The world is flat, not so much!

Friedman’s (2007) world is flatter

Friedman’s (2007) main claims are the world is flat and the global competitive field is leveling.  In reflecting, the author of this blog sees evidence that Friedman’s (2007) claims are alive and well.  Through the internet and technology, the world is connected now more than ever.  To illustrate, the author recently telephoned the Wall Street Journal newspaper because he was considering a subscription.  He found the customer service representative extremely knowledgeable about the benefits, which the representative conveyed to him.  As a result, he decided to subscribe to the paper.  At the end of the conversation, he inquired about where the customer service representative was located and she shared she was in India.  The author was surprised at her response because he did not detect an accent.  Indeed, the competitive field is leveling as Friedman (2007) indicated.

As another example, Friedman’s (2007) description of radiologists outsourcing CAT scan readings to Australia resonated with the author of this blog.  The author’s father was a radiologist and his father was on call, in addition to a regular week of work, every three weeks including weeknights, holidays, and weekends.  During call weeks, the author recalls his father up most of the night reading CAT scans.  However, when the author reached college, he came home from school break and amazingly found his father no longer took call because the hospital sent the CAT scans that occurred overnight and on weekends to Australia.  The benefit was that his father was no longer grumpy from a dearth of sleep.  Again, proof the world is flatter as Friedman (2007) stated.        

Florida’s (2005) world is spikey

Converse to Friedman (2007), Florida (2005) provides urban versus rural, the income divide, and innovation as illustrations that the world is spikey.  The author of this post sees validity in Florida’s (2005) assertions; in particular, the income divide resonated because he studies the topic in his work.  As background, the author works at a large financial services firm with nearly two trillion dollars in assets under management.  His job focuses on helping corporate clients motivate their employees to save for retirement and he studies the global trends for income distribution to serve his clients better.  As Florida (2005) outlines, the global income gap is widening.  Thus, the inequality of the distribution of income manifests the world is not as flat as Friedman (2007) implies.  Looking into the horizon, what point does the divide between the have and have-nots spark a revolution?

Shirky’s (2009) voice of many

Shirky (2009) leans toward Friedman (2007) because Shirky’s (2009) main theme of the voice of many is congruent with Friedman’s (2007) flat world where everyone is on equal footing.  Stated differently, a flatter platform (Friedman, 2007) enables the voice of many (Shirky, 2009) be heard.  To illustrate, social media is shaping the way organizations respond to customers.  The author’s company has a Facebook page where users from all around the world are free to comment.  In turn, the firm regularly reviews the comments to identify trends and makes changes to products or services as necessary.  Similarly, radio stations and television shows such as HBO Real Sports provide their Facebook page and Twitter account to the audience and ask them to comment.  Thus, the experience becomes social as Shirky (2009) indicated.  Finally, the author watched the MTV music awards this past year and took to social media through Facebook to see reaction to the show.  In particular, Miley Cyrus’ controversial performance caused many people to comment of Facebook; ultimately, the situation went viral.  Thus, social media through Shirky’s (2009) voice of many is shaping the direction of organizations and facilitating social interactions.       


In comparing Friedman (2007), Florida (2005), and Shirky (2009), Friedman (2007) is the least relevant today.  To explain, Friedman (2007) provides anything that can be digitized can be outsourced.  However, the author’s experience with his company contrasts Friedman (2007) because it has not outsourced anything to India, China, or any other foreign country.  For example, phone center representatives are located at the company’s three locations in the United States.  If the world were flat as Friedman (2007) stated, would not the author’s firm outsource the phone center jobs to India?  Rather, the company decided to invest heavily in its public website and smartphone application to facilitate transactions in a cheaper manner.  As a result, the organization witnessed a channel shift in recent years from the phone center to the web and smartphones.  Friedman (2007) provided outsourcing and home-sourcing trends as evidence of the flattening of the world and assumed people would always be part of the equation.  However, the author thinks he overlooked the role technology plays in completing an entire process without human interaction.    

Another example that questions Friedman’s (2007) relevancy is re-shoring.  As edification, re-shoring involves American companies moving manufacturing back to the United States.  For example, a survey completed by Boston Consulting Group (“Re-shoring manufacturing,” 2013) indicated more than half of U.S. based manufacturing executives of companies with greater than one billion dollars in sales are considering or planning to move production back to the United States from China.  With rising global wages and increased transportation costs, American companies see the benefit to domestic manufacturing.  Moreover, American companies can leverage technology to do the work previously performed by people.  With the proliferation of the internet and advancement of technology, the author thinks the world is flatter as Friedman (2007) suggests because outsourcing works well for some situations.  However, as demonstrated by the technology scenarios above, the author also thinks outsourcing is not as pervasive as Friedman (2007) predicted and technology will play an even bigger role in the future.  What do you think?



Florida, R. (2005, October). The world is spiky. The Atlantic Monthly, 48-51.

Friedman, T. L. (2007). The world is flat (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Picador.

Majority of large manufacturers are now planning or considering ‘reshoring’ from China to the U.S. (2013). Retrieved from

Shirky, C. (2009, June 16). Clay Shirky:  How cellphones, Twitter, Facebook can make history [Video file]. Retrieved from


17 thoughts on “The world is flat, not so much!

  1. Hi Peter,
    Excellent post highlighting key concepts in your analysis which were well supported with your examples. You touched on how social media, could shape the direction of an organization through the voice of the participants. We saw an example of this just within the last year as the young Egyptians used the social media to orchestrate a revolution to change the direction of their government. This may have been a positive move, however that remains to be seen over the next several years. On the other hand, social media can also be used in a destructive way. Within the last year it was reported that over thousand high school students in Philadelphia used their cell phone to coordinate and create havoc through stores like Macy’s and others. These events indicates that social media and communication has changed significantly (Shirky, 2009), and depending on the leaders in charge the results will be positive or negative.

    I also met your Chairman a few years ago as he was getting inaugurated in the Chester county hall of fame for his contributions to make Chester County a better place. I have a lot of respect for the leaders who focused on growing a healthy and prosperous communities rather than outsourcing for bigger profits. I can see that certain functions are not the core competencies of an organization. In that case they can choose to outsource those functions, however, in many cases, outsourcing has led to lower quality and loss of technical knowledge. I agree that technology will play a bigger role in the future (Friedman, 2006). In the telecommunications industry there is a big push to provide high speed internet access for data and video to consumers, therefore, in some cases before a new product is deployed, the design of the next generation is already in progress, so technology will continue to transform the business and the way people interact. Thank you for your post Peter.


    Friedman, T. (2006). The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Union Square West, NY.10003

    Shirky, C. (2007). How Cellphones, Twitter, Facebook Can Make History.

    • Hi Mo, Thank you for your review and comments. I agree, social media can be positive and negative In reflecting on the Miley Cyrus episode, I recall Madonna’s video being pulled from MTV in the eighties because it was too provocative. However, if we viewed her video in question today, it would seem benign compared to what we see today on social media. In an era of instantaneous information, do you think we have lost our values? Are the impacts of social media the dummy down of our society? Look forward to your thoughts? Regards, Peter

  2. Excellent post, Peter. Your analysis seems spot on to me, particularly in how Friedman is losing some relevance due to increased human-machine interaction and reshoring. Your company’s decision to shift to web applications over call centers is exactly the kind of strategic thinking I would like the members of this class to develop.

    Reading THE WORLD IS FLAT changed my life in 2005…but life has moved on (or gone through a couple of new generations) since then. Friedman did not foresee how the web was becoming social (though he tried to catch up in the third edition). The iPhone and iPad have become game changers…but costs still restrict some potential markets / students / patients.

    Which makes this an exciting time to be a leader!

    • Hi Dr. Watwood, I concur it is a great time to be a leader. Along similar lines, one of the challenges I see facing leaders today is how to predict what the next “thing” is going to be in terms of technology? Any thoughts? Regards, Peter

      • Peter- I sometimes think that organizations and leaders can get too caught up in chasing the new “thing.” In our department, we have used the phrase “chase the goals, not the tools.” This comes in handy when we’re asked what our university is doing on Pinterest, for example. We will only have a presence on that platform if we think it will advance departmental and organizational goals. When another unit on campus wants to establish a presence on a social media platform, we always ask two questions: What audience(s) are you trying to target, and what is your objective (what do you want them to do)? Surprisingly, many have not thought through that; they simply want to be on Google+ (for example) because they think it’s the cool thing to do. I don’t want to give the impression that we dissuade others from trying new things. (Using a social network is the best way to learn about it.) However, we encourage colleagues to always be strategic in their use of these social networks. -Rob

      • Hi Dr. Watwood, Sorry to jump ahead. But was a burning question in my mind.

        Rob your comments make sense. I admire Southwest as a company and it utilize a similar strategy – be strategic and smart about technology. In fact, the do not need to have the latest and greatest technology. Thanks for your post. Regards, Peter

      • Jumping is definitely allowed…but Rob is spot on … we need to be looking strategically at tools and how they might allow us to accomplish goals. This coming week should be interesting as we look at a variety of web tools and potential uses.

  3. Great post. I particularly enjoyed reading the last section that mentions re-shoring. I think that you are correct in noting the trend that an increasing number of companies are reconsidering their decision to move production from places like China due to the rise in cost associated with the move. Hagerty (2013) explained, “Manufacturers increasingly try to shorten supply lines and reduce inventory by making products closer to where they are sold. Meanwhile, the surge in Chinese wages and higher shipping cost mean Asian production is no longer a no-brainer” ( I know from my experience that my company is beginning to move some of their services that are manufactured in China due to rising gas and energy cost associated with offshoring. Nevertheless, I think that Friedman’s definition of globalization captures the notion that the phenomenon of globalization has helped to integrate of technology, capital and created a borderless information system that no longer has boundaries. This in essence has created a single global marketplace. On the surface, it would seem that his definition correctly explains the 3rd stage of globalization that has occurred within the past 15 years. Indeed, the world has become smaller due to globalization. The pace of life is speeding up and we can do things in a shorter period due to technological advancements.
    However, I believe that his theory is subject to criticism due to the simplicity of his definitions. Globalization is far more complex than the “Westernization” of others. It is simply not a one-way phenomenon. Instead, globalization is something that must understands that other cultures have influence, as well. It is the blending of different cultures, which has helped to blur the lines, instead of having clearly defined ones. As a result, there are various manifestations of globalization that Friedman has overlooked. Florida (2005) noted, “Friedman’s theory more accurately depicts a developing world with capabilities that translate into economic development” (p. 51). However, he also argues that globalization has not leveled the playing field. Instead, it has led to greater peaks and valleys. I find it interesting to see how globalization will continue to change our world, as we will be required to make even more adjustments that require greater speed and flexibility in the future. Thank you again for sharing.

    – G. Barnes


    Florida, R. (2005, October). The world in numbers: The world is spiky. The Atlantic Monthly. pp. 48- 52

    Friedman, T.L. (2007). The world is flat: A bred history of the twenty-first century. New York, NY: Picador

    Hagerty, J. M. (2013, September 24). More manufactures moving operations back to U.S. Retrieved from

    • Hi G Barnes, Thank you for your comments! I agree that the world is headed toward one global market. However, I see evidence that a lot of work has to be done. For example, countries have to move past protecting their home economies through the use of tariffs in retaliation to a country. I took international business in MBA school and was astounded to find a lot of the United States trade agreements with foreign countries were setup as a way for the United States to exert its power. What are some of your thoughts on obstacles for globalization? Regards, swaggin94

  4. Swaggin94,

    I concur, the world is flat only in respect that communication has become quicker, better and our knowledge base on a multitude of topics has improved exponentially. Yet, the world is far from being leveled. If social media is the a criteria for evaluating leveling then societal standards have just taken a dive (See my post for this week, The World is What? for more details).

    As you mentioned, the world is more social, but the gap between the poor and the rich is, too, communal. Technology has become a big propaganda industry. It persuades people that their living conditions are better because information can be accessed and shared more efficiently. Yet, an IPhone, IPAD or XBOX has done little to improve the living conditions of most Americans. Technological devices have made society more social. Somehow this has correlated to happiness and improved quality of life. All of this is happening while the working class can barely find jobs to support a family. So, this is the GREAT PROPAGANDA of marketing.

    We must encourage our young people to move beyond seeing technology as a medium to socialize and play games, but identify how they can use various forms of technology to make an honest living. That aspect of marketing is under explored.

    UNT – Until Next Time

    • Hi Denise Butts, I concur with you! Taking it even further, society seems to care more about voting for American Idol and the Voice than voting for our President. In addition to the working class you mentioned, people in the United States are going hungry. UNT 🙂 swaggin94

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