Thursday, February 09, 2006

The World is Flat

Thomas Friedman's, The World is Flat, is all the rage as a business book to help people understand globalization, ousourcing and offshoring. He tackles where these trends came from and where they are going. Amazon and others provide better overviews than I do so I'm just going to add my $.02.

The information provided seems dead on. The world is going global. He doesn't state it explicitly but it seems that the world is becoming an ambitionocracy (my term). Those with ambition and the will/ability/skills/education to get ahead will. The barriers are being removed. By the same token, people who are simply comfortable may get knocked off their couch. Yes there are cultural differences that will lead to clustering of jobs in various parts of the world but the rest of the world is opening to opportunity. This isn't any different than what we see in a microcosm in the US. American's don't want to run 7-Eleven's. Pakistanis move here and think they have hit the jackpot. The good ones then go one to own the 7-Eleven and then a chain and so on. It's a opportunity to them, a dead end job to us.

Friedman's perspective is a bit utopian and very top line. You won't see specifics on how to outsource parts of your business or how painful getting some of these arrangements to work are. But he implies that problems are growning pains, not things that would derail the flatteing of the world.

The book is a must read. If you aren't retiring in the next 2 years, it's a critical read. My criticsm is around political conclutions he draws. War is a de-flattener and so are dictators and nuclear weapons. Democracy is a major flattener. Yet a war to remove a dictator and install a democracy doesn't sit well with Friedman. I would counter that bringing democracy to Iraq will bolster it's middle class, provide jobs for displaced non-Iraqis as well and ultimately help flatten the middle east. He disagrees. Sort of. So, toss out the politics and keep the rest of the book and ask some folks who've done it before ousourcing.

The bottom line is that as scary as outsourcing is, we've been through things like this our lifetime. Remember when we thought the Japanese were going buy America in the 1980's? Rationality returned, Japan had their own bubble burst and we've returned to a more mutual balance. (Toyota is raising prices to support GM & Ford's restructuring and the Tokyo Stock Exchange is looking at more American style governance. Go figure.)

Outsourcing is an opportunity if you have ambition and a threat if you don't but it's quickly becoming just another part of the landscape.

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