such as glocalisation—the willingness to absorb best ideas and practices and meld them with a culture’s tradition.

A chapter is dedicated to those who missed out on earlier benefits due to their inability to adapt; it discusses ways to address problems without resistance.

There is also a discussion on Dell’s conflict prevention theory. This postulates that no two countries that are part of a major global supply chain will ever fight a war against each other. Instead, they will be busy making just-in-time deliveries of goods and services and enjoy the associated rising standards of living. But this sounds unconvincing; since when has prosperity been preventing wars?

The final chapter brings out two opposing sides of globalisation and the aggressive adoption of new technologies by comparing and contrasting Al Qaeda with companies like Infosys or JetBlue.

However, Friedman lacks introspection on two counts. The first is the USA’s attitude towards the rest of the world. The second is the lack of consideration on the part of that country by equipping the so-called freedom fighters to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, and also by arming Pakistan. A critical look at how the US nurtured fundamentalism, not knowing that it would some day boomerang on it, would have evened out Friedman’s analysis.

Discounting this, the book is a must-read for contemporary CEOs, CIOs and for generation-next leaders aspiring to make India a superpower in the coming decades. The Pulitzer-prize-winning New York Times columnist has made the book as dramatic and as simple as possible.

—Kumar Dawada

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