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Tom Friedman’s Talk at NYU Stern School of Business

Posted by kaushalkurapati on April 7, 2006

Tom Friedman of the New York Times gave the 2006 Lubin lecture at NYU Stern School of Business on April 6th, 2006. As a Stern alum there was free admission to the event! The Schimmel auditorium was full by the time the talk started.

Friedman started off summarizing his first book, The World is Flat, and explaining the various stages of globalization: 1.0 happened between 1492 and 1800 according to him. During this time countries globalized–euphemism for colonisation basically. Spain, Portugal, Britain and other European powers colonised the world. Version 2.0 of globalization spanned from 1800s to 2000 accoring to Friedman. This was the era of companies globalizing – think GE, IBM, Philips, etc. Companies tapping worldwide markets for their goods and establishing far flung multi-national empires. Finally, Friedman thinks this is a new era of globalization that has 'flattened' the world and has shrunk it to tiny.

Friedman pointed to 10 dates that flattened the world. Some of them are: the launch of Netscape browser, the development of standards of information exchange like http and tcp/ip, and fiber optics investment boom around the world that allowed people in Bangalore to upload project work from India to anywhere in the world at cheap rates. Of course other geo-political things occurred that changed the world view as well: fall of the Berlin wall led to the formulation of a 'global' strategey by firms, India liberalized in 1991 allowing for FDI to flow into the telecom sector that allowed Indian firms to uplink to the global network at dirt cheap rates, etc.

In general his talk was a 101 crash course on India and Bangalore for the uninitiated. He talked about the plush Infosys campus, the foreign interns working there now, and how India is changing today. An interesting anecdote was this: he talked to Satyam CEO last week, who tells him how they (Satyam) are outsourcing work to Indian villages to take advantage of the graduates there. The benefits of the new economy are trickling down deep into the Indian ecosystem and thats bound to change the economic purchasing power drastically within a decade.

Friedman ended the talk with a pitch on his upcoming book: The World is Flat v2.0. He talked about the types of jobs that can and cannot be outsourced. "Synthesizers", according to Friedman will be in demand to make sense of a complex world and to connect the dots. In my opinion too "synthesizers" are key in many ways – in multi-disciplinary sciences to cross pollinate ideas and push scientific boundaries, to take raw materials/technologies and build something useful out of it by synthesizing, and in organizations, understanding multiple view points and distill the information for clarity in strategy, vision and execution. What was interesting–and the connection that I hadn't made–was that Friedman likened the web 2.0 'mashups' coming out of silicon valley are sort of like synthesizers; they are aggregators (rss, images, video, podcasts, you name it). In an information overloaded world, such synthesizers or mashups always make sense and attract users/consumers.

It was fun to listen to Friedman in person after reading his columns regularly in the NYT. He was pretty funny in fact and of course very articulate. He is someone who can see patterns and can explain lucidly for others to make sense of a complex world. Even though a bit late, I am glad he has taken the case of globalization and is making sense of this critical inflection point.


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