Thank You For Being Late: A special Event with Three-Time Pulitzer Winner, Thomas Friedman


(Beijing, China) June 2, 2017- Peking University, Guanghua School of Management held a special event with three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Thomas Friedman, on his recently published title: “Thank You For Bing Late: An Optimistic Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.” The special talk brought together over 200 attendees from Guanghua alumni, Peking University students and business leaders.

The event featured a keynote from Friedman, brief remarks by Guanghua Dean Qiao LIU, and an audience Q&A session. Here are some of the key highlights:

Thank You For Being Late: The Keynote

The Birth of Thank You For Being Late

The birth of the book began with a chance encounter with an Ethiopian parking-garage attendant and political blogger, Bojia. While mentoring him on good columnist writing elements, the foundation for Friedman’s book was laid. As he put it, “a good column needs to prove a reaction, to produce heat or light.” He outlined three questions that the columnist must ask him/herself to accomplish that goal:

(1) What is the value set you are trying to push in the world?

(2) How does the machine work or specifically what are the biggest forces shaping the world?

(3) What have you learned about people and culture?

The recipe of a good column, Friedman instructed, is to first mix those three central questions together and let it rise for about 45 minutes. “If you do it right,” he said, “then you get a great column.”

The book, “Thank You for Being Late,” is about those central questions. In Friedman’s talk, he walked us through the book’s key themes, which explore, analyze and answer the latter two.

What is the Machine?

According to Friedman, there are three central parts of the ‘machine’ that is shaping the world today:

(1) Mother Nature’s Acceleration: the rapid acceleration of climate change, population growth and pollution.

(2) Digital Globalization: the rapid acceleration of the digital world, as connectivity erases barriers through social media, MOOCs, e-commerce, etc.

(3) Moore’s Law

“These three accelerations,” Friedman argues, “are changing and reshaping your world.”

Moore’s Law & 2007- the Single Greatest Technology Inflection Point

These three central parts of the machine took off in 2007. Friedman describes that year as “the single greatest technological inflection point.”

He begin illustrating 2007’s impact by rattling off the greatest technological advances that occurred:

·         Steve Jobs launched the first iPhone;

·         Facebook went from exclusively college students to global users;

·         Twitter went global;

·         VMware, a translation software which enabled cloud computing, was born;

·         Google bought YouTube and launched Android;

·         Kindle was born;

·         AirbnB was born;

·         The costs of sequencing the DNA genome lowered significantly;

·         The cost of generating a megabyte of data lowered significantly;

·         The Internet reached 1 billion users.

These fundamental technological advances, Friedman argued, changed four kinds of power, thus launching a new digital era. These Four power changes are:

1. The Power of 1: What one person can do has changed exponentially. As Friedman illustrated, the US president Donald Trump can tweet to millions at 4 AM without a single press conference, newsroom or PR agency. ISIS can do the same.

2. The Power of Machines:  For the first time, machines are acquiring all five senses. On the American game show, Jeopardy, human contestants went up against IBM’s Watson and lost.

3. The Power of Many: We as a collective are now the most powerful force in nature.

4. The Power of Flows:  Ideas flow and circulate at a speed never seen before.

How is this Re-shaping the Workplace?

Friedman argued that the rapid pace of technological advancement has huge implications for the workplace and is actively re-shaping it. Technology is changing faster than the average community; even more alarming, it is changing faster than the average human adaptability rate.

The central question now is:  how can people utilize technology to learn faster and govern smarter?

How do you turn Artificial Intelligence (AI) into Intelligence Assistance, Intelligent Assistant and Intelligent Algorithms, so that more people can learn at a higher pace of acceleration.

Intelligence Assistance: AI assists in the learning process

“In a world where Google and Baidu know everything,” Friedman argued, “learning is so much more important than knowing.” Given this context, the new workforce must become lifelong learners, as careers will continuously be replaced by technology.

For example, AT&T has made a social contract with its employees:  you can be a life-long employee at AT&T, as long as you are a lifelong learner.  Every year, the company outlines the skills its managers need to meet the company’s goals. Employees are given learning stipends in order to ‘fill in’ his/her skill gaps.

Lifelong learning, rather than static knowledge, is the new future and the single most competitive advantage in this new world. AT&T’s social contract is the way of the future.

Intelligence Assistant: AI works as a ‘smart’ assistant that boosts work productivity

Friedman explained the concept of Intelligence Assistant by giving an example of Qualcomm’s “Maintenance Technologists.” Two years ago, the company wired its buildings with sensors. The janitors then used iPads that tracked sensory data regarding the buildings’ maintenance needs in real-time (i.e. broken windows, burst pipes, etc.).

Intelligent Algorithms: AI helping people learn more intelligently

AI’s intelligent algorithms are spurring innovative ways to learn more intelligently. For example, the College Board created an intelligent algorithm that provides tailored, free PSAT tutoring to 3 million American kids. After a student sits the PSAT, he/she receives the scores and an online tutoring link that provides him/her with customized tutoring based on an intelligent algorithm to strengthen weak areas.

Is God in Cyberspace?

Friedman’s final thoughts were on the intersection of the digital world and ethics, which he explores in the book’s chapter, “Is God in Cyberspace?”

In the developed world, 51% of our lives are spent online. Given this new reality, Friedman poses the question of ‘how will ethics be reshaped?’  “Cyberspace is a realm where we are all connected, but no one is in charge,” Friedman said, “and that realm is fundamentally god-free.”

Due to the extent in which the digital world permeates our lives and the variety of its information, both good and bad, Friedman argues that it is important that we embrace ethics. If we don’t embrace ethics, Friedman posits that the outcomes would be seriously bad.

“We are entering a world where one of us can kill all of us and all of us could fix everything,” Friedman posited. This means that now, more than ever, we should embrace the ‘Golden Rule’- our standard of ethics. This ‘Golden Rule,’ Freidman believes, stems from healthy communities and strong families.

How China can Thrive in the Age of Accelerations: The Remarks 

China financial expert and economist, Guanghua Dean Qiao LIU, gave brief remarks about how Friedman’s book applies within the Chinese context. Dean LIU discussed China’s rapid economic development and how, as a result, “Chinese…are quite familiar with the fast pace of change.”

Yet, rising income disparity and concerns about economic growth have left many Chinese people anxious about the future. Given this context, Dean LIU remarked that it is important for China to take a cue from Friedman’s book to pause and reflect on how to move forward.

A key element to this is creating a more inclusive economic and business model that focuses on creating value, rather than merely profit, for the most amount of people.

The Best of the Q&A Session

 After the conclusion of Dean LIU’s remarks, Friedman and Dean LIU sat down with the Q&A moderator, Wei Sun Christianson, Co-CEO of Asia Pacific and CEO of China for Morgan Stanley, for an in-depth Q&A with the audience.

 Here is a roundup of the best questions posed:

Q1: How has your spiritual leader influenced your on his outlook of the world?

Friedman’s Answer: 

“Let me take your question up 30,000 feet for a second because that really is where I would have to start to answer. So, the subtext of this book and the reason why its called “Thank you for Being Late” is my feeling that the faster the world gets, I think the more everything old and slow matters more than ever. So, all of the things you cannot download, all the things you have to upload the old-fashioned way: good parents to good children, good teacher to good student, good governor to good citizen, good spiritual leader to good member of a congregation. I think values are going to matter more than ever.

If you think about the Internet for a second, the Internet is actually an open source of untreated, unfiltered information. It has diamonds, gold, silver and platinum; and it has rusty nails and broken glass. If we don’t build the value filters into our children and citizens to sift out the gold and diamonds from the rusty nails and broken glass, we’re going to have a real problem. So, that is why community is so important to me.

The other subtext of the book is that I think as the world speeds up, the proper governing unit in the 21st century is not the federal government in the US. Our national government now is so infected by polarization that it literally can't move, so it can’t keep up with that speed. At the other end, the single family is too weak. So, it is going to be the healthy community that will be the right governing unit in the age of acceleration.

And why is that? Circling back to your question. Government moves at the speed of trust. So, I think government has to be pushed down to the highest level of trust. In America, people trust their state government more than the federal government, and they trust their local government much more than their state government. You know my teacher, Doug, says that ‘trust is the only legal performance enhancing drug.’ Where there’s trust in the room, it is like a hard wood floor, I can jump very high off that floor; where there’s no trust, it is like the Syrian Desert, you can’t jump at all.

All of these value questions, for me, I learned old and slow from my rabbi, from my parents and from my community. You can’t download it.“

Q2: How did your experience in the Middle East as a correspondent reshape your worldview? In this time of acceleration, where do you see the future of the Middle East? Can they adapt to these changes?

Friedman’s Answer: 

“So, I had many experiences in the Middle East. My first was as The New York Times correspondent in Beirut during five years of civil war. So, I lived inside a civil war and that was actually the biggest learning experience in my life in journalism, because you only really get to see how molecules behave at very high temperatures and that applies to human beings, as well. I got to see people close up; I got to see the very worst of humanity and I got to see the very best in humanity, all at the same time. It really widened the aperture of my own personal lens.

Point number two, I feel more despondent about the Middle East today than ever before. In fact, in some ways, my book is a reaction to that. As a reporter and columnist, I supported the 2000 Camp David Summit; I supported the Oslo Accords; I supported the Arab Spring for democracy. So, I pushed a lot of rocks up hills and they basically all rolled down. If this was American baseball and I looked back on my career, I’d be batting

0-0-0 of the things I wanted to see happen [in the Middle East].

What happens when the world gets faster is that small errors in navigation have huge consequences. So, when you need to go 50 miles an hour, you can recover pretty painlessly. But when you need to go 5,000 miles an hour, if you have a bad leader, you can get so far off track that the pain of getting on-track is enormous. I despair for a lot of these states, because I don’t think they have competent leadership.

In order to thrive in this world, you can take what China does for example. I think its leadership wakes up everyday and ask: (1) What world am I living in? (2) What are the biggest trends in this world? and (3) How do I prepare my people for them? I think countries that don’t think about the future, tend not do well. I think that the Middle East today is dominated by leaders who are not waking up everyday asking these questions and, therefore, it’s really slowing them down.”

Q3:  Is there any special characteristic that China has that will help it transition from Made in China?

Dean Qiao LIU’s answer:

“Right now, China is producing a lot of innovation, because of the market competition and the fact that the economy has reached a certain stage where people have started to value innovation. One example is Huawei. Huawei actually spends more on R&D expenditures than Apple and half of its employees are involved in R&D. Another thing I want to mention is that ‘Made in China’ is being changed to ‘Make for China’. China has the largest consumer market in the world. By 2030, there will be 400 million people who are born after 1990. They are going to consume a lot of things. So, it’s not just ‘Made in China’ or ‘Design in China,’ but it’s going to be ‘Make for China.’ “

Q4:  Could you describe the inspiration for your book “The World is Flat”?

Friedman’s Answer: 

“The World is Flat” meant that we created a platform where more people can get on to it to compete, connect and collaborate than anytime in history. That is what the book was arguing. It was about accessibility. In that sense, people in China had the same chance as I did in America.

So, how does it [“The World is Flat”] flat relate to this new book? “The World is Flat” was about a moment around the year 2000. The ‘dot com’ boom, bubble and bust drove the cost of fiber optical cables down almost to 0 and, as a result of that, we accidently wired the world. We woke up in 2000 and discovered how much we shrunk the world when all these American tech companies needed lots of engineers to remediate their computers for Y2K. They discovered that there was a giant pool of them in India and, in this ‘flat world,’ they were able to connect to them as if they were in their backyard. That was what I was referring to when I wrote the book. So, what happened at that moment, around 2000, was that connectivity became fast, free and easy for you.

In 2013, I went to visit General Electric’s research center in Rochester, NY and I was at the 3D manufacturing lab. I was interviewing the head of the lab. She was explaining to me that with 3D manufacturing, rather than having to build a new mold for a new airplane part and then test it and reconfigure it, a process that took about a year, with 3-D manufacturing, the entire process shrunk down to 2 weeks. At the end, she said to me that ‘complexity is now free.’ And what this book [“Thank You For Being Late”] is about is: first, connectivity became fast, free, easy for you and ubiquitous; now, complexity, as a result of 2007, is fast, free, and convenient.”