Filed under: Comment
Recently a reporter asked me what I thought about innovation in China.
I know … I know … you’re wondering what sort of dumb-ass reporter would do such a thing and my answer would be a dumb-ass reporter who realised their mistake very quickly and didn’t mention me once in their article. Ha.
But the thing is, I get very frustrated when people just claim China is a copycat market.
Don’t get me wrong, that still happens – and in the old days, it happened all the time – but that’s not so much the case anymore and it’s not always for the reasons people may think.
Without doubt, innovation – in the context of China – is an interesting concept.
Given the culture of ‘group acceptance’ [where your decisions and actions are heavily influenced by the views and opinions of your peers and society as a whole] some local companies have interpreted it much more as being a ‘fast follower’ rather than the way the West define it.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong – nor does it mean everyone has adopted that mentality [in fact there are some companies and categories that are leading the World in terms of innovation, they just don’t get the press because they operate in more niche areas than consumer electronics] – but it is true to say that many medium/large organisations feel more comfortable cumulatively developing their ideas rather than embracing more fundamental step-change stuff.
That said, the speed many Chinese brands evolve their product offering often leaves many Western brands in the dust … especially when you look more closely and see that many of the hyped-Western innovators really are doing nothing more than ‘tweaking’ their product rather than fundamentally pushing it forward.
But all that aside, the thing I find fascinating about China is that it has innovated a huge amount of what we all now take for granted.
From wheelbarrows to the printing press … you name it, they did it.
That’s right, the culture that so many people like to piss on in terms of ‘copyright infringement’ created much of the stuff that we all use and embrace every single day.
Then of course, there’s what people here do with food which is amazing and innovative … OK, it’s also scary, but it’s definitely amazing and innovative … however the sad thing is that many people here don’t see that as innovation – or creativity – which is, to me, part of the issue.
You see a lot of things happened in China over the past 50 years that fundamentally affected people’s attitudes towards what is innovation and creativity, and while that won’t change overnight, I’m hearing those terms being used more and more by people and organisations and to me that’s exciting because while a lot of it is being almost exlusively driven by them seeing an opportunity to increase revenues [rather than necessarily having an inherent desire to push boundaries] it will force people to re-evaluate what they can achieve here.
Of course many – mainly in the West – only see China as copy-cats, but as I said earlier, we are seeing more and more companies here who are no longer just duplicating what someone else has done but are innovating valuable features at a rate that vastly exceeds the product/brand they originally were inspired by – for example WeChat vs Twitter – which begs the question who is influencing who?
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