There is nothing better than seeing words put into action.
In a space of a week I’d turned from audience member, to mediator, to finally a mentor all within the area of Chinese innovation.
I’d heard from top minds talking about innovation and educations role within it, and then saw it put into practice with China’s next generation of leaders.
Monday saw Steve Hoffman, CEO of Founders Fund speak on Innovation, which he explained is formed when people fumble around in the darkness instead of going to straight to the end goal. To take things to market in China, the seller has to be innovative nowadays. The market is saturated and domestically there is a higher quality of product.
Tuesday as Chair of the British Chamber Young Professionals, it was a pleasure to hold a talk with Zhu Bei– Co-Founder at TSL Education, and serial tech entrepreneur Rich Robinson directed at answering the question of innovation through education, centred around the principle of learning how to fail. Education’ as Zhu Bei observed is best attained by a student when they are cognitively focused and passionately interested into a subject. Innovation, Rich stated is formed by embracing the suck and the creation of a new category. The connection starts with coaching parents and the students to embrace the idea of failure to allow yourself to come up with new ideas and concepts.
It was after this talk that Andy from Centre for Youth Business Facilitation asked if I’d like to be a part of one of their mentor weekends happening in Tianjin. I would certainly be down.
The innovation workshop put six teams of Chinese high school students against each other. Their task was to reimagine a business idea from a real company in China and adapt it to the Western market. I was brought in to sit in and mentor the students as they devised their plans. I was genuinely impressed by their rich capabilities, energy and inventiveness throughout the day, as well as their teamwork.
Innovation is a buzzword in China. The State’s message of ‘Made in China 2025’ aims at delivering innovative world leading technology to China that focuses on new technological business. In many ways the State’s initiative to innovation is protective but then also quite forward thinking, it has protected Chinese companies from global competitors allowing them to expand and they are different on their own terms. China’s famous tech brands (Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent- BAT) would not have achieved such growth if restrictions had been put on their Western counterparts- Google, Amazon and Facebook. Great article by Niall Ferguson on this here.
The State realises though that for this grassroots innovation to follow, it needs more international minds. One policy for instance in Zhongguancun, a tech hub in Beijing, allows foreigns to attain resident visas a bit easier. It now needs to learn how to grow these international mindsets domestically by implementing more of these CYBF educational initiatives that get the students to think more rather than recite.
Education is inextricably linked to the characteristics that the graduate leaves University with. For graduates to show creativity and willingness to make decisions and potentially mistakes they need to be brought up this way in school. Despite this and the common held belief that China has a copycat culture, I believe innovation is certainly apparent in China but internationally minded brains mostly fuel it.