Nordic Track Book Club Review: The World is Flat

This is the most recent book I read on the [NordicTrack] while doing alternating-day running and 60 minute [NordicTrack] sessions.  I only get to read fun stuff like The World is Flat while I’m on my Nordic Track Ski Machine.  Summertime in Vermont compels me to hit the pavement every day, so I’ve been reading less.  Don’t worry.  I’ve got a number of book reviews in the queue, so the Nordic Track Book Club will continue on.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed The World Is Flat [Updated and Expanded]: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. Five-out-of-five stars.  I read Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat for two reasons:  1) I felt I had to read it because its so insanely popular and 2) I caught Friedman on both a Charlie Rose show and a Dennis Miller podcast and he was brilliant both times. 


p.13 In 2003, some 25,000 U.S. tax returns were done in India.  In 2004, the number was 100,000.  In 2005, it was roughly 400,000.  In a decade, you will assume that your accountant has outsourced the basic preparation of your tax returns–if not more…Said Rao, “What we have done is taken the grunt work.  You know what is needed to prepare a tax return?  Very little creative work.  This is what will move overseas.”

So I said to Rao, “If you are an American, you better be good at the touchy-feely service stuff, because anything that can be digitized can be outsourced to either the smartest or the cheapest producer, or both.”  Rao answered, “everyone has to focus on what exactly is their value-add.”

“Some people will say, ‘Yes, but you can’t serve me a steak.’  True, but I can take the reservation for your table sitting anywhere in the world, if the restaurant does not have an operator.  We can say, ‘Yes, Mr. Friedman, we can give you a table by the window.’  In other words, there are parts of the whole dining-out experience that we can decompose and outsource.”

p.24 There are currently about 245,000 Indians answering phones from all over the world or dialing out to solicit people for credit cards or cell-phone bargains or overdue bills.  These call center jobs are low-wage, low-prestige jobs in America, but when shifted to India they become high-wage, high-prestige jobs.

p.51 The fall of the Berlin Wall on 11/9/89 unleashed forces that ultimately liberated all the captive peoples of the Soviet Empire.  But it actually did so much more.  It tipped the balance of power across the world toward those advocating democratic, consensual, free-market-oriented governance, and away from those advocating authoritarian rule with centrally planned economies.

p.125 [Regarding an NBA video game] “‘I like Kobe Bryant, OK?’ Albert Arce said, ‘But I like to play him because I can make him pass to the other guys.  When I see him on TV, it’s like he doesn’t know how to pass.'” He would rather play Kobe and watch Kobe!  That attitude, says Micah Sifry, “is indicative of the larger shift in the Internet age away from a static and passive approach to media to an active and participatory approach.  It is more fun to be in the game than to watch the game.”  Tim O’Reilly has his own way of describing the uploading phenomenon.  He calls it the “architecture of participation”–systems that are designed for users to produce, not just consume. He suggests that the companies that design their software, their systems, their Web sites, and their encyclopedias to encourage participation will be the ones that draw the most users.

p.134 The dot-com bubble [and Y2K] was only one aspect of globalization, and when it imploded, rather than imploding globalization, it actually turbo-charged it.

p.142 As its manufacturing productivity accelerates, China is losing jobs in manufacturing–many more than the United States is–and gaining them in services, a pattern that has been playing out in the developed world for many years.

A study by Morgan Stanley estimated that since the mid-1990s alone, cheap imports from China have saved U.S. consumers roughly $600 billion and have saved U.S. manufacturers untold billions in cheaper parts for their products.

p.144 One of Perkowski’s purchases in China was an interest in a company making rubber parts.  When he subsequently reached an agreement with his Chinese partner to purchase his shares in the company, the Chinese partner signed a noncompete clause as part of the transaction.  As soon as the deal closed, however, the Chinese partner went out and opened a new factory.  “Noncompete” did not quite translate into Mandarin.  Scratch plan B.

p.152 “Making stuff–that’s easy.  Supply chain, now that’s really hard.”  What he means is that with today’s technology it is difficult to keep intellectual property secret and thus easy to reverse-engineer any product and “make stuff” in a matter of days.  However, building a process that “delivers stuff” across the globe, involving dozens of suppliers, distributors, port operators, customs brokers, forwarders, and carriers in a finely tuned chain operating in concert is not only difficult, it’s very, very hard to duplicate.

p.162 Now with RFID, we just scan the whole pallet under a bubble, and it says you have all the items you ordered and each box tells you, “This is what I am and this is how I am feeling, this is what color I am, and am I in good shape.”

p.169 UPS comes inside a lot of companies now and takes over their branded vehicles to assure on-time delivery, which in the case of Papa John’s includes getting the pizza dough from bakeries to outlets at exactly the right times each day. 

I like the term “insourcing” because UPS engineers come right inside your company; analyze its manufacturing, packaging, and delivery processes; and then design, redesign, and manage your whole global supply chain. This form of deep collaboration, which involves a huge amount of trust and intimacy among UPS, its client, and its client’s customers, is a uniquely new flattener.

p.185 In a flat world, you can’t run, you can’t hide, and smaller and smaller rocks are turned over.  Live your life honestly, because whatever you do, whatever mistakes you make, will be searchable one day.

p.188 I call certain new technologies “steroids” because they are amplifying and turbo-charging all the other flatteners.

p.198 DoCoMo is now working with other Japanese companies on an arrangement by which you may be walking down the street and see a poster of a concert by Madonna in Tokyo.  The poster will have a bar code and you can buy your tickets by just scanning the bar code.  Another poster might be for a new Madonna CD.  Just scan the bar code with your cell phone and it will give you a sample of the songs.  If you like them, scan it again and you can buy the whole album and have it home-delivered.

p.202 Or, to look at [pre-ticketing with Southwest Airlines], if you happen to value your own time staying up past midnight the night before a flight to do your own ticketing, you, the individual, are paying Southwest Airlines to be their employee!


300+ more pages of goodness.  Be sure to purchase the most recent Updated and Expanded Version of the book to get everything.



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A long time developer, I was an early adopter of Linux in the mid-90's for a few years until I entered corporate environments and worked with Microsoft technologies like ASP, then .NET. In 2008 I released Sueetie, an Online Community Platform built in .NET. In late 2012 I returned to my Linux roots and locked in on Java development. Much of my work is available on GitHub.