Round, Square, or Flat. What shape is YOUR world?

Round, Square or Flat. What Shape is Your World?


More Importantly, What are YOU doing about it?

Copyright © by Steve Schneider

I've been working for the same company for almost 28 years. I've seen a lot of programs come and go, just like product lines. Some of these programs have been flash in the pans, others have been long term and good for the Company.

Take Lean Manufacturing. For over 25 years, some of us have wondered, "why the heck do we have these huge plants that only run 1.2 shifts?" First we started down the "World Class" road. Then "Thriving in Chaos" was going to save the day. Lean Manufacturing finally started to actually fix the root cause issues. It was (and still is) a very painful process, but streamlining processes and reducing excess capacity that COSTS more money than it produced is a good business idea. So are one piece flow and the other ideas Lean gives us.

In the past couple of years, Outsourcing has become the "hot, new program". It becomes a bigger and hotter topic every day. Nobody really likes it, especially those whose roles or jobs get outsourced.

Does outsourcing make business sense? You bet it does, but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with when it happens. Here's some news for you. Like it or not, we will see MORE outsourcing, not less in the years to come. Outsourcing is NOT a flash in the pan program. It just makes good business sense to get the same (or in some cases, better) service for less money. That's what capitalism is all about. It's what generates profits and puts paychecks in our pockets.

What kind of work can be outsourced? In the "flat" world, darn near anything that can be digitized can be outsourced…But, what exactly is a "flat" world anyway??

If you haven't already, you really should read a book called "The World is Flat" by Thomas L. Friedman. He describes it much better than I will be able to.

Basically, the advent of the Internet, the overabundance of fiber optic infrastructure, and increased hardware technology have all enabled a knowledge worker on the other side of the globe to do the same work you and I do wherever we may be. The big difference is, that other knowledge worker is in a developing country, where the standard of living (and therefore the wages paid) is much lower that what we enjoy. So, the work goes where the money is lowest, especially when the quality and service is the same or better.

Just like water flowing downhill, the work goes to the lowest bidder. It doesn't matter where that bidder is anymore!

This is becoming especially true here in the United States, but it applies to all of the "developed" world. When you consider the educational systems in some of the developing countries the picture becomes clearer. These systems certainly put many of the American educational systems to shame. How about the educational systems in your country??

Put it all together and you get a "flat" world...One where the barriers of time and distance don't really exist.

The "round" world, where that knowledge worker had to cross the oceans and go to where the work was, is almost gone forever. The "square" world, is that old, old world where you could specialize in just one thing and do it all your life.

Technology will only make the world flatter, not rounder. The square world has, for the most part, already been squashed flat.

Think about it. How many times have you created a login for someone from SAP to get into your system? Why couldn't that login be available to someone in, say, India, Vietnam, or China?

The more digital the information, the higher the potential that the work required to produce it can be done somewhere else, for less money. Take a minute and give it some thought. What kind of information do you work with that CANNOT be digitized?

Product information? Typically we get that from Marketing in some kind of electronic document already. How about Engineering? Same thing. In many cases, it comes right out of some Cad\Cam system. So, why can't that be sent halfway across the world instead of to you??

Is it because the work you do requires face to face interaction?? Guess what, the existing video conferencing technology already allows people around the globe to hold the same meetings we hold face to face. That technology gets better every day. Yes, it may be hard to get around the time zone differences, but here's a surprise. Some people don't care about the difficulties. They are willing to sacrifice their time to get the business...

Here's a shocker for you. I have recently been in negotiations around this topic. The rates quoted for VC work surprised me. They weren't as low as I thought they might be, but were still pretty darn low...How low? Try between $25.00 and $45.00 per hour..When was the last time you saw that as a consultant rate??

Yes, there is a question of knowledge, quality, and processes. The folks I've talked to have at least as much (and in some cases more) knowledge of VC topics than I do. I admit, that isn't saying all THAT much..Of course, it's possible that I simply ran into their Marketing arm...Quality and processes? Anyone can get better and processes continually change as you implement Lean in the Office.

And here's a warning...These folks are aggressive. They want the work. They are willing to admit they need to change. More important, they DO change.

So, what can you do about it? Sit back and complain? Argue that the process changes won't work? Put up barriers that make it "harder" to outsource the function? None of those things will change the final outcome. The work is going to go where the costs are less.

You do have the power to be successful in this type of environment.

The single most important thing you can do is to acknowledge the reality of a flat world.

Once you do that, the rest of the equation becomes much clearer. Knowledge is the key. Adaptability is required. You see, the survivors in this flat environment will be the people that choose to;

  • Learn the most about,
  • More different things than someone else so,
  • They can adapt to changing circumstances faster than anyone else.

Surviving may mean working for your current company, or it may mean working for another company. It may even mean doing something different than you've ever done. Either way, what you do will be different than it is today. You will have to be more adaptable and be willing to do things you've never done before. You can only do this if you continually increase your knowledge.

Increasing your knowledge is important, but you can't simply say "I'll learn more about what I already do". That may work for a while, but in the long run, being able to shift from one thing to another, or morph your function into something else, will be what allows survival. The reality is, knowledge is strength, and the strong survive. Whose responsibility is it to make you strong??


You have the power. Your company can help you achieve your goals, but YOU must make the effort. Position yourself in project work outside of your "comfort zone". It's hard, but those experiences are sometimes the best and fastest ways to learn. Take classes at a local University or College. Do something!!

You can also walk down a different path. Take a hobby and turn it into a profession. Look at the folks that have been successful doing this in the past few years. How do you think places like Google started? With a hobby and an idea. There is no reason why you or I can't do it as well.

This isn't a pleasant message, but, in my personal opinion, it's a message that needs to be shouted from the rooftops. There isn't a company out there that "owes" any of us jobs. Successful companies in this environment will have jobs for those people that choose to continually learn and apply themselves in new and different ways. Make sure you're one of those people..

As much as I hate the TV show Survivor, it does have an applicable saying. "Outwit, Outplay, Outlast"..

That's about what it's going to take to survive in this new flat world.

So, ask yourself one question..

What shape is YOUR world?

Comments to: Steve Schneider, VC Editor