People and institutions in China’s computer industry do not trust each other, stalling innovation, argues sociologist Tricia Wang on her weblog. Without trust there will be no collaboration, and no innovation.
But these collaborations are still far and few between and more importantly, they operate independently from each other. Industrial social structures matter in how industries form, as demonstrated by AnnaLee Saxenian‘s research on the emergence of Silicon Valley in California. Her analysis revealed that tech companies in Boston, Massachusetts Route 128 operated in a decentralized and independent fashion, while companies in California’s Silicon Valley adopted a more decentralized but cooperative system. She argued that Silicon Valley was able to generate more innovation because its unique industrial structure encouraged collaboration between companies.
Trust is an essential factor for collaboration. The missing ingredient in Route 128 wasn’t investment or human capital, it was trust. Without the underlying social bond of trust, companies were largely isolated from each other, which prevented collaboration. Lack of collaboration hindered healthy levels of sharing and competition.
The Chinese tech industry is set up more like Route 128 than Silicon Valley. There are pockets of innovation in China, but the innovators are not networked, nor are they collaborating. A common question that Chinese people ask is why China does not have a Steve Jobs. Whenever I hear this question, I ask myself, could Steve Jobs have created Apple in Route 128, instead of Silicon Valley? I’ll leave that question for the experts to ponder.
An earlier installment, on the lack of common stories that bind China’s computer industry, you can find here.
Tricia Wang is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. She will be in Europe for an academic conference in Switzerland and is available for speeches in the third week of February. Do you need her at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch, or fill in our speakers’ request form.
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