René Seifert

Entrepreneur, Global Citizen, Flat World, Internet, Web 2.0, Innovation, Start-Up

NASSCOM 2006: Thomas Friedman flattens the World further

The highlight of the conference proved to be the super-highlight of the conference: Thomas Friedman live. I only knew that he’s an exceptional writer, now I know that he’s an exceptional orator, too. Speaking without notes, he is extremely present, very clear and great fun to listen to. We all knew that the world is already flat, but he went further and declared that this development was the “mother of all inflexion points in history”. But first things first.

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Who has not read the second-best book of my life “The World is Flat”; do it. It’s a must. Thomas explained how the overall idea came up: Being a columnist of the “New York Times”, he decided to spend some time in a Bangalore call-centre to address from that perspective the question after September 11th why the world hated America. There he realized that not just his PC-support calls would be handled from Bangalore, but also his tax declaration, his lost luggage from Delta Airlines and his X-Ray examination. He asked himself: “What did I miss?” Interviewing Nandan Nilekani, the Infosys-CEO told him: “Thomas, the economic playing field between India and the U.S. in being leveled.” – The playing field of the world had leveled. The world is flat.

Friedman went to explain his three phases of globalization:

• Globalization 1.0 between 1492 to 1820 A.D.: You went global though your Country which was the agent of the development.
• Globalization 2.0 between 1820 to 2000 A.D.: The Company, full with cash to fund marketing and sourcing activities, went global in quest for further profits.
• Globalization 3.0 from 2000 onwards: The Individual has received access to the global field; think of yourself as a company that can interact and transact with another 3 billion individuals. Cool, exciting and terrific.

I don’t want to go into detail to repeat all “10 Flatteners” from his fantastic book. Friedman does it anyway much better; also you should preserve some surprising momentum when reading yourself. Yet, clearly, the internet and then the internet and finally the internet is the driving force behind. Together with aspects like the fall of the Berlin wall, the launch of Microsoft Windows as a common technical platform and the massive overinvestment into fiber-optic cables during the dot-com boom a connection between Boston and Bangalore has become as cheap and commoditized as if it was just around the corner.

Initially it was about the internet first connecting people in a 1:1 context by reading simple web-pages or exchanging e-mails. Then with the advent of protocols like XML, SOAP and REST the ability evolved to let computers across the globe talk efficiently with each other. And what do we have today? The ability of downloading stuff has evolved into a culture of uploading: Everyone can upload his own content, like I am doing right now in my blog, or podcast for audio/video or collaborating on a knowledge platform like Wikipedia or create jointly an open source piece of software. The flow of creativity has changed forever. All the flatteners converging to a joint tipping point, plus being boosted by “steroids” like wireless, Voice over IP, instant messaging, they pick up a self reinforcing momentum of unprecedented, turbo-boosted scale and form this global web-enabled platform in front of us. Something feels different today than it did just a few years back for the millennium change.

The system has disintegrated. The ancient command-and-control structure between the individual and the company has been replaced by a horizontal structure where it matters to whom you connect to. The infrastructure to do is in place, what is necessary is the right education. Here it really got exciting, because Thomas Friedman started to go beyond his book and explained what it takes to be and especially to stay atop in an ever flatter world where you end up competing with another 300 mn people from India or China who have just stepped on the global scene. What does it take to become, in a sort of reverse caste system, an “untouchable” whose job is safe and cannot be automated, digitized or outsourced? Unless you are not “special” (like Madonna or Michael Schumacher) or “specialized” (top-notch brain surgeon or fashion designer) or “local” (hairdresser or construction worker) you might fall into the category of the “New Middle” in between. According to Friedman, there are eight types that describe this new type who will always stay one step ahead of the Pac Man who wants to eat his job:

1. Great Collaborators: Infosys receives 9,000 applications every year from top-students of US-universities who want to spend some time in India. These guys display the will to extend their reach far beyond cultural barriers and time zones and understand the mechanisms of the flat world.

2. Great Synthesizers: A + B = C, like Steve Jobs did with Software + Service + Hardware = iPod and iTunes. Mashing up stuff like Craigslist with a Google Map overlay.

3. Great Leveragers: Using the power of technology so that 1 can do the job that previously 20 were doing.

4. Great Explainers: Teachers, managers, politicians and journalists explaining the complexity and providing orientation in a flat world.

5. “Anything Green”: Everyone who comes up with solutions for energy, cars, refrigerators which will avoid in the arrival of 3 billion new consumers from India, China, Vietnam that we break-up and smoke-up this planet in the blink of an eye.

6. Great Localizers: Driving small businesses for your imminent eco-system from a global platform, e.g. someone in India building a retail business on eBay. (Basically, good idea, but be careful about the margins which might collapse as fast as you can think as everybody else can execute the same idea. I know what I am talking about: This is effectively what brought me to India and it stalled terribly.)

7. Great Personalizers: Adding the yummy strawberries on an otherwise unsexy vanilla commodity. A salesman for lemonade in front of a football stadium, whom his funny personality makes rather an artist than just a salesman.

8. Great Adopters: Versatilists who are able to accommodate in fast-paced changing environment. Imagine you are training hard for the Olympic Games but you have no clue in which discipline you are going to compete.

So, what do you have to do to develop one or some or a little bit of everything of these concepts? Friedman is very clear: Learn how to learn. Education is not a place, it’s a process – a lifelong process. Yet, don’t become a nerd, better play well with others. It’s a right-brain world, where the left side, e.g.mathematical side of the brain, will be taken over by much faster computers. The right brain, however, is about collaborating, synthesizing and integrating.

Friedman’s ultimate success formula: CQ + PQ > IQ which translated in to “Curiosity Quotient” plus “Passion Quotient” is always bigger than “Intelligence Quotient”.

For his outstanding steroid-turbo-charging-boosting effect for the Indian offshoring industry, Thomas Friedman received the Nasscom Global Learship Award, here on a picture together with NASSCOM-president Kiran Karnik.

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Comments

  1. Anju
    February 16th, 2006 | 12:45

    This is so cool, one gets a summarised version on a level of rhetoric sophistication, i especially liked the analogy of an “untouchable”.
    hey, did you manage to use your charm and get Thomas onto OBC :-)

  2. February 16th, 2006 | 8:07

    Flat earth society

    Rene Seifert at On the Edge offers a great summary of a very recent Thomas Friedman flat world’ presentation. If you aren’t familiar with Friedman’s theory about Globalization 3.0, read the summary at On the Edge. It’s a concise and

  3. Nina
    February 16th, 2006 | 8:18

    Hi R,

    It sounds like it was a good conference. Once again, you get to meet an inspiration/ a motivating character.

    I am green with envy ;-)

  4. April 5th, 2006 | 10:14

    The old Story: India vs. China

    Here is another angle to the ongoing discussion on the rivarly between India and India. A lot of though had been put to parallels and similarities at the Asia Society Conference recently in Mumbai as this article describes. The story…