Thinking Regionally


  Below is another section of my 2001 book, which is also available as a $10 download at as The Art of Enterprise (  The book Regions has been updated, and is recommended on this website at:


We often think about the world according to political boundaries. Nations, states, provinces, and city limits seem to carry the most meaning for us. And most maps and statistical measures follow these lines that matter to mayors, governors, and heads of state.
While each of these units of space is meaningful, it is also important to look at the human, cultural, and commercial geographies within which we live. A dentist in Toronto may have more in common with a dentist in Melbourne than she has with some of her patients. Miami may be more linked to Brazil than to Georgia.
New ways of mapping people and regions need to be developed, not to replace political maps but to supplement them and so enrich our understanding. Here are some things to study in the broader mapping of people and their interactions.
Multinational Regions. Such regions may be relatively small, like the area we call “The Alps,” or include only small parts of different nations, while others, like “South Asia” may be enormous, but they all cross national boundaries. And they all have some meaning – some unifying force of culture, political philosophy, landscape, or history.
Subnational Regions. Division between North and South is just as relevant in Italy or Britain as it ever was in the US. Much more so in Korea, where the nation remains divided politically between a Communist regime in the North and a free-market government in the South. But that can change, as it has in Germany, where the division fell along lines of East and West rather than North and South.
Metropolitan Areas. I call them“cities,” but these are not the cities recognized by political lines but the cities that people actually live in as they commute, shop, and play. In its broadest definition, the New York metropolitan area includes much of northern New Jersey, suburban Westchester, Nassau, and Suffolk counties in New York, and a big part of Connecticut. It has about 2 ½ times the population of the New York City of Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani.
Let’s start by taking a look at the very largest multinational regions – the regions that operate at continent-level.

The New Continents

Unfortunately, the continental structure that we have historically used fails to work today in several important ways. One problem is that, in cultural and economic terms, the Western Hemisphere is best divided into two regions along the US-Mexican border—the most frequently crossed border on earth, and one of the longest. North of this line are the United States and Canada, two industrialized countries in which English is the dominant language; south of this line are the mostly Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America. This division more accurately reflects the nature of the countries in these regions and the languages and lifestyles at work than does the traditional division into North America and South America, meeting at the border between Panama and Colombia.
Another problem with traditional geography is its requirement that the countries of the Middle East be sorted between the two “official continents” of Africa and Asia. Although they are physically located on the same land mass, Algeria and Egypt are less closely related to Nigeria and Kenya than they are to Lebanon and Syria. And no one thinks of Israel when they discuss Asians.
In addition, the major parts of Asia are so different from one another and so large – in area, in population, and in economic importance – that the world is best understood if we break Asia into several regions. And Russia is so unusual—part Asian, part European, uniquely Russian—that it makes sense to consider it separately.
While we can argue for hours about other changes we should make in the way we view the world, and even argue about the ones I make here, I think that these changes in our thinking are worth making for anyone trying to understand the human world that we live in and do business in. This division of the world results in the ten “continents” shown in the following chart.

Region                         Area1               Population2      Lifespan3 $ GNP Per Capita4

Europe                        2,197                582                75                    16,217
Middle East                 7,656                512                64                    2,700
Russia                         6,551                145                65                    2,410
Sub-Saharan Africa     7,916                611                48                       496
South Asia                   1,592               1,348               59                       382
Southeast Asia            1,684                529                64                    1,580
East Asia                     4,450               1,490               71                    4,750
Australia-Pacific          3,263                  30                 75                    18,000
Latin America              7,785                518                69                    3,683
US and Canada          7,097                312                76                    27,100
WORLD TOTALS 51,511                   6,093               66                    5,180
1Area in thousands of square miles
2Population in millions (2000)
3Average life expectancy at birth
4GNP per capita (US $)
Table based on Geography: Realms, Regions, and Concepts 2000 by H. J. de Blij & Peter O. Muller.
Note that there is substantial variation within some of these regions. There are vast differences between Germany and Greece in Europe, Japan and China in East Asia, and Singapore and Myanmar (formerly Burma) in Southeast Asia.
For anyone doing business in the world today, it is important to have at least a fundamental idea of what is going on in the world. Here are eight starter ideas to provoke your own further exploration and thinking.