The World is Flat ~ Thomas L. Friedman

On August 22, 2008, Thomas Friedman, speaking at a United Way conference in Greater New Hampshire made this statement in reference to his definition of the flat world and globalization, “whatever can be done will be done…the only question for you is will it be done by you or to you?’ ( In reading chapters 15 and 17 of “The World is Flat” I would offer the question what kind(s) of leadership will it take for it to be done for the global common good?

These two chapters offer a fair amount of detail outlining the circumstances around 9/11 and the fears and insecurities that came as a result of the attacks on the US. Friedman points out that when your approach is out of fear, you risk losing your ability to be imaginative about what can be done. You risk forfeiting your ability to collaborate and problem solve for the common good. I believe that operating out of fear, is actually the opposite of falling and staying in love with the work as defined by Kouzes and Posner in the last chapter of the “Leadership Challenge.” Operating out of fear causes you to be suspicious of everything around you; you retreat inside and lose out on creativity and forward thinking. Hope is also lost. Operating out of love (and I acknowledge the discomfort with the term love) allows an openness to innovation and possibilities. Hope is gained. Friedman states that “there are two ways to flatten the world. One is to use your imagination to bring everyone up to the same level, and the other is to use your imagination to bring everyone down to the same level” (p.613). Can you site personal examples of when fear or love has affected your ability to bridge cultural (broadly defined i.e., language, ethnic, or class etc.) divides?

Friedman also talks about the too sick, the too disempowered and the too frustrated. These terms refer to a level of consciousness about the globalization and the notion of a flattened world. These terms are also about inequity of access to the opportunities that are afforded though a flattened world. The term “too sick” is a literal reference to people devastated by the ravage effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in certain parts of the world. It also refers to the illnesses brought on by extreme poverty and broken governments where there is no system or resources to connect to the flattening world; in essence these are the areas where the world is not flat and there is no consciousness of or connection to the technological advancements. The too disempowered refers to people who are keenly aware of the advancements that are around them but there is an inability to contribute to or benefit from the flatness in any meaningful way. The too frustrated, according to Friedman, are those feeling humiliated and threatened by the suddenness of the flattened world and their exposure to the entire world; the frustration can also arise from anger at their lack of having a voice. This is where some of the debate over globalization, for whose benefit, at whose expense comes in. This is also where some anti-American sentiment can arise in reference to the view that Americans are not always open to viewing the world from other perspectives. Here I will ask you to comment on globalization, the advancements and breakthroughs that not every one benefits from, the effects on the environment when more people can and do participate, and the implications that being a developed country means being like Americans.


I would like to focus on another of Friedman's topics, trust, and how that fits into the globalization discussion as well as how it ties into fear and love. I agree that trust is key to operating in the flat world. It is interesting to see how this plays out on a personal level and then collectively at the global level. Social networking cites liked LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter provide the opportunity to really "put ourselves out there" in a big way. I've done some informal surveys of friends and family and found it interesting that those who have issues with trust find much of this technology entirely too intrusive and only minimally participate in it if at all. So, already even in a "developed" country like the US their are disenfranchised groups who do not benefit entirely from the technology to connect the way others do. It is also interesting that most of the people who are doing very interesting things have little time to update their every move whereas others keep their pals posted on the status of their laundry (true story).

I think there are other fragmentations that occur within developed countries due to individuals fearing the technology or being wary of its benefits vs potential costs. Some others within developed countries don't have access to such technology or can't afford it, etc. Therefore, there is a subset of individuals who utilize this technology even within developed countries. These are the individuals that are visible to other "less developed" countries. And so the images that are being trasmitted globally may not truly represent what is going on in the world or in more developed countries.

There are many implications of this from a global perspective. The technology, because it is available, is used often to sort of encourage people to link when perhaps they should be more careful and intentional about what they broadcast. While there is no doubt that it is easier to connect with the technology today, I wonder if we think about all the implications of connecting. Do we think about cultural norms, and issues around language barriers? Do we seriously consider what it means to connect? Is it just the ability to have a meeting that drives the importance to connect? If others do not have the same abilities to connect are they just out of luck or do we accommodate them since connecting is the true goal not the latest technology.

Technology is great way to solve a problem. But we can't lose sight of the fact that it is a tool. I think that trust, fear, and love are all components of creating a flat world where true connections are made.

Well, I really regret not reading Friedman's book sooner.

On February 26th, 1993, the date of the first attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, I was working in the Washington D.C. area, a place where it was not rare to see employees wearing ID badges. A few weeks later, I remember being herded out of the Smithsonian's Dillon-Ripley dome-shaped building onto the Mall to enjoy a sunny spring day with my peers. We stood around for about an hour waiting for the all-clear from the alleged "bomb threat" while comtemplating our lunch plans. I was craving a Kiwi-Strawberry Snapple.

Those were different times. None of us imagined what would happen later on 9/11/01, which we could all witness on the Today Show that fateful Tuesday, nor did most of us think twice about getting on a commercial airliner. Now I suppose everyone thinks twice, and nearly everyone wears an ID badge to work. That was post-Berlin Wall destruction, 11/9, and pre-Twin Towers destruction, 9/11, a time many of us imagined to be a new beginning, certainly not a transition to greater challenges than those the Cold War had imposed.

There were so many valuable excerpts from this reading, yet with my interest in community development and Detroit in particular, I really latched on to Friedman's exploration of "humiliation." I never truly understood the African-American perspective of the O.J. Simpson murder trial until I understood the concept of humiliation. Friedman's connection of this term to the experiences of those in the non-flat world should be extremely poignant to those of us living in the flat world.

For decades the disharmony between whites and African-Americans living in the Detroit area, a total population of nearly five million, has been attributed to economics or racism. I now believe a primary culprit is humiliation or what Friedman describes as the "poverty of dignity." This lack of contextual understanding helps to explain why recommendations and projects continue to fail to revitalize the area, despite funding and participation.

As the poverty of Detroit is now being felt across Michigan and into the Midwest, I reflect on Friedman's comment that in a flat world "if you don't visit a bad neighborhood, it might visit you." If we can't repair Detroit, what hope is there for Afghanistan?

Here I will ask you to comment on globalization, the advancements and breakthroughs that not every one benefits from, the effects on the environment when more people can and do participate, and the implications that being a developed country means being like Americans.

After re-reading these chapters of "The World is Flat", I contemplated a great deal on 9/11. I went back to the President George W. Bush address to the nation on 9/11 and noted how he framed those horrific events (and every event that followed). His messaging was clearly intended to antagonize our raw fear, anger and mistrust. In his speeches to follow (i.e. September 20 Address to Congress) he made it very clear that the U.S. will not tolerate terrorism. I found President Bush's framing an interesting comparision to Friedman's remarks "whatever can be done will be done…the only question for you is will it be done by you or to you?" (United Way conference, August 2008).

Within months of 9/11 we were at war with Iraq. And we still are.

Janayah, you aren’t letting us slip by with easy questions this week, are you?

What kind(s) of leadership will it take for it to be done for the global common good?

I think the type of leadership that is needed in a flat world is one that is value-based, willing to share leadership, willing to engage in relational dialogue, and able to do some self-evolution. Lisa, as I wrote this I though of your reference to our former President. Value-based? Yes, but rather ego-centric. Willing to share leadership? With Cheney, but not the US Congress, or god-forbid, France. Willing to engage in relational dialogue—capable of empathy, listening, emotional competence, and tolerance for ambiguity? I think not. Self-evolved in eight years as President? Still not able to admit he could have been wrong to the day he left office. Me, bitter? Yes, still but optimistic for a new President who I hope is will not only “play well in the sand box”, but also approach relationships with other countries with empathy, engaged listening skills, emotional competence, and ability to make ethical decisions within the ambiguity of today’s real world. Easy? No, I think I might find it easier to empathize with a Somali pirate than the Afghani Taliban. Any body have any ideas, for those conundrums?

My understanding of Friedman's readings is that his reference of the world being flat is like the current speed with which globalization is spreading like widefire throughout the world. One can argue that both the incident of 9/11 and the most recent ill-fated Somali pirates that siezed a U.S. ship off the coast of Somalia in Indian ocean last week are some of the adverse effects of globalization.

In order to get a firm grip on globalization, I think one needs to ask the question: What really is globalization? Is it the integration of economic, political and cultural systems across the globe, or the Americanization of U.S. dominance of world's affairs? Or still, is globalization a force for economic growth,prosperity, and democratic freedom, or a force for environmental devastation, exploitation of the developing world, and suppression of human rights? Some of these issues need to be addressed before one delves into advancements and breakthroughs of globalization. Friedman actually discussed some of the effects of flat world (globalization) in his readings. He allowed us a glimpse at a possible effects of "Too Many Toyotas" "At worst, we are going to set off a global struggle for natural resources and junk up, heat up, garbage up, smoke up, an devour up our little planet faster than at any time in the history of the world" (p. 570).

Globalization has its advantages too -- Increased flow of communication allows vital information to be shared between individuals and corporations around the world. It also helps in the spread of democratic ideas to developing nations. Global mass media ties the world together ; also corporations have greater flexibility to operate across borders.

Some of the shortcomings of globalization include; Increased flow of skilled and non-skilled jobs from developed to developing nations as corporations seek out the cheapest labor. Also increased likelihood of economic disruptions in one nation effecting all nations. A classical example of this is the present economic meltdown in the U.S. that is drastically affecting every other country in the world. There can also be decreases in environmental integrity as polluting corporations take advantage of weak or non- regulatory rules in developing countries. (Source:

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs