Flat, Spiky or Somewhere in between: The World is Still Round to Me

Thomas Friedman (2007) makes a compelling case for the flattening of the world in his book; however, given the current levels of connectivity in the world, I claim that it is still round and becoming rounder by the day. When one reflects on their contacts and relationships, these are often visually displayed as interlocking circles and spheres. It is where and how these circles overlap and collide is where the While Friedman provides a solid argument for why this should redefine the world as flat, what has happened in an elimination of geographic, socioeconomic and racial barriers. Today these circles bring Muslims and Christians, Americans and Europeans, and rich and poor together through the use of digital tools. Tools which are now available to nearly everyone in the world. If not right now, then in the very near future.

Richard Florida (2005) argued that the world is not flat but describes it as spiky. These spikes are created through the lens of economic prosperity and population density. Globalization requires that countries and regions are connected with one another to thrive and remain competitive. Florida’s spiky interpretation goes a bit down a rabbit hole as the spikes of the world decrease based on the lens through which he observes. His final map with the least spikes that define scientific discoveries provides a very limited view and disregards the reliance of turning scientific discovery into mass market products and services. For this to happen, the discoveries must rely on the globalization to become adopted by mainstream consumers.


So, the world is round because of the vast connections that have been created through the ten forces that made the world flat for Friedman, such as infrastructure, globalization, and people to provide and share the content. A great example of this info sharing comes from the many TEDx events held throughout the world and the vast library of these talks shared online. At the opening of TED2016, Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots (CEO) of X, Alphabet’s moonshot factory for building ideas, described how his company is working to provide WiFi in the most remote places of the world—using balloons. X allows for super geniuses to dream of the endless possibilities of science and technology. X also allows for the celebration of mistakes because without the mistakes, the dreams will not continue to thrive.

It is true, we are on the verge of creating the machine super intelligence as described by Nick Bostrom (2015). IBM’s Watson is currently working alongside physicians to diagnose and provide treatment options for cancer patients (2013). We still need the most important force that makes our world round, and that is people. People need to create the infrastructure, create the content, share the content, connect with others, dream and fail. That is why the world is round to me.

12 thoughts on “Flat, Spiky or Somewhere in between: The World is Still Round to Me

  1. I found your thoughts regarding the world being round an insightful take on the Friedman and Florida discussion. It is nearly unbelievable how technology has connected people throughout the world. I would be interested in hearing further thoughts on whether the availability of technologies is truly benefiting all people. I would contend that the though the technologies are available to a greater number of people, the availability alone is not differentiating. As Florida describes, it is the unfortunate truth that urban areas tend to attract more resources. The example Florida makes in his article, The Worlds is Spiky, offered the example of creative people flocking to an area like Silicon Valley. If we want to avoid a Spiky world, what can we do as leaders to discourage this phenomenon?


      • I would argue that this is not about discouragement, but more about creativity. Creativity in allowing for flexible work schedules and team composition. Higher levels of connectivity and potentially virtual teams would require greater levels of trust between leaders and followers.


    • Thank you for your thoughts on what leaders should do to avoid a spiky world. In today’s world, avoidance of the spikes might best be attributed to a leader’s followers. Many Millennial workers are seeking career opportunities that provide benefits such as telecommuting and flexible schedules. An effective leader would allow for these nontraditional work environments where essentially one could have teams around the country, or the world. I live in Columbus, Ohio and it has been credited for being a top city for young people. While it is more urban that more rural and remote areas, it still has a much less density population that the tops DMAs in the country.
      I appreciate the dialogue!


  2. Dr Watwood and Krista,

    I think the word discourage was a poor word for me to use. I should have questioned how leaders can encourage the world to be less spiky. Krista, I appreciate your comments and suggestions encouraging opportunities for employees to work remotely. I often hear from current and new employees that a flexible work environments is one of the most important needs in a job. A recent article in the Miami Herald (http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/biz-columns-blogs/cindy-krischer-goodman/article123839719.html) stated 2017 as the year of workplace flexibility. The article included the topic of emerging “work-from-anywhere jobs.” Technology advancements have certainly allowed for a greater number jobs to allow for employees to work from all over the globe.


    • Thank you for sharing the Miami Herald article. It was very informative and did a great job of demonstrating the need for leaders to provide these benefits to the Millennial workforce and others who might have personal schedules which he/she wishes to maintain. As I thought about this topic more, there could be situations where too much flexibility can have a negative impact. This is also where I think the strength of a leader can shine. As leaders, we must provide our virtual/remote teams with the tools and technology necessary for making these situations work.


  3. Krista,

    You made an interesting point about digital tools bringing different circles of people together is ways that use to be impossible. I have noticed however, that in recent years social media has actually had the opposite effect in some ways. NPR recently reported (http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/07/24/486941582/the-reason-your-feed-became-an-echo-chamber-and-what-to-do-about-it) on a possible cause for this echo chamber effect. In summary, many social media platforms use algorithms that promote content that reinforces the beliefs of the users in order to drive up engagement. Do you think this effect is captured in Florida’s article or were both Florida and Friedman works too early to notice this effect occurring?


    • There are a few interesting points to make about how social media platforms might steer one in specific directions. The first is that as social media tools go public, the companies need to start proving an ROI to investors. At this point advertisers enter the seemingly unbiased space. With that said, I still believe that humans can connect with other humans without this advertising bias.


  4. I appreciate the primacy you’ve awarded “people” among the forces contributing to the advancement of the round world, and particularly your keying-in on our ability to dream, create, fail, and learn and improve along the way. Too often, the conversations focus on the technology seemingly in spite of our humanity. And, I have worked in organizations where we were quick to adopt the latest and greatest technological fad as the end in itself, irrespective of its ability (or lack thereof) to enhance our pursuit of mission. Indeed, there seems a necessity for great HUMAN leadership in the round world you’ve described. I am excited to explore this topic alongside you over the coming weeks!


    • I have often been asked on “which digital tool will be the next big thing.” That is a hard prediction to make, but what I can say is that new tools will only work if there are people to drive engagement via the tools.


  5. Krista, you hit on a couple of the items I thought about as I was comparing the readings this week. Importantly, the idea that people, imperfect as we may be, represent the real generative force in the world. Though, as we discussed on my post, I believe that the tools we use shape our thinking and view of the world, I also believe that humanity’s imperfection in using that technology leads to new innovations and unplanned breakthroughs. In some ways, I think that humanity adds a little bit of grit and grunge to what might otherwise become a very slippery slope toward a cold, sterile, sci-fi-type environment. This grit comes in the form of empathy. Empathy allows us to make choices as leaders and technology users that may not yield maximum efficiency or productivity, but rather make a HUGE impact on individuals around us. A fear for me in the ever-connected digital age is that empathy may decrease with distance and isolation. Profits and output will eclipse feelings and kindness. I think it’s a calling for us to heed as we develop innovations, teams, and relationships.

    Note to self: honor the human experience. Learn to fail. Learn to dream.

    Thanks for your thoughts!


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