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Ed, I apologize if I gave you the impression that I was suggesting China-Africa trade is dead. What I meant to say is that the initial exuberance about Africa here in Beijing has died out, replaced with a growing appreciation that the relationship will be nuanced and fraught with challenges. China will spend its national treasure on the commodities it needs, but I get the feeling that RMB Diplomacy will be conducted with greater appreciation for what it really buys for China, and where it can really deliver long-term investment. But the bigger point is this - cash or not, China can ill afford to find itself forever branded as the 21st Century version of a 19th Century mercantilist in Africa, or CNPC the new Union Miniere. And unless the nation, its corporations, and individual Chinese in Africa recognize that, the Ugly Chinese will replace the Ugly American as the hated face of the outside world in Africa. And we all know how that worked out for the English, the French, the Belgians, the Portuguese, the Germans, the Soviets, and the Americans.
Jason, you're right, the article is brutally old, and I should have used something much more up-to-date to make my point. Actually, what amazes me is that the China Rules in Africa meme remains as hot as it does. I can't speak to how things might be changing on the ground in Africa as the GFC has begun to ease, but it is amazing how the excitement about the Africa partnership has sort of died out in Beijing.
David, on the one hand I'm outraged that someone who would bill themselves as a PR consultant would make such hapless mistakes. It demolishes the value of good corporate communications. On the other, this is exactly stuff like this that keeps people like you and me in business cleaning up after issues like this.
I agree to an extent, but the problem of China's overconfidence is not limited to the Party, nor is it entirely of the Party's making. China's patriotic renaissance is deeply rooted in its people, and as such is a political force that operates semi-independently from the CCP. Thus the problem of national overconfidence is an issue that pervades Chinese society, not just politics, and it needs to be addressed as such.
Toggle Commented Apr 14, 2010 on China: Beyond Confidence at Silicon Hutong Archive
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Mar 15, 2010
Don't sweat it, Arun. Consumer evolution in the luxury market is a comparatively slow process.
They had better release it in Kindle format. I have declining faith in the ability of the postal services to deliver my hard copy books to two most recent AMZN parcels have gone mysteriously astray...
Stuart, I didn't think your entry was froth at all. I am humbled you would put me and James Fallows in the same sentence, much less in the same category. It gives me a high standard for which to shoot. There is a post on this in the works, but the Reader's Digest answer is this: Attitudes about - and conditions for - foreign companies in China are much different today than they were thirty, twenty, or even ten years ago. This is understandable: the challenges facing China today are different, and the nation has three decades of post-revolutionary experience with the promise and reality of what foreign companies can really offer China. These attitudes and conditions have changed faster than most foreign corporate decision-makers are able or prepared to understand, much less respond to. Little wonder, then, that some have experienced some unpleasant wake-up calls. Further, there are more than a few companies who have come to China with expectations bordering on entitlement, and their behavior here has reflected that. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that for every Google, there is a General Motors, not only doing well in China but surviving globally because of the success they have cultivated here. The road has not been easy, and it is not getting easier, but somehow GM (and hundreds of companies like it) has managed to handle the challenge. My optimism is rooted not in some belief in a Cloud Cuckoo Land where doing business in China - or anywhere in Asia, Europe, or Latin America - will suddenly become as simple as doing business in Boston or San Francisco. Rather, it is rooted in three factors: two decades of experience here; an appreciation of the larger forces at work in China; and a belief in the historically-proven ability of great merchants to overcome the most daunting barriers twixt themselves and opportunity. There is much more behind these answers, and I expect to expand upon them fully outside of comments. But I think it is essential to make this the subject of a discussion rather than a topic for Hyde Park soapbox polemics on either side. I respect and appreciate your readiness to make this a discussion.
Michael, I would hardly call myself an "expert" in the region, so take the following with a healthy grain of salt. I make no excuses for Stilwell, but I think his failings and those of all of the leaders in the region are not entirely of their own making. What I have learned about CBI was that it was the individual valor of small units of men who were under-supplied, under-supported, and under-led that carried the day for the Allies, not generalship. All formations had their triumphs and their failings, and no commander comes out of the region smelling better than rotting jungle. (As for Slim, his unimaginative defense of the Imphal plain - the decisive fight in the theatre - was a Somme-like meatgrinder saved by individual valor, air support, and the enemy's overextended lines of supply.) There are endless reasons for this, but they all come back to CBI having been a sideshow, shorted on troops, supplies, equipment, and leadership. Thus, character meant more there than anywhere else, and what the region revealed was the best and worst of the Allies, the Japanese, and the men who led them.
Will, I agree - we still see too many clients and agencies who behave as though measuring is too hard. The agency avoids the question in most pitch situations unless the client brings it up, and when the client DOES bring it up, the solution is either easy-but-dumb, or they lay the burden on the agency to come up with the metrics, then to handle the measurement. Which goes back to my point. Metrics and measurement tools should be determined by and managed from the C-suite. Oh, and one other thing: education. Marketing and communications programs need to start building quantitative analytical skills alongside the "softer" bits of the marcoms toolkit. We don't all need to be quants, but we all could stand to be a lot more comfortable with the tools.
Adam, you never seem to open a can of worms when you can open a case. Your comment will provoke a series of posts rather than an overlong comment, but a couple of things need immediate attention: Be ever wary of blanket pronouncements about the Chinese by Old China Hands (this one included) and by Chinese "experts." If Chinese don't go online to buy, who is spending US$20 billion on AliPay? Foreign students? Horsefeathers: e-commerce in China lags the rest of the world for many reasons (and I've covered a few of them here), but to suggest that Chinese don't buy stuff online is both a canard today and a failure to read the signs of where things are headed. As to the matter of micropayments, I think your investor friend is serving up a platter of red herring. The mechanisms to enable micropayments are in place, even in China (the mobile phone is a superb enabling device, for example.) But until consumers want or need micropayments for something they cannot get for free or as a part of a subscriptions service otherwise, micro-payments won't happen. Thanks for the book suggestion: both of Diamond's recent works - "Guns, Germs, and Steel," and "Collapse" (legit copies) sit on my bookshelf demanding my attention, which they'll get soon. I am tempted, though, to read Alfred Crosby's "Ecological Imperialism" first, as there have been suggestions that Diamond derives much, er, inspiration from Crosby's writings.
Peter, you're right - my remarks about the Summer Palace sacking was flip, dumb, and it failed to support my point. That sort of memory is in fact stoked by propaganda and the education system. Thank you for calling me on it. But consumer memories here are long, and what I should have used to illustrate that are negative cases like Toshiba (who is still paying for a stupid misstep with customer service a decade ago), and positive side, National Geographic, Shell, and Bayer, (all of whom retained strong brands in China despite long absences because they had been well thought-of before the Revolution.) None of which is to say that the consumer memory is any longer here in China than elsewhere, or that there are different mechanisms at work to keep that collective memory alive (you mentioned propaganda, but competitors find ways to stoke negative memories about companies as well.) Indeed, people still remember the Tylenol poisonings, the e coli in Jack-in-the-Box's burgers, and the Ford Explorer rollever issue. Rather, it is to suggest that the speed of development here does not erase memory, so it is unwise for a company like GOME to depend on it. Thanks again.
Toggle Commented Nov 30, 2009 on Fixing GOME at Silicon Hutong Archive
Hi Adam, it is good to be back after what has been a fairly busy six months on the business side of the house. So much for the economic slump... Service experiences here are good and getting better, at least in my experience, and in Beijing at least, a smile and a friendly word takes the level of attentiveness to new heights. All of which makes GOME's missteps that much more egregious. Certainly, most Chinese will follow the low price, and GOME appears to be depending on that tendency. But down that path lies oblivion, as China's own television manufacturers have discovered to their lasting damage. I am not betting on any company - even in China - that leads with price. Long run, that is a losing strategy, WMT notwithstanding.
Toggle Commented Nov 30, 2009 on Fixing GOME at Silicon Hutong Archive
Joe, both Coke and Pepsi have long since proven that some people will drink anything.
Bob, First, I think you misread me: both Tom Doctoroff and I were making the point that while a small handful of exceptional Chinese companies may become global brands in the near future, we are a long way from seeing China turn into a parallel to Japan or the U.S. in producing a number of global brands proportionate with their industrial output or the size of the economy. And as I said about Lenovo, the extent to which it has actually become a global brand is a matter of debate. It has certainly become a leading brand in China, for all of the reasons that you point out in your post. Those folks work very hard, and they are a determined group, especially at the working level. It would, however, be overstating the case to suggest it is enjoying similar success outside of the PRC and Hong Kong. Indeed, over the past eight months, the company has all but acknowledged its failure to effectively extend its business offshore, and is in the midst of reworking its global marketing effort. Awareness of the Lenovo name is at an all-time high, I would agree. But that has yet to translate into positive perceptions where it matters most: at the point of sale. I would suggest, rather, that the Lenovo global brand is and remains a "work-in-progress," and that we are still 2-4 years before the name Lenovo is perceived at the same level as a Dell or an HP, and much longer (if ever) before it attains the cachet of Apple. Love your blog, BTW.
Toggle Commented Oct 18, 2009 on Brand Reality Check at Silicon Hutong Archive
Paul, while I think empiricism has its uses, I think you overstate by suggesting that a Law of Rules - or a normative approach to any subject - is based purely on experience. Experience has a vote in morality, but not a veto. Because the problem then becomes which experiences you choose to learn from, and what lessons you learn as a result. It also fails to take into account new situations, as you correctly point out. As I noted above, a good Law of Rules must be timeless, strong enough to stand despite the moral relativism that comes with social change. To your larger point, though, throughout history there have been futurists and pundits who have looked ahead and seen only disaster, and as such have developed a personal philosophy and moral code that takes such events as givens. You are one of those, and I must admit to finding your thinking interesting and provocative. Leaving aside moral judgments for a moment, both your arguments and those Dr. Zakaria makes suffer from the same weakness: determinism. Zakaria believes government and institutions will adapt and save the day. You believe they cannot and will not. You are both wrong. What you both miss is the fundamental nature of choice. Our future is neither guaranteed nor doomed. The answer is "we choose," and we make that choice in every act, in every word, in each moment. Fareed has not yet proven to me that our institutions will save us. Even your most colorful prognostications have failed to prove to me that we cannot yet save ourselves. Indeed, by your ability to see the darkness below you cause us all to strive all the more for the light. Take that, O Prophet. You, Zakaria, Richard Dawkins, and I will likely never quite agree. I prefer to act on the premise that neither entropy nor Darwinism, whatever their scientific merits, can be applied to human behavior or even the fate of the race. Our fate is in our own hands. We must only ask how we will be guided. And that is the question that provoked my post.
Toggle Commented Oct 15, 2009 on Whose Moral Relativism? at Silicon Hutong Archive
Brad, the Golden Rule is a good start, but by itself is insufficient. Aphorisms are useful mnemonic devices that allow us to more easily absorb a Law of Rules, but by themselves they are insufficient. There is a reason, after all, that Proverbs is but one book of scripture, rather than the entirety. History demonstrates that the problem with the Golden Rule is that it leads to a kind of moral minimalism that obscures the greater truth behind it. Unless you understand the WHY behind the rule, either via elaboration or exegesis, you wind up with masochists who find it perfectly moral to inflict pain on others. And worse. All of which is fine for those of us brought up with a tradition that incorporates such teachings. But for those who have not, it is but a fair start.
Toggle Commented Oct 15, 2009 on Whose Moral Relativism? at Silicon Hutong Archive
NFG, I gotta agree. I like the people at Qualcomm, but this whole thing reeks of an idea baked up in a conference room on Moorehouse Drive in Solana Beach, rather than the streets of Beijing, Rio, or Mumbai. I'd bet the idea looked great on a power point, but for a whole lot of reasons, this sucker is doomed.
Datongli, China does encourage Internet use in Net Cafes, but I would say the motives are a tad more nuanced than you suggest. Given that the government has the power to monitor online opinion from any computer, it matters little where the monitoring is done. I think what you meant to suggest was that Net Cafes, despite whatever shortcomings they have, offer a far wider chunk of the population access to the Internet than would be the case if they relied solely on their home, work, or school accounts. Regardless, as a parent who has actually spent some time in an Internet cafe, I don't want my kid anywhere near those places, and I don't think I'm alone. I'd rather have him conducting his online business from somewhere where I can have a better "grasp" of what he is doing.
Amen, Andy. The one thing I will add (because I know you won't) is that sometimes you need to reach outside of your own organization to find a facilitator who can SHOW you how a great brainstorm should work. A couple of days with a great facilitator not only can deliver better results, it also will help you and your colleagues see how a productive brainstorming session should be run.
Toggle Commented Jun 3, 2009 on Are Brainstorms Dead? at Creative Streak
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Morgan, what I'd do is as much recon as possible beforehand, but I wouldn't try to come out here between, say, December 1 and February 28. Chinese New Year falls on February 14, and for some reason the period between Christmas and about two weeks after Chinese New Year is not the greatest time to get hired. Show up AFTER Chinese New Year, on the other hand, and you are usually walking into the most rewarding hiring period of the year. I personally hired more people between Chinese New Year and June 1 - by a factor of four - than any other season. Hope this helps.
Grubby - thank you for making the point (which I stupidly omitted) that this place is not so much for the young as the young-at-heart.
ADM, I know it is tough leaving anyplace where the beer is good, the air is fresh, and the music is great, but if I can surgically remove myself from my native California to live in the Middle Kingdom, trust me when I say you will find the "sacrifice" as worthwhile as I did.
Silk Road David superb posts. Have no idea what mental lapse prevented me from putting your blog on my blogroll for this long, but it is there, with my apologies for a having taken so long to do it.
Aimee, I've gotta go with Silk Road David on this one. The key is understanding the system and the reasoning behind it, and then working your way through the hoops. Simply coming over here on whatever visa you can get and doing a few casual interviews should not be a monstrous problem on a normal day. Unfortunately, we are fresh out of normal days until we work through our little anniversary thing over the next six months. My advice would be to try to get a visa now, but if you can't, wait until late October and try again.