Monday, June 1, 2009

Why China isn't the next Silicon Valley!

This is an interesting article by Sarah Lacy. I'm not sure how many times she has been to China, nor do I claim to be an expert with my visit count at a whopping "1". I find her viewpoint interesting, but not surprising. How could anyone but America, and especially our innovation mecca of Silicon Valley not be the home of the next great invention? I'm ashamed to admit that before our trip a few weeks ago, I would have thought the same thing. China is great at copying stuff. They are great at completing tasks that the brilliant and creative Americans assign to their low-cost workers. They all skipped the creative classes in school to take an extra math class.

Boy was I wrong about that. Its hard to explain without visiting, but there is definitely a culture of innovation in China. You can't build the cities that dominate their landscape without some creativity and strategy. You can't create business models that allow your companies to grow, when faced with a copied product within 90 days, if you don't have creativity and innovation. At this stage the innovation may not all be about new technology, but it is definitely about operational excellence, business model creativity, and a good bit of raw determination. Call it survival innovation. It's what motivates you to move from $1/day to $40/month to a high-rise in Xi'an, to a 100M RMB villa outside Beijing.

I'm looking forward to seeing if China becomes another Silicon Valley. But from the little bit I learned about Chinese culture, I doubt they want to become another anything. They will want to create a uniquely Chinese mecca of technology and innovation, or maybe a half-dozen. I'm hoping to find some ways to be part of that growth. I that for the next 5-10 years (or more), it will be a partnership play for those willing to create win-win situations in both countries. I don't believe it will be a zero-sum game with only one winner. As we've seen from the current econalypse, neither current can succeed if there is only one winner.

btw - kudos to Ms. Lacy for working on her Mandarin. I've been trying for a few months and not having as much success as I'd like. If she needs a study partner, please let me know. Or if she learns any tricks to learning it faster, I'd welcome those as well.
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