I finally finished reading The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. I also recently read Life 2.0 by Rich Karlgaard. Both books explore the ramifications of the fact that in today’s world work can be done from anywhere. In The World is Flat Friedman makes a compelling argument for how this is impacting the world we live in and the role of the United States in the World. After reading The World is Flat I was left with a guarded optimism for the future of our world. His discussions of the global supply chain, of outsourcing, of the causes of terrorism, of the impact of open sourcing, of how all this can lead to avoidance of conflict and of what Friedman sees as the possibilities for the future are enormously interesting and intellectually stimulating. I know that some people are threatened by outsourcing and the ideas of open trade and partnering but I would much prefer to look at them as opportunities. At the end of the book Friedman says :
"On such a flat earth, the most important attribute you can have is creative imagination — the ability to be the first on your block to figure out how all these enabling tools can be put together in new and exciting ways to create products, communities, opportunities and profits. That has always been America’s strength, because America was, and for now still is the world’s greatest dream machine."
I agree and truly believe that the opportunities are what make this such an exciting time.
Karlgaard’s book, which is subtitled "How People Across America Are Transforming Their Lives by Finding the Where of Their Happiness" has a much more personal interest to me. One of the reasons I enjoyed the book is that Karlgaard talks several times about his home town, Bismarck, North Dakota. Bismarck is where I grew up. The town he describes is very familiar. He went to the same elementary school that I did and was in my sister’s class.
Karlgaard says that:
"America is rapidly becoming a broadband nation, closing the technology gap between large and small places."
He talks about what Bismarck was like when he lived there.
"If you were a teenager in North Dakota, you felt that you were at the ends of the earth. Sixties hairstyles hit my high school yearbook in 1973. One day in 1966 a snowstorm knocked out one of our two television stations. The survivor was reduced to playing four episodes of Batman over and over."
How isolated Bismarck was from the outside world is one of my strongest memories of Bismarck. We moved abroad in 1963. I remember visiting my grandparents there in the early 70s when we were living in London. The difference between London and Bismarck was like night and day. I haven’t been back to Bismarck since my grandparents died in 1986 but Karlgaard says when he visits Bismarck today "it is astonishing to see how the sophistication gap has narrowed."
Another thing he says about Bismarck that brought back memories is that when we were growing up there most back yards were unfenced. We often took short cuts through people’s back yards. Our parents thought nothing of letting us roam the neighborhood as long as we were home by dark.
Karlgaard’s point is that in our "broadband nation" it is easy is is to work from anywhere. I have seen this demonstrated over and over again in the last 10 years. Sun demonstrated it through their iWork program. The team I built at Intuit was made up of people who lived all over the U.S. The team would never have been as qualified and as dynamic if I had had to recruit from only the San Francisco Bay area. There is no doubt in my mind that working from anywhere works and in fact works very well.
Of course the geographic difference in housing prices is one of the biggest reasons it is attractive to live away from what Karlgaard calls urban coastal areas. He says:
"the price gap between urban coastal areas and the heartland has always existed, But today the gap is the largest since the Great Depression…. The gap isn’t normally this large. When I left … Bismarck.. during the mid-1970s to attend college at Stanford University, Palo Alto, the price gap between Palo Alto and Bismarck was about two to one. (Remarkably, the first house to sell for $100,000 in Palo Alto didn’t occur until 1972) During the late 1970’s thanks to the electronics boom and California’s population growth, Palo Alto began to pull away. By the end of the 1970’s, the price gap was four to one. ….. Today the gap is eight to one."
The fact that Duke and I can sell our house here in Union City across the San Francisco Bay from Palo Alto and buy a very nice house for half or less of what we will sell ours for is one of the prime reasons that we are planning to move out of this area. High taxes and the overcrowding in the bay area is another reason.
Karlgaard also talks about what the high cost of living in the San Francisco Bay area means to Sun Microsystems my former employer.
"A sizable chunk of Sun’s employees work in Silicon Valley…… Sun thus is forced to pay its employees significantly higher salaries to live within a reasonable driving distance to work, a "tax" that inflates Sun’s operating expenses to levels incompatible with the Cheap Revolution"
This is of course why Sun’s iWork program is so very important to the company. Basically Sun encourages its employees to work from anywhere whenever it is feasible.
Karlgaard compares Sun’s situation to that of Right Now, a company that I have been very impressed with. We used their customer support software at Intuit. Right Now is an awesome product and their headquarters is in Bozeman, Montana. It has to make an enormous difference in their operating costs.
Another point from Life 2.0 that really resonated with me was what Karlgaard says about which cities will be successful in this work from anywhere world.
"American cities best poised to win the battle for talent will have, I think, a mix of centrist politics with a pro-growth attitude."
Towns that are too liberal or too conservative (he gives examples) of each will get left behind.
As I said at the beginning of this posting Life 2.0 is subtitled "How People Across America Are
Transforming Their Lives by Finding the Where of Their Happiness.". Taking advantage of the fact that we can live anywhere and still be closely connected to our work, friends, and family is what Duke and I are looking forward to doing over the next year. I guess you could say we will be finding the "Where of our happiness"
If you haven’t read The World is Flat and Life 2.0 you have missed out. They are the kinds of books I like to read, thought provoking and very readable.