The liquid shape of the world

Week one

There is value in every view of the world, whether seen as flat, spiky, or another shape altogether. Depending on where one stands, the shape may even shift from one moment to the next.

Friedman’s (2007) and Florida’s (2005) flat and spiky worlds, respectively, are not necessarily opposed to each other. If one steps far enough back, a spiky surface may appear flat, which is what Friedman did. In discussion of several “flatteners” and the effects of these, a point offered in the third chapter seems paramount to Friedman’s (2007) message. The convergence of several flattening factors has allowed for access to opportunity that is closer to equal. The world is flat because “talent has become more important than geography.” This does not claim that talent does not still choose to cluster or that certain outputs may be more readily found grouped. It does not say geography is irrelevant, but it is no longer crucial to success. If one has reasonable access to a computer and the Internet, endless possibilities are present (Reynolds, 2016).

Stepping closer to the world, and looking at specific factors, one may observe the spikes of which Florida (2005) spoke. I am confident that people have long migrated over centuries for a variety of reasons. I am one. I moved to Honolulu for the beach, to Seattle for communications work, and to New York City just because it was New York. I agree that economies of scale are more readily available to some. Economic output specifically is not flat, and perhaps never will be, as people continue to centralize to achieve specific goals. For example, living in Boise now, I see the occasional area startup leave Idaho for Silicon Valley. Those departing companies voice that when sizeable funding is required, they must move closer to the source. I do not know whether this is actually true, but I do not discount it. Fundamentally though, perception will always play a role in human decision making. Also, certain things are easier for established industries. If, for example, a global banking institution leverages economies of scale to innovate and deliver a new mobile banking technology, this large institution is currently better positioned to execute than a singular person developing a related offering in a remote cabin in Alaska. This is factually the case with regard to distribution, while the opportunity itself is still open to both.

Bostrom (2015) advised that to the challenge of creating a super intelligence, one must also add the challenge of safe design of that super intelligence. It must be built to value human values. This discussion of AI supports evolution, where we reach an increasingly liquid state. Friedman (2007) and Florida (2005) both analyzed the world the way it was at the time of writing, while Bostrom considered a reality much farther ahead. Yet all three sources have relevance. Friedman declared the world flat by describing the advances that have made it so. One may reasonably expect future advances will contribute to the flattening effect. Florida’s spiky world with respect to economic and social aspects will likely remain spiky in those areas for some time to come. Populations will continue to migrate whether out of perceived or true need. Bostrom addressed what still lies waiting, offering a critical warning for what could occur within the next 30 to 40 years.

Putting aside multiple perspectives, technology has undeniably flattened the world. While it serves to expand opportunity for all, it also requires an adjustment to workplace expectations. There is great value to be attained in virtual, collaborative environments. None of my communications team, for example, sits in the same state as I do. I feel nonetheless completely connected. I have new tools at my disposal each year, new audiences, and new ways to communicate. However, with greater access, there is a need for greater awareness. It is easier to reach people, and it is easier to make a mistake that has instant, far reaching ramifications. Today’s organizations need have security mindful, well considered, strategic guidelines in place to help team members navigate the ever flattening, connected, “leaderful” world.


Bostrom, N. (2015, March). What happens when our computers get smarter that we are? [Video file]. Retrieved from

Florida, R. (2005, October). The world is spiky. The Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved from

Friedman, T. (2007). The world is flat. Retrieved from

Reynolds, J. (2016, January 24). Once homeless, Boise man creates video game outside library, resets life. Idaho Statesman. Retrieved from

15 thoughts on “The liquid shape of the world

  1. Nice post. In some ways, you continued a theme from your previous post that stated, “Real unicorns may not look like what we imagine, but very little ever does.” One can imagine the world as flat, spiky, or square. Yet, leaders in some ways have to mold the image into one that moves achievements forward. I was struck by your point that you work in an environment in which teammates are spread across multiple states. This allows for potential improved efficiencies, but also potential misdirection if digital communications are misunderstood. It is a new normal…and in some ways, we are still grappling with the ramifications.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dr. Watwood, thank you for your reply. Yes, I agree. With digital advances in communications comes the potential to improve or reduce efficiency, depending on the situation.

      It has been an interesting journey in the communications field since graduating with a BA 16 years ago. In nearly all of that time, it was possible to do the work I do remotely. A computer, Internet connection and phone have been the fundamental tools during my career. However, I am only recently seeing acceptance reach a critical mass in terms of belief the job can be done as well remotely.

      Also, given my specific communications role is tied to a region (some of my company’s communicators are line of business versus geography), perception currently requires that I live within the region in order to best serve it. While this is logical and has value, it ignores the fact that I am physically within one city, while I serve three states and travel very little. The rest of my team is similarly based in a small portion of the overall territory they each cover. So the value of us being “in region” only has true benefit for one media market. Regardless, though my field’s evolution has been slower than I would like and remote communication challenges do exist, I am a nomad by nature, so this shift has been personally welcome.



  2. Excellent post, Unicorn. I agree that the work of both Friedman (2005) and Florida (2005) has merit and is accurate in many ways. Your example of your communications team all being separated physically from you seems to speak directly to the work of Friedman when he referenced those who have talent no longer needing to move to economic centers in order to both have access to information or to contribute to a field in which they have talent. Florida’s (2005) assessment and the world economy, however, seem to tell somewhat of a different story. Your example of the startups in Boise seem to confirm it, somewhat, in that although we can be connected from anywhere in the country and many places in the world that does not mean we can participate in the same ways.

    I wonder out loud if the reasons can be boiled down to cost. Is it comparatively too expensive for the world to function in all areas as it does in urban and economic centers? De Blasio (2008) studied the impact of information technology on urban agglomeration to determine if reducing the cost of performing economic activities may play a role. He actually found that his results did not support the hypothesis that the internet could reduce the role of distance from economic centers. It makes me wonder, though, what has changed in the nine years since his study. In your view, what advances in technology might we pursue as a community and society to help bridge the gap from a flat world of communication to the spiky world of economic growth?

    The Ayes Have It


    Florida, R. (2005, October). The world is spiky. The Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved from

    Friedman, T. (2007). The world is flat. Retrieved from

    De Blasio, G. (2008). Urban-rural differences in Internet usage, e-commerce, and e-banking: Evidence from Italy. Growth & Change, 39(2), 341-367. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2257.2008.00422.x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ayes, thank you! I appreciate your comments. I agree that it is comparatively too expensive currently for the world to function the same in all areas. However, I believe this will continue to change.

      The primary advance I have my eye on, which I think will have the biggest leveling impact yet to come regards education. We are still in the thick middle of a transition from physical to online campuses being the norm. However, considering the rising, already insanely high cost of college education for those just now beginning on that path, I see online as the democratizing and cost saving answer. I am biased because of my personal learning style and our particular program, but I firmly believe access to education is the key to truly leveling the playing field, and I see online offerings as the only way to provide full access.

      I would not change a thing about my educational journey thus far. However, developments such as last year’s Georgia Tech announcement make me ecstatic for what the future of education might look like for those who cannot afford or access it currently (Carey, 2016).

      Carey, K. (2016, September 28). An online education breakthrough? A master’s degree for a mere $7,000. The New York Times. Retrieved from



      1. Excellent post, Julie! I really appreciate and have benefitted from your thoughtful analysis.

        I, too, am interested technology’s impact on learning and education. As you noted in your comment above, the proliferation of online campuses is a timely example of progress, and a great reason to be hopeful in regards to the potential for greater access. Though, this particular hope seemingly rests upon our ability to leverage novel mechanisms to distribute (more-widely) the university’s trusted system and body of knowledge. As Weinberger (2011) noted, the university has traditionally occupied an important place in preserving and expanding this body of knowledge; however, he also noted that this primacy is grounded in a pre-digital age. He asserted, “transform the medium by which we develop, preserve, and communicate knowledge, and we transform knowledge” (Weinberger, 2011, p. ix).

        As noted in one of the other threads (see, ), there is an ever-increasing distribution of knowledge that is of varying degrees vetted, credentialed, trustworthy, and expert. At its very worst, this contributes to–as Dr. Watwood remarked–a “web awash in crap!” I wonder if and how universities in particular will evolve in this digital age to reinforce their value as arbiters of sound and trustworthy knowledge. A world in which fact-less “facts” can be shared and embraced with such ease is troubling, and terrifying.


        Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York: Basic Books.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Julie,

    I greatly enjoyed your post, and its positive tone. You pointed out that you see the occasional startup leave Boise for Silicon Valley. There is a similar issue in Omaha, not only with start-ups leaving, but also in recruiting and retaining creative talent to Omaha. A significant number of college-age Omaha residents relocate, Denver, Chicago, and Kansas City being the local magnets. In his book The Rise of the Creative Class, Florida (2002) proposed that the number of creative jobs is increasing, and cities seeking to attract creative talent need to provide the desired lifestyle. Omaha is taking steps to attract a younger creative group; for example, a local music scene has been cultivated (Masters, 2015), and an artists community is nurtured (Price & Krainak, 2016). Without strategic city planning, Omaha might not be able to foster a creative class. Does the city of Boise plan with creative talent growth in mind?

    I appreciate the discussion!



    Florida, R. L. (2002). The rise of the creative class: And how it’s transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life. New York, NY: Basic Books.

    Masters, C. (2015, June 7). With the spotlight gone, Omaha’s music scene grows. nprmusic. Retrieved from

    Price, A. & Krainak, M. (2016, January 6). Coming attractions, issues for Metro visual art scene in 2016. The Reader. Retrieved from

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mary, thank you much. I appreciate your comments and am seeing comparable activity in Boise to that which you mentioned for Omaha. I completely agree that strategic city planning needs to address retention and attraction.

      Idaho has a low unemployment rate of 3.8, and it is 2.6 for Boise. The city has had a “live, work, play” initiative underway for a few years now, seeking to make Boise the “most livable city.” I have been here full time since 2012 (I did some contract work in Antarctica for seven months at a time in 2010 and 2011), and I have seen this initiative play out in a number of cool ways. There are sincere efforts around sustainability and innovation. We are seeing Boise show up on a lot of “top” lists for affordability and quality of life. While I would love to say the city is doing this because it wanted to, I think it had to, as Idaho also had been hemorrhaging millennials to the closest nearby hubs – Seattle, Portland, and Salt Lake City (Kyle, 2016). I am not technically a millennial, but the irony does not escape me that as an Idaho high school graduate, I left as quickly as I could, and I only came back for family reasons. Yet I have come to find some real joy here.

      All of the above said, an aspect of this that makes me pause is the “us” versus “them” mentality it seems we all adopt in consideration of resources. With people as a resource, I understand why city and state leaders want to keep and attract younger generations. I believe a diverse demographic is critical to a thriving environment. However, as we are all considering technology and globalization at the same time, it is curious to me how concerned people are about the physical absence associated with migration. I believe nearby populations are also contributing to Idaho’s quality of life. For example, someone here thought of a fantastic way to tap into Austin’s South by Southwest (SXSW). Because many of the artists at SXSW go on to Portland and Seattle after Austin, this local insurance agent with a passion for music created a festival in March, which can be an atrocious weather time here. Her ingenuity with timing, however, was the key. She was able to get those artists to stop in Boise on their way thus attracting bands that would never otherwise come to Boise. Boise gets to benefit from something happening states away, and no one has to relocate.

      I enjoy pondering. Thanks again!

      Kyle, Z. (2016, March 5). Why educated millennials are leaving Idaho. Idaho Statesman. Retrieved from



  4. Julie:
    What a great post this week. You provided a perspective that I did not consider and that is that Friedman (2005) and Florida (2005) actually complement one another. So, thank you for that. You also provided a nice suggestion of providing great awareness of what it means to be in a connected world. Not only is there a concern about seeking instant gratitude, but a quick, real-time reaction can also provide great ramifications. I read once that Abraham Lincoln used to write letters to his colleagues that he never sent. He gave himself the opportunity to “vent” as needed on a piece of paper instead of to the person directly. This oftentimes allowed for cooler heads to prevail. I often read work-related emails and wonder if some are sent without considering the implied tone of the correspondence. Social media has made this quick response magnified even further. Enter the President-elect. Using Twitter to respond to others might provide that instant response without realizing the millions of people will either support or object to his feelings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point,, Krista. At Northeastern University, I teach a course on Social Media for Education. I now wonder if President Trump is going to provide me with a built in case-study when the class next runs in Fall 2017!?!?! I cringed at both John Lewis debunking a newly elected official and the tweet outrage back at Lewis during MLK Jr weekend of an icon of the civil rights era. We could use a more Lincolnesque approach!


    2. Krista, thank you for adding the comment on Lincoln. I was not aware of his practice and am thinking of using the idea myself. An article by Ronson (2015) has become my quintessential cautionary tale with regard to the minefield that is the social media landscape. Even when we think we are only communicating with friends or a relatively small list of known followers, privacy does not exist anymore. A comment or image without context has the ability these days to ruin people’s lives.

      At least one incredibly sad, unfortunate aspect to our connectedness is the ability to shame people on a global scale. Monica Lewinsky did a TED Talk a couple of years ago about bullying and offered her perspective on the public shaming she received in 1998. She made the comment in the talk about how though it was difficult, it at least took place prior to today’s social tools. Ironically, according to an article posted on TED, we then got a glimpse of what her 1998 situation would have looked like today (Goodman, 2015). As additional food for thought, I love how that same article closed, talking about how the negativity did ultimately shift, and quoting Monica, “We talk a lot about our right to freedom of speech, but we need to talk more about our responsibility to freedom of speech.”

      Goodman, N. (2015, March 27). This is what happened when we posted Monica Lewinsky’s TED Talk. TED. Retrieved from
      Ronson, J. (2015, February 12). How one stupid Tweet blew up Justine Sacco’s life. The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from



  5. Such a fascinating discussion here!

    Something that jumped out to me in your initial post is the idea of convergence, specific to the convergence of factors that flattened the world. I think that’s an important thing to think about in terms of analyzing the history of technology as well as preparing to move forward with innovations. I think we benefit from a wide perspective that allows us to see major structural, systemic, political, and economic factors involved in the diffusion of innovations such as computers and mobile devices. A focused view, though, also helps us make better decisions for individual users or groups of users.

    It’s been interesting for me to compare contexts among my different students. In one class, I have predominantly adult learners, and in another, I have a more typical mix of undergrads (18 & 19 years old). Both classes use online tools for learning and communicating, and I try to be mindful of how both of those populations uses the tools.

    Looking forward to a fabulous semester of learning with you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. James, thank you! I look forward to a semester with you as well, and hearing more about your thoughts on what you have seen in comparing your student groups. I face a similar conundrum in my role as a communicator. There is a certain way I want to communicate and leverage the available tools due to personal preference. However, I have such an incredibly broad demographic to reach, both internally and externally, that I have to keep in mind where all of my different populations are when I have a particular news item. Some will look at some tools. Some will not, and some will use the tools they are looking at in vastly different ways.



  6. I have to agree with many of the points you made in your post, but I still I believe the disparity between access to technology and education will only deepen inequalities. An article from The Pew Center for Research by Horrigan (2016) reported that another key factor in technology access is digital readiness. In other words just having access to the Internet or other technologies is not enough; people need to be able to use these tools in meaningful ways. Horrigan (2016) indicated that while most Americans have access the Internet, many still lack the understanding to use technology in ways that are advantageous to navigate the modern world successfully.


    Horrigan, J. (2016). Digital readiness gaps. The Pew Center for Research. Retrieved from:

    Liked by 1 person

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