Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century

The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century
By Thomas Friedman

This book is a must read for anyone interested in an innovation commons. Much of the book revolves around and depends upon the successful creation of innovation commons in many different forms. The following are some excerpts from the book that seem to me to be most directly related to the subject of the innovation commons.

"…Satyam Cherukuri, of Sarnoff, an American research and development firm, has called ‘the globalization of innovation" and an end to the old model…" p29-30

His premise is that the "world is now flat", i.e. the global competitive playing field is being leveled. The world is being flattened. He identifies ten driving forces for leveling of the competitive playing field. The first three are events that marked the change:

  1. When the walls came down and the windows went up
  2. When Netscape went public
  3. Work flow software

The next six represent the new forms of collaboration, which the new platform created by the first three forces made possible:

  1. Self organizing collaborative communities
  2. Outsourcing Y2K
  3. Offshoring
  4. Supply chaining
  5. Insourcing
  6. In-forming

The last force is an enabler:

  1. The steroids: Digital, mobile, personal and virtual

Quoting Irving Wladawsky-Berger of IBM, "This emerging era is characterized by the collaborative innovation of many people working together in gifted communities, just as innovation in the industrial era was characterized by individual genius." p93

In discussing some of the problems of an innovation commons, he raises the following question:


"If everyone contributes his or her intellectual capital for free, where will the resources for innovation come from? And won’t we end up with in endless legal wrangles over which part of any innovation was made by the community for free, and meant to stay that way, and which part was added on by some company for profit and has to be paid for so that the company can make money to drive further innovation." p96

"How do you push innovation forward if everyone is working for free and giving away their work?…if innovators are not going to be rewarded for their innovations, the incentive for path-breaking innovation will dry up and so will the money for the really deep R&D that is required to drive progress in this increasingly complex field." (Paraphrasing Microsoft) p100

"Open source is an important flattener because it makes available for free many tools, from software to encyclopedias, that millions of people around the world would have had to buy in order to use, and because open source network associations – with their open borders and come-one-come-all approach – can challenge hierarchical structures with a horizontal model of innovation that is clearly working in a growing number of areas." p102

Writing about the power of search engines for collaboration: "How does searching fit into the concept of collaboration? I call it ‘in-forming’. In-forming is the individual’s’ personal analog to open sourcing, outsourcing, insourcing, supply chaining and offshoring. In-forming is the ability to build and deploy your own personal supply chain – a supply chain of information, knowledge and entertainment. In-forming is about self collaboration…" p153

"…this tenth flattener - the steroids – is going to amplify and further empower all the other forms of collaboration. These steroids should make open-source innovation that much more open, because they will enable more individuals to collaborate with one another in more ways and from more places than ever before." p 170-171

He then introduces the concept of the triple convergence: "First, right around the year 2000, all ten flatteners…started to converge and work together in ways that created a new, flatter, global playing field. As this new playing field became established, both businesses and individuals began to adopt new habits, skills and processes to get the most out of it. They moved from largely vertical means of creating value to more horizontal one. The merger of this new playing field for doing business with the new ways of doing business was the second convergence, and it actually helped to flatten the world even further. Finally, just when all this flattening was happening, a whole new group of people, several billion in fact, walked on the playing field from China, India and the former Soviet Union. Thanks to the new flat world, and its new tools, some of them were able to collaborate and compete directly with everyone else. This was the third convergence." p175

Writing about the parallel between the work of economists of the impact of major technologies on productivity, he stated: "The same thing is happening today with the flattening of the world. Many of the ten flatteners have been around for years. But for the full flattening effects to be felt, we needed not only the ten flatteners to converge, but also something else. We needed the emergence of a large cadre of managers, innovators, business consultant, business schools, designers, IT specialists, CEOs and workers to get comfortable with, and develop, the sorts of horizontal collaboration and value creation processes and habits that could take advantage of this new, flatter playing field. In short, the convergence of the ten flatteners begat the convergence of a set of business practices and skills that would get the most out of the flat world. And then the two began to mutually reinforce each other." p178

"In the future globalization is going to be increasingly driven by individuals who understand the flat world, adapt themselves quickly to its processes and technologies, and then start to march forward…They will be of every color of the rainbow and from every corner of the world." p183

"The flatter the world gets, the more we are going to need a system of global governance that keeps up with all the new legal and illegal forms of collaboration." p217

"In the flat world, the division of labor is steadily becoming more and more complex, with a lot more people interacting with a lot of other people they don’t know and may never meet. If you want to have a modern complex division of labor, you have to put more trust in strangers." p326

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