This year’s annual CSOFT Summit housed a panel on “Innovating in China,” led by Jon Swartz, the San Francisco Bureau Chief of USA Today and a high-tech journalist since 1987. The panel focused on how China has fostered an environment in which innovation can thrive.
The panel was made up of Gan Ding (General Manager, Broad Market Business at Cardinal Health China), Douglas Cougle (General Manager of Consumption Sales at Intel Corporation) and CSOFT’s own Carl Yao (Executive Vice President, Global Strategy at CSOFT International, Ltd.).
Swartz opened the panel by remarking on Apple’s “iPhone 6S” announcement. While they once re-defined the market with the first iPhone in 2007, today Apple is building on their momentum, rather than producing new technology. Swartz asserted that in the US there is a “crisis of confidence” among tech companies resulting in an innovative rut in the United States. Chinese innovation, on the other hand, has captured the attention of tech companies in the Silicon Valley and around the world.
So what sort of environment fosters the inspiration and hard work which are necessary for innovation?
“Innovation is hard, we sometimes forget that. We take it for granted that it just happens naturally, but it doesn’t happen naturally. It happens through a lot of hard work, a lot of inspiration and a lot of luck,” Douglas Cougle noted.
According to Cougle, Chinese companies have witnessed the issues that US companies are now facing. He believes Chinese companies may be able to offset some of the problems they have witnessed by incubating, isolating, and protecting the entrepreneurial spirit. He asserted that large companies face many obstacles when trying to innovate because it is difficult to move great ideas forward in a large corporate environment. In China, Cougle said, large companies, rather than squashing innovation, will empower it because it is these large companies that have the power to take innovation to the masses.
Another reason innovation is so successful in China, according to panelist Carl Yao, is that China has fostered a “can do” attitude. He posed the idea that for innovation to occur, risks must be taken. “The ability to do something and not be afraid of failure is the mother of all inventions because not all inventions will succeed,” Yao stated. According to Yao, although there is a negative side of risk taking, it is this “willing to try and fail” attitude that is the driving force behind China’s innovation.
Gan Ding noted that it is within the education system that this “can do” attitude is born, but he claims that this attitude is not being developed within China itself. Ding believes that individuals who go to the United States or Europe to study return to China motivated to try new things. While Chinese education systems motivate learners to learn the “right” answer, he believes that outside education systems encourage young people to think outside the box. Ding asserts that while governments can force reforms upon its education systems, but in order to create an environment in which innovation will flourish, creativity and imagination are key.
On the other hand, Cougle believes that it is the new generation in China, not a foreign education system that is responsible for the spread of innovation. As with any movement, he says, there are leaders of innovation in China who are helping to spread this attitude. He claims that in China, generations are born every two years and that today’s generation has whole-heartedly embraced the unique energy produced by the leaders of innovation. They are using energy and zeal to propel innovation forward. He believes that tech leaders in China are assuming a responsibility of leadership, not just attempting to make a profit, but seeing fit to live up to their social responsibility. They look at how technology can address social issues in China making their innovation truly transformational.
While the United States was once regarded as the only place to develop the creative, free-thinking environments necessary to innovate, it’s clear that today, China is a major player in innovation. China has succeeded in developing an entrepreneurial spirit which encourages creativity and imagination. The willing to try, “can do” attitude has promoted innovation. With time, we will see if Chinese companies will have learned from mistakes made by other countries and if they will be able to protect the spirit of innovation that is growing and thriving today.