Thomas L. Friedman: The three climate changes

The New York Times foreign affairs columnist tells James Manyika why he thinks the environment, globalization, and technology are transforming our world.
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Thomas L. Friedman: The three climate changes

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Interview transcript

Thomas L. Friedman: I think we’re in the middle of three climate changes at once. We’re in the middle of the change of the climate of the climate. We’re going from later to now. When I was growing up in Minnesota in the ’50s, “later” was when I could clean that river, purify that lake, rescue that orangutan. I could do it now, I could do it later. Today, “later” is officially over. “Later” will now be too late. Whatever you’re going to save, please save it now. That’s a climate change.

Second, we’re going through change in the climate of globalization. We’re going from an interconnected world—and you guys have done the best work on this—to an interdependent world. In an interdependent world, you get a geo-economic inversion. First of all, your friends are now able to kill you faster than your enemies. And in an interdependent world, your rival falling becomes more dangerous than your rival rising.

We’re going through a climate change in globalization, and we’re going [through a] climate change in climate. Lastly, we’re going through a climate change in business. What have all these new technologies done? I’m a big believer, as I wrote in The World is Flat, that whatever can be done will be done. The only question is, will it be done by you or to you? Just don’t think that it won’t be done. It will either be done by you or by a competitor or a bad guy, because both are early adopters.

In the world of AI and big data, first of all, every company can sensorize. It can capture all the data around its business. Now, a company can actually know what it knows. Then it can take that data and analyze it, with big data and AI, it can find the needle in the haystack of its data as the norm, not the exception. It can see patterns it could never see before.

I can prophesize now using this. I can do all kind of predictive analytics. I can customize just for guys from Minnesota with brown eyes and a mustache. I can localize just for Southeast Washington, DC, where we are right now.

I can socialize. I can leverage social networks to connect with my customers, my suppliers, and my employees in ways I never could before. And as you guys have written so well, I can digitize and automate every job and product and service faster and faster.

You put all those together, every business in the world’s going through a climate change. And as you guys have taught me, maybe 20 percent have completed that process. Another 80 percent have to go through it. Holy mackerel. That is a climate change.

James Manyika: Well, also just being through the process, you see it, again, at the company level, sector level, economy level. We did an interesting exercise to see if we can measure how digitized is the US economy? You can build it up sector by sector by sector. And the conclusion you come to is that we’re only about 18 or 19 percent all the way through. There’s still a vast part of the economy in the US that’s still to be fully digitized. And so that’s still coming. Whatever lens you use, whether it’s the company, the sector, the economy, or even the individual lens, there are going to be wide ranges of outcomes.


Watch the full interview, “Thomas L. Friedman and James Manyika: The world’s gone from flat, to fast, to deep.

About the author(s)

Thomas L. Friedman is the three-time Pulitzer Prize–winning foreign affairs columnist at the New York Times and the author of Thank You for Being Late. James Manyika is the chairman and a director of the McKinsey Global Institute.

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