Sunday, March 12, 2006

End of the Line: The Rise and Coming Fall of the Global Corporation

Continuing the theme of globalization started in the previous blog-entry on Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat and how the internet & wireless technologies + mass accessibility gives us the 5th dimension that transcends time & space to give us the "virtual inverse of teleportation" ...

Barry Lynn's End of the Line : The Rise and Coming Fall of the Global Corporation picks up where Friedman left off and goes into more depth. He takes a somewhat alarmist view. He argues that with all this extra social and technical connectivity comes greater and more thoroughly enmeshed dependencies of businesses and economies upon increasingly more fragile and rigid "weak links" and little or no sufficient security (both in terms of computer security, and financial and economic security).

One example, an 1999 earthquake in Taiwan that registered 7.6 on the Richter scale and had a death toll of 2,400 was barely known to most Americans. But it "took out" two of Xilinx's semiconductor factories, and within days thousands of assembly-line workers located from California to Texas, were temporarily laid off. Wall street responded and shares of computer-makers like Dell, HP and Apple took a downward spike, and by Christmas "American shoppers were scurrying to avoid the shortages of laptop computers, Barbie cash registers and Furby dolls." (quoted from a reviewer at

Lynn writes: "We must never forget that the germ of our global economy was the desire of the postwar governments to foster peace by forging cooperation."

He talks about transnational partnerships as a way of bolstering national security, and talks about supply chains, single-source risk, and logistics. In many ways it is about risk management (and its associated dependencies) and what that means in the flattened world of such delicate social and technical dependency networks, and how forging partnerships and collaboration helps safeguard against security threats.

The collaboration and trustworthiness themes should ring a familiar tune with many agilists, as should risk management. The dependency network being dealt with here is not the architectural dependencies of a software system design, but the sociotechnical network dependencies and economic risks. And diversity, single-sourced (localized/encapsulated) risks, redundant failover, and other strategies can be used.

I think he's basically saying that the flattened connected world economy is a complex adaptive system that exhibits emergent behavior to create unexpected order out of unanticipated chaos (and vice-versa). It's not as optimistic as Friedman's work and paints a lot of scary scenarios.

I have an even scarier one that's been occurring to me while reading all of these works: Bird Flu Pandemic. It doesn't even have to happen. It just has to be feared enough of being imminent enough soon enough that enough people start eschewing real human contact and interaction within any close physical proximity.

What will we do to stay connected? We'll resort to technology in place of the "human touch" and face-to-face communication. We'll be reclusive, stay within our homes. Wear gloves and masks when we have to go outside, do more online shopping (especially delivery) with extra safety and sanitation precautions on the part of ourselves and delivery persons, well ... you get the picture.

Talk about being able to spread damage instantly across a wide "social" network in a busy, bustling flattened world ... even when/if we do have a vaccine, we cant produce and distribute it fast enough at high-enough volume. Now if it were software or some form of nano-bio-technology, we could distribute it digitally and wirelessly some how. But that's a bit of a pipe-dream.

Or is it? How do you fight a virus that deadly that quickly? Seems to me something that spreads so fast like that ... one would have to "fight fire with fire." I'm no medical professional, so I have no idea if it's possible, but what if we could somehow make a "good virus" that was highly "contagious" and could be transmitted upon contact or close proximity. Maybe it could mutate bird-flu into something harmless, or less harmful (without mutating again). But it seems to me the only hope of being able to produce and distribute something of the scale necessary to combat bird-flu would be something that can be (re)generated and (re)transmitted much the same way as the thing it's trying to combat.

What might be an "agile" approach for something like that, that could rely upon collaboration and cooperative development?

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