The World is Not Flat – It is a Plateau

Yes, I am referring to The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman… and I must admit that I have not (yet) read it. I have been to a large number of conferences and blogs that discuss this book – some praising it, and some disagreeing with it. I think the book sounds interesting, and I will read it soon and probably agree with many of the ideas covered in it. But, I have to say that I do tend to fall on the side that disagrees with the basic thought that globalization has leveled the playing field for all countries.

Friedman apparently went to India and had a revelation that globalization had changed core economic concepts there. The funny thing is, I have also traveled to India. My experience there tended to reveal to me how wide the gap is between countries that have wide-spread access to electricity, technology, and the Internet – and those that do not. Most people in India (a large percentage, actually) do not have access to all of three of these.

My theory is that the world is not flat – but it does have one large plateau surrounded by badlands. When I was in school, they taught us that plateaus are mountains with flat tops. On a family trip I discovered that this example was kind of an over simplification. I was following our trip on a map and noticed it said we were on a plateau at that moment. I looked out of the car and thought “we’re not on some flat mountain – we are just in the middle of a flat desert!” The thing about plateaus is that they are relatively flat – but while you are on them, you can usually only see the plateau itself for as far as the eye can see. Until you come up on the edge and see how high up you are.

Those that see the world as flat are on the plateau – all they can see is the flatness. So, they think the world is flat because they haven’t explored around enough to see otherwise. Leave the plateau and you will find a virtual badlands of rough terrain, pot holes, difficult terrain, and dead ends.

If we try to teach people in the badlands how to work in a flat world, they will fail. Because it is not flat for them. We could try to teach them how to climb up to the plateau, but what if they are not able to? What if they don’t want to? Why should we force them to do things our way? The badlands are a beautiful area of rugged scenery that don’t necessarily need to be abandoned. They really aren’t “bad” at all – that just happens to be the name for them.

Those of us in the technology world need to think how we can adjust our strategies to include those that are not constantly connected to a high speed internet connection through multiple devices 24 hours a day… because the edge of the plateau is not just dividing us from people on the other side of the world. It is separating us from people just down the road from us.

4 thoughts on “The World is Not Flat – It is a Plateau

  1. Excellent article (also enjoyed the previous ones on ‘Death of the Learning Management System’). I deliver eLearning courses via Moodle in Ireland. Whilst broadband penetration in urban areas is fine, much of rural Ireland looks set to be stuck in ‘dial-up land’ for the foreseeable future. I’m looking at ways to be more inclusive for potential customers in rural areas… now I just need to find the time to write my own version of Moodle in Adobe AIR and distribute it on a DVD (the app could of course pull down new content and messaging from the web but the bulk of the rich course material would be running locally).

  2. I would much rather the discourse on Globalization came from economists like Joesph Stiglitz (Nobel winner for economics and was Chief Economist at World Bank), Paul Krugman (Princeton), Pankaj Ghemawat (Harvard)etc. Ted Koppel interviews Friedman and Joseph Stiglitz, who ofcourse doesnt find a mention in Friedman’s book.

    Two books to read, which offer a counterperspective to Friedman’s “The World is Flat.”

    The Harvard Professor, Pankaj Ghemawat’s latest book, “Redefining Global Strategy,” is more academically inclined. I read an article of his published in the journal, “Foreign Policy”, where he argues that the world is, at best, only semi-globalized. His argument being that Cultural, Administrative, Geographic and Economic aspects of a nation come in the way of total globalization from taking place and cites examples of the same.

    The other small, but interesting book, is by Aronica and Ramdoo, “The World is Flat? A Critical Analysis of Thomas Friedman’s New York Times Bestseller.” It is a small book compared to the 600 page tome by Friedman, and aimed at the common man and students alike. As popular as the book may be, some reviewers assert that by what it leaves out, Friedman’s book is dangerous. The authors point to the fact that there isn’t a single table or data footnote in Friedman’s entire book. “Globalization is the greatest reorganization of the world since the Industrial Revolution,” says Aronica. Aronica and Ramdoo conclude by listing over twenty action items that point the way forward, and they provide a comprehensive, yet concise, framework for understanding the critical issues of globalization.

    You may want to see
    and watch
    for an interesting counterperspective on Friedman’s
    “The World is Flat”.

    Also a really interesting 6 min wake-up call: Shift Happens!

    There is also a companion book listed: Extreme Competition: Innovation and the Great 21st Century Business Reformation

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