Monday, November 27, 2006

The World is Flat

Last Wednesday, the girls and I had some Christmas pictures taken. Lynn Smith and her family attend Woodward Park and she does an amazing job with digital photography. I wanted to share with you this morning one of my favorite pictures from last Wednesday's holiday shoot.

Speaking of holidays, do you have your Christmas tree up already? I always thought the day after Thanksgiving was the "traditional" day for setting up the tree and decorating, but we had several neighbors who had their home decked out in Christmas decor a week or two before Thanksgiving. Regardless, this is a fun time of the year, especially with excitement and anticipation of the kids!


When Rick and Gail were here two weeks ago, we talked about books, as we often do. I asked Rick the best book he'd read in the last year. Without hesitation, he said Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat. Rick told me he'd encouraged both of his kids to read the book because of its discussion about our changing world thanks to globalization and the technological explosion.

Friedman has become an expert analyst on globalization. His 2000 book The Lexus and the Olive Tree was his initial foray into the shriking world of globalization. In the World is Flat, Friedman takes his analysis to the next level, identifying the changes in businesses, institutions, competition and life brought about through the impact of globilization.

"I am convinced that the flattening of the world, if it continues, will be seen in time as one of those fundamental shifts or inflection points, like Gutenberg's invention of the printing press, the rise of the nation-state, or the Industrial Revolution -- each of which, in its day, produced changes in the role of individuals, the role and form of governments, the way business was done and wars were fought, the role of women, the forms religion and art took, and the way science and research were conducted, not to mention the political labels that we as a civilization have assigned to ourselves and to our enemies. 'There are certain pivot points or watersheds in history that are greater than others because the changes they produced were so sweeping, multifaceted, and hard to predict at the time,' said David Rothkopf, a former senior Department of Commerce official in the Clinton administration and now a private strategic consultant.

If the prospect of this flattening -- and all of the pressures, dislocations, and opportunites accompanying it -- makes you uneasy about the future, you are neither wrong nor alone. Whenever civilization has gone through a major technological revolution, the world has changed in profound and unsettling ways. But there is something about the flattening of the world that is going to be qualitatively different from the great changes of previous eras: the speed and breadth with which it is taking hold. The introduction of printing happened over a period of decades and for a long time affected only a relatively small part of the planet. Same with the Industrial Revolution. This flattening process is happening at warp speed and directly or indirectly touching a lot more people on the planet at once. The faster and broader this transition to a new era, the greater the potential for disruption, as opposed to an orderly transfer of power from the old winners to the new winners.

To put it another way, the experiences of the high-tech companies in the last few decades that failed to navigate the rapid changes brought about in their marketplace by these types of forces may be a warning to all the businesses, institutions, and nation-states that are now facing these inevitable, even predictable, changes but lack the leadership, flexibility, and imagination to adapt -- not because they are not smart or aware, but because the speed of change is simply overwhelming them.

And that is why the great challenge for our time will be to absorb these changes in ways that do not overwhelm people or leave them behind. None of this will be easy. But this is our task. It is inevitable and unavoidable" (48-49).