In “The Art of War,” the great Chinese General, strategist and tactician, Sun Tzu, stresses the importance of understanding and identifying your terrain. As Griffith (1971) explains, Sun Tzu knew that in order to plan your path forward and achieve success you must first know where you are going and assess your terrain “in terms of distance, difficulty or ease of travel.”
2000 years later, Sun Tzu wouldn’t recognize the terrain of China, much less the global environment we exist in today. China now is home to the world’s largest number of mobile phone and Internet users, technologies that have played a significant role in the rapid financial growth of his country. As Forbes (2013) proclaimed just last week, China has, once again, increased its standing “as a country with one of the world’s fastest-growing number of billionaires in the past decade.”
The dual impact of globalization and technology have most certainly changed China and our world radically, yet, despite such advances, we still find ourselves struggling to describe our new terrain.
New York Times columnist and author, Tom Friedman (2007), characterizes our world terrain, following the rapid growth, development and availability of technology, as flat. As Friedman (2007) explains, “the flat world platform is the product of a convergence of a personal computer with fiber-optic cable with the rise of work flow software.” In short, we are all connected – and technology now allows us to communicate, collaborate and compete from anywhere in our digital universe.
While Friedman (2007) envisions a level global playing field in which developing countries can now capitalize on technological capabilities to enhance their economic development, Professor Richard Florida (2005) sees “growing inequality across the world and in countries.”
The George Mason University researcher points to the massive growth of urban centers and suggests that the flat world theory masks heightened tensions and growing division among “the world’s growing peaks, sinking valleys, and shifting hills.” Florida (2005) argues that urbanization – and the rapid growth of technology in urban centers – has created regions of “have” and “have-not’s” and, as such, a world terrain that is “spiky” – not flat.
In Washington D.C. this weekend, protestors are gathering to criticize the use of technology by the NSA on American citizens while Federal HHS employees and contractors work overtime to fix the growing technical problems in the failed launch of the Health Insurance Marketplace for the Affordable Care Act. President Obama might thus describe our terrain as “bumpy.”
Perhaps labeling our terrain is meaningless. Regardless of whether we disagree on whether it is flat, spiky – or even bumpy, we seem to agree that our world is in a constant state of transformation and that technology and globalization are leading such change.
Instead, our focus should be on enhancing the growth and development of technology, sharing this valuable resource with the rest of the world and maximizing the resulting global economic benefits.
Griffith, S. (1971). Sun Tzu – The Art Of War. Oxford University Press, Digital.
Friedman, T. L. (2007). The world is flat: A brief history of the twenty-first century. Release 3.0. Picador, ISBN: 978-0312425074.
Florida, R. (October, 2005). The world is spiky. The Atlantic Monthly, 48-51.