Friday, December 3, 2010

Thoughts About a Shrinking World

I have just finished reading The World Is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century by Thomas L. Friedman and SuperCorp: How Vanguard Companies Create Innovation, Profits, Growth, and Social Good by Rosabeth Moss Kantner and noticed some trends that I felt like writing about.

The biggest point that I took from The World is Flat 3.0 is that the overall scale of the world is seemingly shrinking mostly due to the major influences that technology has played in linking different parts of the world together. The bigger the improvements and the greater the advances we make, particularly in the areas of communications, work flow planning, software, information storage and retrieval processes the more the world will seem to shrink.

Friedman calls the shrinking "flattening" which seems to be his way of saying that the proverbial "playing field" is being leveled. Areas of the world that don't have great amounts of natural resources to sell to the rest of the world (particularly oil) are using this technology to start other industries that can leverage their vast workforce into a competitive force to enable them to become a part of the global supply chain of goods and services.

This shrinking or "flattening" of the world can be used for good or bad. Most technologies are the same way. You can use a delivery van to make deliveries or you can back it through the window of a bank and rob it. You can use the internet to do research for a book report or you can create a "hate site". This is a problem with human nature and not with technology.

Friedman mentioned that terror, war and protectionism are reasons that might be used to put the walls back up and "unflatten" the world but he seems to feel that in most cases everyone involved benefits from a flat world. The benefits aren't limited to improved standard of living, stronger economies and better educational opportunities for countries that are taking on new responsibilities. There are also the benefits of cost reductions, redundant around the clock supply chains and new, large, eager sources of the exact level of labor required for a task for the companies doing the outsourcing.

SuperCorp pointed out many "vanguard" companies that are using their size and global influence to do good things in the world and that as we progress this will become more necessary and almost expected of them.

I can't say that I completely disagree with a lot of the points raised in either book, most of it kind of seems like "common sense" but I was left with a lot of questions about religion, politics and war, "haves versus have nots" and the responsibility of business in the world.

Is outsourcing ultimately good, bad or a shade of gray? Does outsourcing for cost savings really free up money to reinvest in new jobs or does it just go to the bottom line?

Investors always want to see a company that is making more profit than the previous year. At what point does this "growth" become unsustainable?

Are large corporations too powerful? Are they using this power responsibly?

Does human nature ruin everything?

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