Friedman’s Five Rules for a Flat World

A week and a half ago (March 18) I had the privilege of attending the Intel  Science Talent Search Gala (thanks to my friends from Intel Diana Daggett and Carlos Contreras) at which the 40 top finalists of the awards program were recognized, and the winner of the competition was announced.  These 40 high school seniors had all conducted amazing original research in mathematical theory, gene therapies, advanced applied materials, and computer engineering, just to name a few of the research topics.

In addition to meeting these amazing young people and trying  to wrap my brain around a little bit of what they were researching, Tom Friedman, New York Times columnist and author of the global-economic, technology tome “the World is Flat” provided keynote remarks for the evening.

During his presentation, he shared with us his “Five Rules for Thriving in the Flat World.”

He described the “flat world” as a platform, where barriers and walls are broken down so people can more freely communicate and collaborate across boundaries.  Of course, the world is not totally “flat” in terms of completely open and unfettered access (look at how China treats its own people), but it’s a heck of a lot flatter than it ever had been.

Here are the Rules, and a paraphrase of his remarks.

“Rule #1.  When the world is flat, whatever can be done WILL be done.  The only question is whether it will be done BY you or TO you.

If you can imagine it, don’t think it won’t get done.  When there is this much in the way of distributed tools of connectively, if you have a good idea, you should pursue it.  Whether it’s in Boston, Bangalore, or Beijing, it will get done.

Rule #2:  The most important competition is no longer the competition between one country and another country, or between one company and another company.  The most important economic competition is between you and your own imagination.

As an independent actor, you can act on your imagination faster, farther, deeper, cheaper than ever before.  If you have an idea, you can get a factory in China to mass manufacture it, you can get Amazon to take the orders and do fulfillment, and you can use freelancher.com for the marketing and logo.  All of these services are now commodities.

There is just one thing in the flat world that is not a commodity, and that’s this (snaps his finger) — the ability to imagine, stimulate and innovate new products, new services, new ways to entertain.

It’s all about the spark of the idea.  Everything else out there can be taken to scale.

So the universities, the towns, the states, or the countries that put in the best educational infrastructure to power the individual imagination, those are the towns, the states, the countries that will thrive.

Rule 3:  There are going to be two kind of countries going forward: High imagination-enabling countries and low imagination-enabling countries.

Countries with an education system that stimulate lots of students to do this (snap-imagine) and those that do not.

The future belongs to those countries that have it.  Indeed, if I had my way we would have a new economic indicator.  Instead of gross national product, we would have gross individual product.  which country is empowering more of its individuals to take advantage of this world where individual can imagine and produce.

So can we actually teach this (creativity)?  is there a gym class for creativity?

Rule 4.  It’s called “liberal arts education.”  Liberal arts actually matters more than ever in the flat world.

Math and science are irreplaceable.  This is not an argument against that, it’s an argument for augmentation.  Do not forgot to take those liberal arts classes like art, literature, history, the humanities.  It is actually critical sources of creatively and inspiration.

Where does this come from?  Marc Tucker said that “from the one thing we know about creativity is that it typically occurs when people who have mastered two or more quite differently fields, use the framework for one to think a new and afresh about the other.”  Intuitively, we know this is truth.  DaVinci was an artist, scientist, and inventor.  DaVinci was a great lateral thinker.  if you spend your whole life in one silo, you will never have either the knowledge or the mental agility to do the synthesis, to connect the dots, which is usually where the next great breakthrough is found.

Rule 5:  It really is a lot about teachers.

Friedman said that when he wrote “The World is Flat” he coined a formula that says “CQ + PQ is always greater than IQ.”  The Curiosity Quotient and Passion Quotient will always trump the Intelligence Quotient.

“You give me a young boy or girl, a teenager, with a high passion quotient for a subject and high curiosity quotient, and I’ll take that person over someone with a high IQ seven days a week, 365 days a year.  And the greatest source of CQ and PQ are the teachers and mentors (behind the Intel Finalists). So congratulations to all the finalists, their teachers and their parents.”

Final Thoughts from Hans

Interesting idea — that passion and curiosity trump innate intelligence.  So the question is, what do we know that really stokes passion and curiosity in our young people.  We need to create educational environments that empower students to pursue passion, discover new insights, and take action on their learning.  Force feeding them with facts and theories and procedures (whatever the specific topic) is exactly the opposite from what is needed to develop curiosity and passion.  Yet, if we can successfully create that thirst for learning and a deep connection to something that matters creates passion, they will become self-motivated and self-directed learners.  Those are the learning environments (not necessarily just “schools’) that young people want to be in, and those are the places where teachers enjoy professional fulfillment too.

This type of learning seems to be the rare exception.  Let’s keep working to make this type of learning the norm.

To the future, Hans

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One Comment on “Friedman’s Five Rules for a Flat World”


  1. “Friedmans Five Rules for a Flat World MeederMindWorks” was in fact a
    pretty great blog post, . Continue authoring and I will keep reading through!

    Thanks a lot ,Minerva


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