The New Chinese Dream: NO to Manufacturing, YES to Innovation
After having been working in China lately, it is hard not to see posters all over Beijing talking about the New Chinese Dream. Instead of the world talking about the American Dream, the Chinese leaders wants the world to talk about the Chinese Dream. So, what is that dream about? It is not totally clear, but it has something to do with less captalism american style, less corruption Chinese style and above all it seems like innovation is at the core. The Chinese are entering a new economic stage where they cannot only be cheap producers anymore, they need to be top innovators. Are they now? No. Can they be world class innovators in the future? Let’s look into it…
Looking out from my hotel in Wanxing seeing skyscrapers and smog, big brand signs and poor immigrant workers, I started to think about the future of China when it comes to innovation.
YES – China will be an innovation super power
Let us starts with what makes China a possible innovation force of the future:
- China is soon the greatest economy in the world. Money talks. Bullshit walks. And money will give you resources to fund R&D for sure.
- China is building a new army of well educated workers. Top universities like Tsinghua are producing engineers en masse (and around the campus are all the big multinationals players like Sony, Google, Siemens, Ericsson etc looking for new talent). A big quantity of knowledge workers will of course give you results. But what about the quality aspect? It is one thing knowing what is it says in the book, but putting it to practice in news ways is something else.
- China has its own eco system which makes it a big hotbed for testing out new stuff before being killed by outside competition. Alibaba and Tencent are huge examples – that would probably not have made it in an open global marketplace, but has grown so big now that they can swallow the better performers abroad.
NO – China will not be an innovation super power
OK, that some of the things that makes China a possible super innovation nation. So what are the problems?
- The innovation culture is just not there. If you are put in prison for speaking about things outside the box for centuries, the culture will not change instantly. There needs to be a lot of focus put on people learning to think creatively and daring to do it. In an Chinese way. The big management consultancies in the world like McKinsey and others are being thrown out of Chinese companies because of there attitude that the American way is the only way. And one model fits all. The innovation culture in China needs its own model and its own development process.
- The language barrier is huge. Even in big multinationals with people being paid the same salaries as their western equals, the level of English is poor. And like it or not, but the global language of innovation, today and for the foreseeable future, is English. If you do not understand English – and cannot use Google because it is blocked – you will loose out of a lot of the hot global innovation trends.
- The rise of the creative class, might instead be the flight of the creative class. The Chinese creatives are going to the US to study and many of them stay there. And because of what the Chinese call the “city sickness” the global creative class does not want to move to China. The city sickness is a mix of big cities being to big with continous traffic jams and no real centers but mostly built around big highways (Richard Florida says that creatives wants cities you can walk in), the housing prices are really high, the pollution is world class (in a really bad way) and the censorship and blockage of information, culture and human expression keeps the global creatives staying away from China.
Hmmm…. China will be an innovation super power. But it will take a while.
So will China be a super innovation power? Yes. Will it happen tomorrow? No. It will take a lot of time. China will probably start to make noise when it comes to high tech and physical products, but when it comes to services (which are still not really considered “real innovation” in China) it will take a while.
But China has time. And money. And resources. The Chinese Dream will come true. One way or the other.