Thursday, October 25, 2012

The world is not flat

Pankaj Ghemawat explores how distance still matters in a global management context.  He challenges Thomas Friedman's famous claim that the world is flat.*  In his recent Ted Talk, Ghemawat offers some surprising data and perspectives on global connectivity (and the lack thereof).

I have always questioned Friedman's thesis too, and in 2007 gave a paper at the Globally Distributed Work conference in Bangalore, India, entitled, "Redefining Distance: Why the World is Not Flat, and Distance can Never be 'Dead'"

A review of the literature shows there are many different ways to define distance, i.e., geo-physical, temporal (time as proxy for distance), 'gravity' (i.e., trade diminishes as we get farther away), the centre-periphery problem, distance in networks, etc.

My position in the paper is that, in an inter-connected world, it makes sense to define distance as 'connective gaps.' So, the connective distance between Point A and Point B may be the physical gap of physical distance, i.e., the number of kilometers between London and New York, or the time (gap) it takes to fly from London to New York, whereas the connective distance is only a few seconds via the Internet.

*To be fair, Friedman does acknowledge in his book that the world is not really flat.

No comments: