(Part of a continuing series on the books that made the journey to RLF’s new office space)
Think of The World Is Flat as business science fiction, circa 2005. Many of the concepts author Thomas Friedman chronicles were still in their emerging phases – the ease in which anyone could outsource research work to India, the blinding speed of digital communication connections, the seamless process of pulling into a McDonalds drive-thru and having your order taken by someone a thousand miles away.
If I recall correctly, I read The World Is Flat about the same time I got my first mobile phone with a camera that allowed you to easily snap a picture and then email it. I don’t believe texting and instant messaging from the phone were options, but on my laptop there was this new tool called Google to look up things without a staff of researchers and assistants tracking down information. And as someone who is paid to look things up and track things down, it was a wake-up call that I’d better up my game.
Friedman explained that it is not technology alone that is changing our word, but the convergence of technology with politics, economics, logistics and common systems. Technology is just a tool. People must be willing to use it, adapt it, connect it and implement it for change to be meaningful. Friedman describes a powerful, quiet revolution in the late 1990s in which the software industry started to forge common web-based standards to build a vast network of ‘underground plumbing.’ He wrote, “Once everyone’s applications started to connect with everyone else’s applications, work could not only flow like never before, but it could be chopped up and disaggregated like never before and sent to the four corners of the world.”
A flat world is one in which you can access information almost instantly and act on that information. Think of how you are using your mobile device this holiday season. It seamlessly takes you from research to purchase to delivery for almost any item anywhere in the world. But it’s not simple and it’s not magic. It happens because the company that designed the item is connected to the company that manufacturers the item that is connected to the company that sells the item that is connected to the company that processes the payment that is connected to the company that delivers the item to your doorstep. And most likely, all of these companies are based around the globe.
For RLF Communications, the premise of The World Is Flat reaffirms the value of our partnership in Worldcom, a partnership of more than 100 independent agencies in 49 countries that we call on when our clients need local expertise and knowledge in another market. Friedman wrote, “When the world goes flat….reach for a shovel and dig inside yourself. Don’t try to build walls.” Whether RLF’s clients need support in Zurich, Hong Kong or Dubai, I know we can provide them agency resources deeply entrenched in their communities and culture, but sharing a common language (every Worldcom partner has employees that speak and write in English) and systems.
Most of Friedman’s books are on my shelves at home. My father gave me The Lexus & The Olive Tree in 1999, and I’ve read his books and columns ever since then. I have high hopes that his newest book Thank You For Being Late is wrapped and sitting under our Christmas tree. But I will keep The World Is Flat at the office as a reminder that I must help clients think globally and locally, that we must develop skills which cannot be easily replicated while being open and accessible.