Innovation is no stranger in China, as CEO’s of Baidu, Tencent, Haier, Alibaba and Huawei show. But it is only a handful, argues IMD professor and leading author on innovation Bill Fischer in the Harvard Business Review. There is not a innovative culture, although Haier offers hope.
Yet, all of these Chinese big dreamers are also at the top of their organizations and have the power to move their dreams as well as author them. In fact, at this point in time, it’s still hard to drill deeper into most Chinese organizations to identify who the dreamers really are — those whose dreams can carry an organization forward, especially for expatriate managers who are limited by culture and language in their ability to truly assess the potential of their talent.
For those operating in China, this is, indeed, a quandary. You look around at the resources that characterize China’s wealth, and see human talent that has to be among the most promising on the planet. It’s a big country, filled with smart, ambitious people, but who are the ones who are dreaming big enough?
One lesson on how to address this question comes, ironically, from an old-economy company.What white-goods producer Haier has chosen to do is to offer every employee (and there are 80,000 of them) the opportunity to effectively become the CEO of a real operating company, provided that their dreams have real merit. Searching for new ideas at Haier involves a competitive screening of business model proposals, open to all, out of which projects and project leaders are chosen.
Project proposals that are selected become the basis for self-organizing, autonomous business units, led by the proposal author, and responsible for not only their own staffing, but also for the design, manufacturing and marketing of the resulting product. They literally are small companies who must face all of the same business decisions that we typically associate with larger companies. What’s different, in Haier’s case, is that the opportunity is offered to all, and selection is based on the quality of the proposal. As they say at Haier: “Haier doesn’t offer you a job, it offers you an opportunity.” As an illustration of this, in one example that we studied (for three-door refrigerators), the leader of this business — who was chosen in a business model competition — was in his early 40s, at most, and yet was running a $1.5 billion business after two years. It’s something that could never have happened in most other large, complex organizations.
Labor camps, the one-child policy, hukou’s, pollution, internet censorship, state-owned companies, energy policy: they are just a few of the subjects that appeared last week in the 21,000 character document released after the Third Plenum of the Communist Party, spelling out reform plans for the coming years.
The +China Weekly Hangout plans to discuss some of those plans and will ask panelist whether the Third Plenum did bear a mouse or an elephant. Pending a few logistical challenges, we will hold our online meeting on 21 November at 10pm Beijing time, 3pm CET and 9am EST. We will pick subjects, depending on the expertise of the people joining us on Thursday, and summarize with the question how likely it is president Xi Jinping will pull off the planned reforms.
Can China innovate, asked the +China Weekly Hangout on October 21 2012, a discussion with political scientist +G. E. Anderson and China consultant at-large Janet Carmosky. Moderation by +Fons Tuinstra of the China Speakers Bureau