Friday, May 30, 2008

Competition in the Global Marketplace

Corporate America gets it, while we the people and our politicians lag behind!
by Charlie Leck

The world really is flat! It is something we little folks are having a hard time accepting. It’s time to recognize reality. America will never be what we knew it to be when we were young.

Remember? Remember the feeling of greatness we had as Americans? My grandchildren will never know that same tremendous feeling. America simply stood at the top of the mountain and there were no competitors for our position at the spot. We were the “king of the hill” and no one could knock us down. No nation could mass produce quality goods the way we could. The entire world was our marketplace. The largest, most powerful corporations in the world were American and they depended on the skill and initiative of the American worker.

Our dollar ruled the world’s monetary system. We set the standard for the evaluation of currency around the globe. As our economy went, so went the strength of the world’s monetary system.

Then, a couple of years ago, Tom Friedman made the remarkable observation that the world had gone flat. Incredible fast transportation and instantaneous communications, including the Internet, had shrunk the world and brought us all on to a level economic playing field. You can listen to an MIT lecture by Friedman here. A description of the lecture, taken from MIT World, is reproduced at the conclusion of this blog.

Our nation no longer dominated in the field of industry and finance. Massive work forces in places like China and India had surpassed us in terms of initiative and energy. Nations in Europe, unified, were proving to be every bit as industrious and inventive as America.

The giant corporations were no dummies. They recognized the trend years and years ago – long before Friedman’s book – and they adjusted their approach accordingly. The large, successful corporations in the world are no longer American companies. They may keep their headquarters here, but they are global organizations and they are as at home doing business in Uzbekistan as they are in America.

The academic world and the corporate world have accepted the fact that the world has gone flat.

The only elements of our society that haven’t accepted the facts are you and I – the common, once-proud Americans. We, and the politicians in Washington, continue to think America dominates and still runs the show.

It’s time to get our heads up out of the sand! The rules of the game must now be rewritten and we must learn to be more cooperative internationally and more open to negotiation rather that dictum. If we are going to keep pace with the rest of the world, we’ve got to get a move on!

This includes every phase of life you can think of, including health care delivery and education. We’re being manhandled in those two areas and there are many others, like transportation, where we’re falling behind also. If you haven’t read THE WORLD IS FLAT, it’s not too late. You’ll see how correctly Friedman nailed this global situation.

If you were a betting man, would you put down money that the next great fuel system for automobiles, which won’t depend on non-renewable energy sources, will come from America? I’d take the rest of the field, as they say.

Welcome to a new world! I’m not pessimistic about it. Quite the contrary! I think it’s going to be exciting and my grandkids, if they think more globally and internationally, will enjoy the ride.

This is how MIT World,a mighty fine web site to look in on regularly, described the Tom Friedman lecture.
In his latest book, The World is Flat, Friedman describes the unplanned cascade of technological and social shifts that effectively leveled the economic world, and accidentally made Beijing, Bangalore and Bethesda next-door neighbors.” Today, “individuals and small groups of every color of the rainbow will be able to plug and play.” Friedman’s list of “flatteners” includes the fall of the Berlin Wall; the rise of Netscape and the dotcom boom that led to a trillion dollar investment in fiber optic cable; the emergence of common software platforms and open source code enabling global collaboration; and the rise of outsourcing, offshoring, supply chaining and unsourcing. Friedman says these flatteners converged around the year 2000, and “created a flat world: a global, web-enabled platform for multiple forms of sharing knowledge and work, irrespective of time, distance, geography and increasingly, language.” At the very moment this platform emerged, three huge economies materialized -- those of India, China and the former Soviet Union --“and three billion people who were out of the game, walked onto the playing field.” A final convergence may determine the fate of the U.S. in this final chapter of globalization. A “political perfect storm,” as Friedman describes it -- the dotcom bust, the attacks of 9/11, and the Enron scandal -- “distract us completely as a country.” Just when we need to face the fact of globalization and the need to compete in a new world, “we’re looking totally elsewhere.” [MIT World Lectures]


  1. A friend and leader here in our little community sent me this comment about this blog. I thought it should be posted. Chas

    Charlie - I briefly perused your blog on the "flat world". It is
    interesting that when I worked at Cargill in the early 70's that our
    country was the main influencing factor in getting other countries on the same footing as ourselves. We are the ones who promoted all of
    it. There are many people who worked for companies that brought all these things into being. The "global economies and global market" were something to work toward. The goal was for countries to become independent of the United States and become part of the free trade between countries with products they could manufacture. Perhaps we as
    a country have lost our imaginations to be a step ahead in technology and products? Or are we just getting "soft". Where are our priorities? When I was a kid I was instilled with the idea that hard work would get you a reward. You didn't get something for nothing, nor were you entitled to it. Also, I was taught you didn't whine about it, you did something about it. And some times you "tough it out" until a change is ripe. A friend of mine in the country of Georgia recently sent me an e-mail complaining about the lack of press in the United States regarding Russian violations of the air space over their country. They recently had a drone shot down by a Russian fighter over their territory. It was Georgia's drone watching the Russian build up of troops within Georgia's boundaries. He was frustrated that we lack this vital information. He wondered where
    U.S. press is. I asked him if they could perhaps volunteer a reporter from their own country to contact the Star & Tribune to run periodic personal interest stories from Tiblisi or one of their new
    universities. He hadn't thought of that and was going to contact the Dean of the University to see if that was possible. Sometimes waiting around for someone else to do it just doesn't cut it. We need people to take things upon themselves and just get it done. Lynn

  2. Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel winner for economics and was Chief Economist at World Bank), said while on a trip to India, that 600 million people from India (out of the one billion!) have been left out of the “development” fold of globalization. So, obviously, all India is not going to migrate into middle class, if anything the inequality is far, far worse now, after the advent of globalization. Similarly newspaper reports have pointed out how Chinese workers are working in apalling conditions, to chhurn out the low cost products, with poor pay, cramped rooms, no accident or health insurance benefits, no job security, no overtime, long working hours - so who is actually benefiting from this sort of globalization? Corporates ofcourse, and the few privileged people of India and China who have been able to get educated in engineering and technology! Not the vast majority of population.

    The small, but interesting book, by Aronica and Ramdoo, "The World is Flat? A Critical Analysis of Thomas Friedman's New York Times Bestseller," offers a couterperspective to Friedman's theory. It is a small book compared to the 600 page tome by Friedman, and aimed at the common man and students alike.

    As popular as the book may be, some reviewers assert that by what it leaves out, Friedman's book is dangerous. The authors point to the fact that there isn't a single table or data footnote in Friedman's entire book.

    "Globalization is the greatest reorganization of the world since the Industrial Revolution," says Aronica.

    You may want to see
    and watch
    for an interesting counterperspective on Friedman's
    "The World is Flat".

    Also a really interesting 6 min wake-up call: Shift Happens!

    There is also a companion book listed: Extreme Competition: Innovation and the Great 21st Century Business Reformation