07 6 / 2012
While I couldn’t speak for others, the packed schedule in our MBA module contributed to a significant disruption to my routine. Mainly because of the distractions that followed toward the end of the day. Not that I didn’t welcome the fun but after two weeks of burning the midnight oil and rolling until the wee hours, it started to take a toll on me. I missed getting up early (usually up around 5.30 to 6.00am everyday), went to the gym for a swim, brew my espresso for breakfast then ready to tackle the day feeling energized. In other word I conceded defeat. Apparently there is such a thing as too much fun.
Okay, where am I going with this? Well, because I felt constantly exhausted, waking up in the morning and dragging myself to class was quite an ordeal. Which then led to my missing the morning session on Japan as Venturesome Economy by Michael Korver. Get the picture here? However, not all was lost. As it happened my lunch appointment with an entrepreneur friend who’s been in Japan for two decades sort of substitute for missing the session.
Does Japan has what it takes to foster entrepreneurship spirit? My initial gut reaction to the question was to say,“I don’t think so”. This reaction stem from the fact that Japanese has a very risk averse culture. And thanks to my years of living in Japan I had firsthand experience on how such culture contributed to my rather negative view of Japan, but that’s another story for another day.
So what kind of challenges do entrepreneurs face when launching startups in Japan? For one, working for big and notable firms in Japan still hold prestigious social value. With it comes the support of the big network of business colleagues and being in the circle. Once you’re out of ‘the circle’, you’re out. Severing social ties can’t be more obvious than quitting your job and be instantly alienated. It is through the company that most Japanese identify themselves with.
Secondly, there’s almost virtually no VC or angel investors who would back a startup at early stage. Most of them would demand at least two years of successful track record in the market before dipping into their pocket to invest. This mean a startup should be able to show a strong growth in users base and revenues with a likely path to profit in the following 1-2 years. So forget about ever getting seed money from investors who’d dig your ideas over your elevator pitch.
But is this risk aversion culture still relevant today? Apparently so, at least according to few entrepreneurs friends that I had a chance to chat with. Giving up your (presumably high profile) job to start your own still not widely accepted, at least not socially. Never mind the risk-averse mentality of most lending financial institutions — most banks in Japan will not lend money to startups unless they already have substantial capital to begin with— the social stigma that comes with starting your own thing is high enough barrier to halt any entrepreneurship spirit to ever flourish.
On top of that, there are few other factors that also make it challenging to launch a startup in Japan:
- First and foremost is the lack of exit strategy — M&A and IPO activity for internet startups are very low, which bring down valuations for companies.
- The sluggish domestic market especially in the past three decades, is not big and attractive enough for startup to be able to capitalize in a big way.
- Unique culture — Japanese business culture really emphasizes ‘process’ rather than ‘time’ or ‘efficiency’. This can cause some frustrations when looking for partnership or investments. The anonymous and mobile-driven internet culture also contributed to unexpected user behavior.
- Tolerance to risk - Japan has an extremely risk-averse culture. Not only the incorporator of the company is liable for damage and loss, but thanks to the risk-averse mentality it makes it even harder to recruit talents.
However the good news is there’s been some improvement in Japan startup landscape recently, albeit very slowly, especially in the past 2-3 years. Yes, there are still not many local VC or angel investors who would eagerly jump to finance your startup based on your alpha build, but at least the Japanese government has relaxed the regulation to start a company. The 2006 reform making it much cheaper to incorporate a startup (about ¥240,000), and some even aim to give grant to entrepreneurs.
Until then bootstrapping is still the best option for entrepreneurs in Japan to finance their startup at early stage. And it usually done by holding down a second job, like what my friend did in his first 13 years of his Gaijin life in Tokyo. This is one of the reasons why most founders on average seem to be about 20 years older than their Silicon Valley counterparts. Other than that, money borrowed from friends or relatives would also do the trick. But if you’re really lucky, you might meet someone like him to jumpstart your thing.
Note: Information was drawn over coffee and grappa with entrepreneurs friends in Japan. Many thanks to Nicolas Modrzyk, Chris Demetrakos and Timo Meyer.
05 6 / 2012
School’s out and some of us geeking out by strolling around Akihabara, the Otaku heaven, or hell, depending on how you look at it. For me, it was kind of both. Heaven because there are just so many toys and games I could browse for hours, and hell because the challenge is to get out of there empty-handed. So far, I’ve never been able to resist the temptation.
This was only an example of what I meant by both heaven and hell.
Having said that, there’s always an exception to every rules. The Gundam Cafe, was pure heaven. Granted, the food there may not win any Michelin stars but who cares when you can enjoy your meal in a universe full of Gundam artworks and characters? Plus, you get to enjoy some of your grub in the shape of your favorite Gundam character. Double Win!
And this, on the other hand, was pure hell. The Maid Dreams cafe obviously catered exclusively to males with either Oedipus complex or those belong in Hikikomori* category. Served mainly by girls dressed in mini maid-like outfit, the cafe could probably be called as pervert heaven. This is one aspect of Japanese phenomenon that I could never grasp. Which part of adoring young girls or adult dressed as little girls that is not disturbing? And this is apparently a behavior widely acceptable in Japan and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. There are even scores of adult Manga that exclusively indulge such perverted behavior. I, of course, beg to disagree.
For further reading on Hikikomori, read Michael Zielenziger’s ‘Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation’.
05 6 / 2012
As I previously admit that I’m not a diary-type kind of person, so my procrastination in writing this journal, sadly, clearly speak for itself. Not only was I unable to manipulate the entry date (^_^), but waiting for so long made events started to blur as time went by. Fortunately for me, I’m one of those compulsive photo-taker that has the tendency to document everything. So in case my memory failed me all I had to do just look up my photo album and…
Day three @BerlinSchool was packed with lecture on Innovation Management delivered by Saburo Kobayashi, former Executive Chief Engineer of Honda.
Intriguingly the session was subtext as concept-oriented innovation, and being a skeptic that I am, I couldn’t help but asked what does it even mean? Why did Honda innovate? Just because they could? Or did they innovate for innovation sake? Did they ever consider what does the consumer think of their innovation? Does the customer understand innovation? Do they respect or even care about the journey behind it? Sometimes, in the headlong rush to innovate, do companies realize that they might lose sight of the people they were innovating for?
To start, Kobayashi was not your typical Japanese. He was rather vibrant and freely outspoken — although toward the QA session he was rather dismissive when asked on where Honda stand against their competitor like Toyota or Nissan.
It was interesting to learn the journey behind Honda innovation, which mostly driven by the belief that essence trumps above all else. By neglecting superficial data or analysis, Honda actually manage to lead and foster a concept-oriented team resulting in a company with high tolerance for failure. Being comfortable with failure is the ultimate drive in any innovation. Try and try again. Iteration is key.
Although none can accurately predict the future, Honda did pretty well in anticipating it simply by keenly observing what the consumer might need. The obvious result of this exercise was the invention of airbag. Honda, was in fact, the pioneer in this technology even if they don’t hold the patent thanks to the neglect of their legal department.
The exercise that led to Honda key success in innovation is famously coined as Y-Gaya (ワイガヤ), which is loosely translated as ‘creative brainstorming’ session. Everyone is allowed freedom of speech to air their ideas which usually followed by hot arguments on the merit of each one of them before ‘the’ idea emerges.
The Y-Gaya concept itself is probably not new but Honda did cultivate them by having relatively flat organization (up to certain level), and applying open office culture.
There is no president’s office at Honda, and no separate offices for directors. There is simply a Directors’ Room—a big room with desks for each of the representative directors, plus large tables around which directors gather to discuss management issues, sometimes inviting associates to join them. The Big Boardroom concept was introduced in 1964 by one of the men who created Honda: Vice President Takeo Fujisawa. Mr. Fujisawa believed that to create new value the company needed more than what individuals working in isolation could provide. Honda needed to create an environment in which its leaders could freely exchange ideas, synergistically forming a powerful leadership team. By working face to face every day, the directors formed stronger bonds of trust, sharing information and affirming opinions. It is this spirit of egalitarianism that keeps Honda strong, fueling their innovation spirit for the future.
This definitely a spirit that I could resonate and loves to foster in my own team. Many company executives, once they reach certain level in the organization, felt the need to be recognized but most of them did it by alienating (distancing) themselves from the team. Corner office is great, but how is this going to cultivate Y-Gaya culture? Putting physical barrier between you and your team certainly won’t help nurturing free flow of ideas.
One firm I know that religiously follow Y-Gaya concept is Pixar. In presenting new ideas or concept for their next film, everyone (regardless of rank or title) was invited to pitch and critique each other’s ideas. I am absolutely onboard with this approach especially since I believe that everyone is a creative person in their own way.
I never buy the bullshit of exclusively calling designers or artists as creative team. This is a term heavily coined by ad agencies. Are they saying that the engineers aren’t creative? Excuse me, who led the innovation at Apple? Last time I check, Steve Jobs was neither a designer nor an artist. Pixar’s Ed Catmull is a 3D Engineer, not designer. Yet both were the key drivers behind every innovation in their respective company.
Going back to Honda, with their exceptional track record in the past six decades, one couldn’t help but wonder where is Honda now? Where does Honda stand against other companies in term of innovation? When was the last time they innovate? And why don’t I see Honda listed as most innovative companies in the past five years? What went wrong?
31 5 / 2012
What does it mean to be cool? And what does Cool Japan means to the Japanese? Or what do we (non-Japanese) had in our head when we talked about Cool Japan? Or maybe the question should be, “what metrics shall we (non-Japanese) use to measure the coolness factors of Japan?”
The concept of Cool Japan campaign (クールジャパン), along with the term ‘Gross National Cool’ was coined by journalist Douglas McGray back in 2002 as an expression of Japan’s emergent status as a cultural super power. Interestingly enough, the campaign is being run by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), rather than by a cultural body. This ambitious programme aims to use Japan’s creative strengths in fields like fashion, design and music both to improve Japan’s ‘brand’, which has been damaged by the Fukushima nuclear accident, and to increase cultural exports almost five-fold by 2020.
The term “Gross National Cool” basically used to describe the country’s position as an arbiter of taste in art, fashion, style, and technology the world over. This bold description would probably fit Japan’s brand image of coolness a decade ago but seeing how the country seems to be stuck in 2nd gear and unable to get itself back on track; especially now with China taking the stage as the new superpower aggressively, I highly doubt that Japan still deserves to be called cool. At least not anymore.
It’s easy for us to be duped by all the flashy cool stuff that Japan has to offer (anime, manga, fashion, etc.), but on a more serious note how do we measure the real economic value of Japan’s creative industries that presumably what gives Cool Japan certain leg of credibility? Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto offers pretty interesting analysis on the creative industry trend in Japan.
Unsurprisingly not everyone was onboard about Branding Japan as Cool as written on The Economist. Takashi Murakami, the Japanese artist superstar, is actually declares war on Cool Japan campaign. Murakami clearly takes issue with ad agencies’s co-optation of the Cool Japan initiative and the money that comes with it. “I can’t understand why artists get involved with the gimmicks of ad agencies who are simply trying to turn a profit with Cool Japan,” the artist tweeted. “It really pisses me off to think that a few individuals are in bed with each other, licking up the money that came out of our country’s deficit. And the ad agencies who strut about pretending to be creative disgusts me.”
Furthermore, and to second Murakami, I think Cool Japan is losing its coolness. Recent stunt by a 22-year old Japanese artist and chef, Mao Sugiyama, who surgically removed his own genitals, cooks and serves them for $250 to six paying dinner guests was more than enough to show the underlying sickness of Japanese society. Granted that this might be too extreme of an example to dispute something as superficial as Cool Japan campaign.
Don’t get me wrong. If we were to keep the discussion shallow and superficial, then by all means let’s do so. I love a lot of things that came out of Japan. I even naively thought that everyone grew up reading manga, watch anime and spent countless hours trying to finish Super Mario Bros games. And between my friends we often lament on how Miyazaki has become too mainstream for us. That we smirks snobbishly when people claimed to be manga or anime fans yet quoting household names like Bleach, Death Note, Afro Samurai, or Fullmetal Alchemist.
However, set aside all those wow factors…
I seem unable to shake the feeling of wanting to be critical and challenge the Cool Japan jargon. Allow me to remind you that Japan is a country who largely ignore international cry upon its whaling practice, who rewrite history of its own war crimes (and never formally apologize for it), and whose people committed more inappropriate conduct in public space… the list go on. And more over, this also a society where cannibalism isn’t illegal, by the way. So how come a country like this could wear the Cool Badge and none challenge them for it?
Granted no society (country) is perfect by all means. Each and one of them has skeletons in their closets. But if I were Japan, I won’t be too ballsy as to call myself cool. After all, as one of my classmate appropriately put, we’re not supposed to call ourselves cool. Other people should.
28 5 / 2012
The upcoming series of my Tokyo journal would be really challenging. Not only that I would arrive armed with preconceived notion of what Japan was like after living in Tokyo for two years, but also to see how Japan stack up against China.
I thought I arrived in in the future but why do ATM look like this? To say that this is a bad User Experience was an understatement. I still don’t get where the disconnect is. What about all the minimalist Zen-like approach? Why do a lot of Japanese websites (or apps) have horrible User Interface? Why do Tokyo metro still hasn’t improve its user experience in transferring between lines?
This was my first return to Tokyo in which I am no longer a Vegan, which means I could finally sample all those sushi and sashimi. Still, being a non meat-eater is very challenging in Japan especially when the cuisine is less diverse compared to Chinese in terms of vegetables or let’s say, warm food that doesn’t wriggle its body parts nor requiring public beheading.
Getting from Narita to Akasaka was quite uneventful, the limousine bus was definitely the better choice than getting on the Shinkasen. Taking Taxi, however, was another story, especially if your driver is an elderly Japanese woman who hardly speaks any English. This was when I realized that my Japanese has become practically non-existent. Broken-Japanese aside, I managed to get to where I need to be relatively unscathed.
28 5 / 2012
Shaun Rein delivered some interesting insights on what the End of Cheap China means from brand perspective as well as spending habit of the Chinese middle and wealthy class.
The use of ‘hour glass shape’ analogy to describe Chinese spending trends is particularly refreshing. They are willing to spend a lot of money at the top of the hour glass when they see value which is why you see secretaries making $800 USD (RMB5,000) a month buying $1000 Gucci bags. But these same secretaries will shop at the bottom of the hour glass, and be very price sensitive, on product categories that they do not see as adding value, such as nail clippers. Brands that are either at the top of the value chain, or offer price sensitive options will do well. For the moment, brands that are in the middle of the hour glass, like a GAP or Marks & Spencer fail to do well. They are not cheap enough to appeal to price sensitive habits but do not offer enough value to consumers. More over, using —pardon the racist comment here— using black people in their ad campaign (GAP) or providing mostly size 12 and above for clothing lines (Mark & Spencer), are not something that Chinese aspire to see themselves in.
In this case, I’d have to agree with Shaun that more middle brand positions will do better in the coming decades, but for the next three years that middle range will not do well.
More about the End of Cheap China from manufacturing point of view is thoughtfully written in The Economist’s latest edition here.
I chose to skip the afternoon session by Dirk Lenowski and attending TED Shanghai instead. Turned out to be a good decision on my part. As luck would have it, this year TED was actually curated by TED organizer themselves, hence the reason why Chris Anderson was there. This year theme was focus on CHINA.
Although TED brought wonderfully diverse group of speakers and performers, it was also subject to some mediocre contents. Here’s some that I found particularly inspiring and relevant to innovation and creativity in China that worth spreading:
- Richard Brown, showcasing a low cost PC @TED Shanghai for the first time. Unlike various other cheap PC on the market, the APC was able to play hi-def video while performing fast booting process. Users will immediately seen the minimalist desktop with Search Bar available on the top by default. Compared to its predecessor, that pioneered the One Laptop Per Child programme at $100 a piece, this Android-powered PC will be retailed half the price at $49.
- Liu Bo Lin, a.k.a. The Invisible Man. One thing that strikes me about his works were his attention to detail that bordering to obsessive. As former OCD, this is the kind of quality I could relate to. His artworks was his protest against the Chinese government from shutting down his studio back in 2005 as attempt to silence his voice.
- He Feng, founder of Demo Hour, something akin to Kickstarter. Through crowd sourcing, Demo Hour was able to fund the development of Dalan Youth Hostel in Tibet province to cater to young travelers on shoestring budget.
- David Li, founder of Hacker Space Shanghai, the first of its kind in China, delivers challenging notion on how Shanzai culture can contribute to innovation for young tech entrepreneur who believes that iteration is the mother of all invention.
- Andrew Yu, founder of 1kg project, who believes in the power that millions of people taking small steps can change the world, or “democratization of participation”. The idea is to encourage people to take some small gifts to country kids on their trips. There are over 800 schools with registered information at the 1KG website, all uploaded and maintained by the community. More info about the project, also see TEDx1kg support.
- Stephen Chow on The Poverty Line, challenging the question of ‘what it means to be poor’ through photography and data visualization.
More videos on TED Shanghai talks will be available online for free by end of June 2012. I had to admit that this year TED Shanghai delivered much superior quality in terms of content, diversity and quality of Speakers. I recalled my disappointment upon attending the first TED in Shanghai and Beijing. Not only was the event packed by foreigners but to add in salt to injury, they were presenting works that were far from relevant to China.
However, I have yet to see when TED becomes less elitist and show more guts in showcasing contents that are not only provocative but also against populist mainstream.
28 5 / 2012
One thing I dislike is doing anything obscure without knowing the objectives. Writing a daily journal for Asia Module fall on this category. I simply failed to see the reason behind the assignment. And allow me to stress the word ‘obscure’ here, because I know that certain assignment carries some merits, whether we like it or not.
Are we going to get grade on this journal? If so, based on what metrics? Diary writing is a very subjective thing. But let’s say we entertain the idea that there will be no grading for this assignment, but instead there will be post where all journals will be shared. Now, that I can live with. At the very least, I’d be curious to read what others wrote on their daily journal. However, if I’m going to spend my time writing this journal only to be filed and forgotten in some dusty hard disk, then tell me now so I won’t waste my time doing so.
I’ve decided that from this moment on, for the sake of minimizing my criticism on mediocrity, I will limit my alphanumeric input on this school journal strictly to session(s) that actually manage to gain my attention. Those that are free of jargons, outdated viewpoints and shallow analysis.
Having said that, I will start by skipping the session held at JWT Shanghai. I disagree with a lot of points that Tom Doctoroff said in his presentation, which was probably done by some interns judging by the mediocre content it delivers. One thing that I’d like to single out was again the fact that him and Kitty Lun repeatedly said about lack of creative talent in China that can lead/direct in high profile position. That’s nonsense, but of course it took some frogs to prove my points.
As Mario van der Meulen, Creative Director at frog Shanghai, stressed out that we need to be involved when it comes to finding, mentoring and nurturing creative talents in China. There’s no lack of creative talent out there if we know where and how to search for them. And to their credits, frog was the first (and only) firm during the Berlin School Shanghai module that actually involved a Chinese Art Director in their session. Proving the notion that Chinese-led creative position is not a myth. And if I may second this, at Trigger Shanghai, the top three leading position in Design, Technology and Project Management are all led by Chinese. Through years of mentoring and nurturing, this is not an impossibility.
Wednesday is always my geeky day, and since sharing is caring, I decided to invite some classmates to the Hacker Space Shanghai and introduce them to the young makers and thinkers on the ground. As luck would have it, Wednesday is where hackers, makers and thinkers share and showcasing what they’ve been working on. We had one of our classmate, Axel Quack, showcasing what FabLab Germany has worked on. It’s incredibly awesome that creativity and passion for open source technology can be shared across boundary.
One word to connect them. Geek.
(top) Yes, people apparently knows how to queue in China. Session at JWT.
(bottom) Session at frog Shanghai. Axel (left) presenting at HackerSpace, followed by Chinese dinner 在保罗 in which the night is not complete without sampling some Chinese liquor.
22 5 / 2012
For some inexplicable reasons I always drawn toward stories of failures, misunderstood heroes, and the underdogs. Call it whatever you like but winning stories are dull. They are less inspiring as it only tells you victorious moments. And frankly, there’s only so much you can learn from success stories. Tragic heroes always sounds better.
Steve Jobs’ saga would’ve been just an ordinary success story had he never been fired and ousted from the company he started. Robert Downey Jr. would’ve been just another failed Hollywood actor had it not for his climb back to fame. His was probably the biggest come-back story Hollywood ever had. And frankly, they made much better story than simply records of triumphs.
And who can tells stories better than advertisers? They’re selling bullshit for a living. And was it a little wonder that they edit their narrative in telling their most important moments to focus on chronological victories after victories? I want to hear struggle. I want to hear what wasn’t said. I want to hear what their silent means.
Prof. Slocum always had a way to challenge our thinking approach with his somewhat rather quirky assignment that usually seems easy at first pass. I was off. And I found this challenging as I was rarely wrong (haha!). I must admit that I’m not good at reading people. However living in country like China made me learnt how to listen. And boy, was that hard or what.
This was why the Research Work session was particularly insightful, and definitely relevant for our thesis. Interviewing people is not easy. Not just because coming up with ‘intelligent’ question is hard, but getting past the superficial layer and connect with your subject… now that’s a challenge.
Several key takeaways that I found useful when doing research work (interview) were:
- Be aware of a narrative that exclusively focus on triumphs only. Find out what past obstacles, failures, struggles they committed and how they came back from it.
- Disrupt their narrative. What were their shortcomings, their fall from grace, get past the barrier of ‘nicely’ construct narrative.
- Look for body language cue and use moment(s) of pause to ask about past failures. Seek for an opening. And let the silence do the heavy lifting.
(left) taken @Boxing Cat Brewery, Sinan Mansion, Shanghai
(top right) water calligraphy @Fuxing Park, Shanghai
(bottom right) view from SWFC a.k.a. the bottle opener tower
21 5 / 2012
I tried to be less skeptical and giving the benefit of the doubt when it comes to anything related to advertising, specifically the big ad agencies. I failed.
My biggest disappointment, and this is going to sound horrible and I probably (most definitely) offend a lot of people, was the fact that the school session was heavily focus on advertising industry. And at the risk of sounding arrogant, I have very little respect on anyone coming from the big ad agencies. They’re all idiots until proven otherwise.
Now, I’m not saying they aren’t smart judging by the buzz they were able to generate (sales results of their ad work is another issues, by the way). But let’s imagine for a second… all those smart minds if directed and focused properly to do more meaningful work other than selling yet another soda or burgers? Mind blowing.
One thing that I kept hearing was about lack of talent in China. This, I must respectfully disagree with all speakers from the ad agencies. There are plenty of them, great ones, if they only look at the right place. And the arrogance thinking that no Chinese locals are good enough to lead in director level for creative position is simply nonsense. I found this condescending.
The day would’ve been a total lost had it not been for the frogs. I might be a little biased but I genuinely thought that they know their craft and use it well to learn and understand China. frog framework in dissecting what it means to be ‘on the ground’ that is China was refreshingly inspiring. Free from jargons and big words the frogs went for the real. And theirs was the first session in which you actually get to talk to Chinese Creative Lead.
Are you listening here, ad agencies? If you need talents, you go for it. You train and mentor them. Get involve in the local education scenes. Not just play the dumb game and take the easy way out (by hiring foreigners and believing that they will do better job than locals).
But then again maybe those guys (ad agencies) were right about one thing. Maybe lack of talent in advertising industry is an issue. But could it be because the smart and the crazy ones won’t even bother to work for them? Just ask those brilliant young Chinese who presented their innovative creation @TED Shanghai. Need I say more?
(left) 上海汪汪大厦 @Jing’an district Shanghai)
(right) Shanghai Marriage Market (weekends only)
20 5 / 2012
Grey weather aside, seems like Tuesday had a better shot at turning things around for the better @BerlinSchool. This time we had the pleasure of having Prof. Hellmut Schütte to thank for.
Speaking in a no-nonsense but humorous approach, Prof. Schütte made learning about the nitty gritty of doing business in Asia and understanding its market more enjoyable than I anticipated.
His way of teaching reminded me of Prof. Verdin, and I personally thought that one and a half day is too little to cover such gigantic topic like Understanding Asian Market (read: China) and its layer of complexity. Even for someone who’s been in the country for nearly seven years, China never cease to baffle me with its endless obscurity in doing things ‘the Chinese way’.
Short takeaways that I found interesting were:
- Joint Ventures aren’t like marriage. It’s more like affairs. Difficult to manage and it usually ends in disintegration.
- Blue Ocean Strategy for Asia: innovation and cost reduction must be done at the same time in order to offer better value creation.
- Product released to the market should meet all SMART* criteria:
- Timely to market
When creating a product, at the end of the day, setting time constraint from the get go (as opposed to playing the waiting game after IPO), it actually benefits the team a lot in terms of productivity and efficiency. Releasing product in Beta and iterate based on consumer feedback is the smart way to go. This approach resonates well if one’s goal is to run a lean machine. And by doing so, companies have better chance to gain first mover advantage. Never mind about being ‘perfect’, get it out and see what happens. As a wise one says, “Only fools never change their mind.” *_^
14 5 / 2012
Day one @BerlinSchool was started by (surprisingly) interesting lecture by Dick van Motman, President & CEO of Greater China DDB.
Having very low opinion on advertising industry in general (yea, there I said it!), especially from foreign MNCs ad agencies in China, I was highly skeptical that this would be an exception. China has witnessed many fail stories (one more spectacular than others) of ad agencies trying to find their luck in the middle kingdom. They (ad agencies) may not admit it, but deep down they know that they’re not performing as good as they wanted to be.
However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there’s an exception to every rules.
To his credits, Dick van Motman is a brilliant and interesting speaker (many smart people are in fact terrible at public speaking), however, I was middy disappointed by his rather shallow presentation that merely skimming the surface. I felt like, after living nearly 7+ years in China, I wanted to be surprised. Show me something I don’t know.
I lost count on how many times I was amazed at the level of ignorance that I encountered in many top management executives of renowned foreign firms in Shanghai. Never mind the fact that most of them don’t even speak Mandarin (I become more forgiving these days about this particular subject), but their sheer ignorance of what makes China ‘China’ was simply…. amazing.
I did, however, appreciate when Van Motman fluently describe his challenges of running a business and team in China. This, I could relate to. Yes, the scale of his responsibilities were ten times larger (if not more) than mine, but the underlying sentiments were profoundly similar. That managing mix-culture team in country like China definitely ain’t for the faint of heart.
I found myself groping my way around trying to navigate the complexity of Chinese culture, the multi-layered meanings of every words and gestures, and the total chaos of its day to day social dynamic. And to hear that others experience similar challenges (again, not in the same magnitude) was a relief to me. Some kind of endorsement that I’ve been doing not too shabby. Oh, I’ve made mistakes, alright. But I’d be damned if I ain’t learn from them. Living in China has been both humbling and exhilarating experience at the same time.
to be continued…
14 5 / 2012
My Monday was started with a bang! Literally. Okay, not quite but it’s close.
Living for nearly seven years in Shanghai, this was the first time I witnessed attempted suicide in the city. And boy, what a commotion that this elderly man caused (see picture below) during the peak hours in one of the busiest crossing bridge in Shanghai.
As killing oneself was never my favorite topic of conversation (as appropriately so!), yet I couldn’t help but wonder what prompt this elderly gentleman to do so. I know I’d never find the answer to my questions, but I’m curious on what the statistic are in China for suicide amongst Chinese. I know China is not Japan, but words on the street have it that more and more Chinese committed suicide every year in this country. And they’re getting younger in demography!
Could this social phenomena be connected to social pressure, widening income gap between the country riches and the bottom of the pyramid or are they isolated incident(s)?