FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX, NEW YORK, 2016
By Hazel Henderson © 2017
Thank You for Being Late: is Thomas Friedman’s best book yet. Friedman combines his breathless optimism and journalistic personal style with a much more advanced critique of globalization than in his earlier books. He emphasizes how the combination of technology and market-based policies launched by Britain’s Margaret Thatcher and USA President Ronald Reagan in the 1980’s drove today’s increasing acceleration of global change.
These rates of change naturally affect people across countries in different but generally unsettling ways. Systems thinkers as far back as the 1960’s including in Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock (1965) understood these accelerating changes as caused by interlinkages and positive feedback loops. The Ad Hoc Committee on the Triple Revolution in the 1960’s identified such changes in technology, automation, structural unemployment as requiring a similar speed-up of social and policy adaptation including proposals for universal basic incomes. In 1974, the US Congress launched its Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) on which I served, to help policy makers anticipate these technological changes.
Friedman while retaining his market-based corporate-focused view of these technologically-driven global restructuring processes, steps back in this book and calls for independence from this fast-paced daily whirlwind speeding our lives. He gets more philosophical—calling for patience, wisdom and recalling on deeper values of community, empathy and trust. Friedman’s title Thank You for Being Late, refers to his personal experiences of waiting for his interviewees to arrive at his favorite restaurant due to unusual traffic delays. As his anxiety and irritation began to give way to periods of reflection, Friedman greeted the latecomers by thanking them for being late.
This book races through Friedman’s readable explanations of today’s exponentials driving technological advantage in digital power, Moore’s Law and sensors, as the three eras of computing: 1) Tabulating Era, 2) Programing Era and, 3) Cognitive Era. He covers his interviews with reports from key experts from Google (GOOG), Intel (INTC), Hadoop, Autodesk (ADSK), General Electric (GE), International Business Machine (IBM) and the innovations of the so-called “shareconomy” AirBnB, Uber and their ways of organizing trust. These are learned from reputation ratings pioneered by eBay (EBAY) and sharing pioneered by Linus Torvald, Jimmy Wales and other founders of the open-source movement. Friedman spends less attention on the Blockchain Revolution as Don and Alex Tapsott and the monetary changes disrupting legacy banking and finance I describe in “Fintech: Good and Bad News for Sustainable Finance” and the reports on The Financial System We Need by Simon Zadek and Nick Robins for the UNEP Inquiry on the Design of Sustainable Finance www.unepinquiry.org
Friedman spends much attention describing the global changes driven by human activities on the Earth’s climate, loss of biodiversity and growing threats to our environment and its life-support systems. He cites the best teachers, including ecologists Tom Lovejoy and Jorgen Randers, physics and green energy expert Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, agronomist Wes Jackson, restoring prairies’ species and diversity at the Land Institute in Kansas and the paradigm shifting work of Janine Benyus of the Biomimicry Institute and her consulting firm Biomimicry 3.8. (full disclosure: I am an early investor), as well as the late systems dynamics expert Dana Meadows, lead researcher in “The Limits to Growth” (1972).
Friedman misses the ongoing expression of the deeper values embedded in the global dominance of cooperative enterprises which employ more people on this planet than all the for-profit companies combined (see the UN’s Year of Cooperatives. 2012) also described in “Values”: How to Bring Values to Life in Your Business by Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Britain’s famous Cooperatives UK. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ratified by 195 member countries, as well as their National Development Commitments (NDCs) are committed to shift from fossil fuels to low-carbon economies. I described this paradigm shift underway in “Mapping the Global Transition to the Solar Age”, Forward by NASA Chief Scientist Dennis Bushnell as “From Economism to Earth Systems Science”.
Friedman’s conclusions: today’s technological revolutions are vast enough to be termed beyond “the cloud” to his description as “the supernova”. He correctly cites the lag in social and political innovations which must now be overcome by such units as OTA, still copied in many other countries but shut down in the USA in 1996. Many obsolete political parties, health and educational systems, tax and trade policies need overhauling today, as Friedman describes.
To restore lost trust in current institutions, Friedman ends with recalling his childhood in Minnesota with its inclusive humanity and the community responsibility of its civic and business leaders in such innovative groups as The Itasca Project. I recall being an early presenter at their first meeting at Lake Itasca along with radical economist Michael Harrington who explored the roots of poverty and exclusion in the US economy which burst forth in our 2016 elections.
This book is full of new information and insights and a surprisingly good read as well.