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April 28, 2005
The Book is Flat: A Review of "The World is Flat"
Perhaps I expected too much. I loved The Lexus and the Olive Tree, and when I heard the title of Tom Friedmans new book back in the fall, I got my hopes up. Just by the title, I knew what he was getting at, and I was thrilled to see such a high-profile columnist calling attention once again to this phenomenon that is globalization.
But now, having read The World is Flat, Im a little disappointed. And yet I will recommend the book (three stars on Amazon) because I agree with his message, and I think its critically important that we have writers like Tom out there explaining the many ways that globalization makes the world a better place to live.
However, the book could have been much better with some ruthless editing. As a reader, I dont like being talked down to, and I feel that Tom does that a bit too much, primarily by repeating many of the same concepts and buzzwords over and over again. For example, he explains why the world is flat early on. Its a good metaphor, but Tom proceeds to attach "flat" to everything he sees. He sees customer service reps in India "flattening" their accents. He writes of the "coefficient of flatness" and "compassionate flatism." I felt as if Tom tried way too hard to make his flat metaphor stick. And maybe it will stick.
Here are a few nuggets from the book that did stick with me:
- "In the future globalization is going to be increasingly driven by the individuals who understand the flat world, adapt themselves quickly to the processes and technologies."
This is such a key point. The interesting thing about globalization is that it empowers individuals, even more than countries.
- Tom stresses that globalization helps the small firms as much as the big firms, perhaps even more. As the owner of a small firm, I agree. Tom quotes UPS CEO Mike Eskew: "You know who the majority of our customers and partners are? Small businesses. They are asking us to take them global. We help these companies achieve parity with the bigger guys."
- Tom talks about Eriksen Translations, a New York-based translation firm featured in my firm's Savvy Clients Guide to Translation Agencies. Tom mentions how Eriksen embraced Skype, the VoIP service that is revolutionizing the telecoms industry. After the first six months of using Skype, the company cut phone costs by 10%. I only wish Tom had talked a bit more about translation agencies these firms have been outsourcing work for decades and have always been early adopters of new technologies, from email to VoIP.
- "The Indians and Chinese are not racing us to the bottom. They are racing us to the top." The Lenovo/IBM deal is one example. And just wait until Chinese automakers start making their way into the US
- "China has more than 160 cities with a population of one million or more."
While I didnt love this book, I liked it. If youve been reading The Economist
for the past few years then much of this book will come across as old news. But if not, its worth a read. Tom is truly passionate about all that is good about globalization, and it comes through in his writing. The world needs more voices like his to prevent the US (and other nations) from knee-jerk protectionism as we collectively slouch toward a more connected world.
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