The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Has China Finally Stopped Putting The ‘No’ In Innovation?
November 13, 2014, 6:15 am
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?

34 Comments so far
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You should write more about China, it’s fascinating and you never fall back on cliched terms that have been used by Westeners there for at least the past 15 years.

I saw a report by your old Y&R friends on Chinese cultural shifts today. It was terrible. Taking findings even I knew about when I lived in Asia and presenting them as being on the edge of cultural changes.

And you’re right about wechat, it’s an excellent platform.

Where can I see the article you weren’t included in? I would love to read it if the content is so good your commentary was not viewed as necessary.

Comment by Pete

what the fuck are you doing reading bullshit documents from bullshit ad agencies? did it include their bav bollocks. the biggest bullshit consumer research study in the fucking world? let the data do the explaining even though it doesnt explain a fucking thing.

Comment by andy@cynic

Someone here saw it and sent it to me because they wrongly thought I am an expert on Chinese cultural attitudes. I’m not and I still knew it was an out of date finding, they just had more data to prove that the attitudinal shift had occurred. The fact they put it out reminded me how out of touch agencies are with creating informative perspectives that have commercial value.

Comment by Pete

still on fucking brand then.

Comment by andy@cynic

Was it this one Pete?

And the innovation report I wasn’t included in – ahem – is here:

Comment by Rob

smartest fucking journo in the fucking world.

Comment by andy@cynic

make that second smartest because they still asked for your opinion.

Comment by andy@cynic

innovation is the most fucking bullshit term ever. most of what is called innovative isnt but what is has been stolen or bought from some other bastards who have been working hard to create it so its innovation once fucking removed. apple, twitter, samsung, they all fucking do it so its fucking laughable they criticise the chinese when the fuckers built their business doing exactly the fucking same, just making it harder to fucking spot. if anything the chinese are fucking honest about it rather than microsoft who have the fucking nerve to sue for stuff they bought, borrowed, stole.

Comment by andy@cynic

* Applause *

Comment by Pete


Comment by Rob (other one)

i dont know why youre fucking applauding, youre just as fucking guilty. probably. (look at me using brilliant get out of being sued techniques. im a fucking legal legend)

Comment by andy@cynic


Comment by DH

That is more informative and profound than you know. And I know you know it’s informative and profound, ha.

Comment by Rob

Just for one example, look at how Xiaomi are approaching the mobile.
I recall where a few of us discussed Apple as the second mover, updating and polishing, but rarely truly inventing anything.
As they say. Talent borrows, genius steals.

Comment by Rob (other one)

It’s good to have you back on here Mr M and your memory is excellent because we said that way back in 2007!!!

And I’m fairly certain copyright lawyers don’t agree with the whole ‘talent borrows, genius steals’ viewpoint. Ha.

Comment by Rob

Now I feel old. Not as old as Andy, but still old!
Of course, but by time they’ve argued over who owns the copyright for the phrase they won’t have time to protest anything else.

Comment by Rob (other one)

“we won’t do different for different’s sake.”

” it is easy to make it pink and fluffy and different. It is hard to make it better”

“Copying our ideas isn’t flattering. It is something I feel quite strongly about, it is stealing our time”

Three comments made tonight by a Californian-based, British designer.

Comment by John

That explains why they haven’t made a new product since the iphone.

Comment by DH

Yes … and he was referring to Xiaomi when he said that.

He has a point, but they also make a bunch of stuff that is very much ‘their own tech’ but I appreciate how it must feel seeing your hard work taken, exploited and leveraged by someone else.

That said, the best thing Baz’s bosses have said about their approach to innovation is this:

Yes it’s a way of reframing the slowdown of their innovation execution, but it also a wonderful way to build value and differentiation out of it.

Comment by Rob

All the journalist had to do was look at Rob’s music and dress sense and they would know he wouldn’t know innovation if it did a lapdance on him.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Baz is quiet.

Comment by DH

This is brilliant Robert. I have copied your last paragraph, printed it out and placed it around the department.

Comment by George

After correcting the punctuation and grammar, I hope.

Comment by John

“It’s not about doing what’s ’new’ … it’s about doing what’s right but always in an enthusiastic, motivating and entertaining way” on that note, how do you guys feel about drone porn?

Comment by niko

I presume you mean porn shot on a drone, not two drones going at it?

Comment by Rob (other one)

The bit I don’t quite get about drone porn is that it implies filming from a certain distance and I always assumed the point of porn is getting up close and errrrm, personal.

Comment by Rob

So that’s why those spy satellites are so close to us.

Comment by John

There’s something for everyone

Comment by Northern

Blimey this is a change of tone from the last two posts. You should write more about China, it’s more interesting and useful than many of the ‘expert’ books out there

Comment by Northern

I’m terrible at execution but I’ve always had a ton of complex ideas. Whenever I see mainstream “innovation” (over the last 30 years or so) I’m very confused that they dare call it that. 99% of the time it is something so obvious I envisioned it in the 80’s. Not just that but my version of things is usually better in many ways. I’m like oh? wtf? orly? I couldn’t have guessed that was all it took.

Indeed it seems that the big brands and big budget entrepreneurs just take things from the little guy, implement some half baked version of it then apply the usual mega marketing technique. However, while it all starts with one guy who has an idea, it takes a team of people to figure out the details. Then, after that, it takes big money to bring it to the most effective scale.

If we are talking about innovation however: then that first guy is to blame for all of it. In the end no one remembers who he was and he wont make any money on it either. Meanwhile we have a [pretend] culture that wants to give that guy all of the credit for his work. Nice from an idealistic perspective, and I would of course love to have some of those sacks of cash made from my ideas, but in the real world it just doesn’t work like that.

The innovation is not what makes the money, it takes all of those other people to do that. It is all nice that people want to reward the great dreamers among us but it isn’t working. We aren’t giving credit to those who invented things. We need to collectively wake up and start doing the work in stead of worshiping false gods. Like music innovation should be its own reward. For a truly creative person the ultimate reward is to see his idea happen. If you need other incentives you just aren’t all that creative.

If visionaries have a lot of free time, some food, a roof over their head and a bit of help financing materials and making prototypes. Then you will see endlessly more innovation compared to the current paradigm. A big sack of money 10 years after the deed just isn’t contributing to the process. You cant force the process either. Ideal would be a loving and caring society that takes care of everyones needs, then our dreamers can dream the big dream and present it in a comprehensible format to those who can make it happen.

The amount of workable ideas can easily exceed the number of things big business has time for. We could progress 20 years every 10 years. Production could be an ever increasing number of cycles behind on innovation. The bigger that gap is the more inspired people will be to close it.

We need to reinvent humanity both culturally and politically. The goal must be for everyone to wish everyone the best, that is the only scenario where everyone flourishes. If we continue to develop the means of doing things at the expense of others things will get progressively more terrible for everyone.

The baby boomer makes up the largest age group in the west, they are increasingly falling behind on the technological possibilities. It is what happens when you get older. They are over 60 already. They still believe in an improved thumb screw and wage slavery is still holy in their world view. We need to get away from that. We should look for ways to get work done in stead of ways to make it look as if people do useful work.

They will phase out over the next 20 years along with that idea. Over that same period machines will replace the while collar workers. At some point we wont be able to continue to convince ourselves that human labor is more valuable than the things it produces.

We will reach that historic point in a civilization where we get to chose between unconditional love and a huge war. Humanity build many civilizations, each of them reached that point then it destroyed it self. We will continue doing that until we become enlightened enough to discover that other people will do to you that what you do to others.

If you really don’t want to be loved or cared about then war it shall be. A truly gruesome war, worse than any before. I think the Chinese history remembers what it was like. They are far more reluctant to storm to the front and start slaughtering people. Europe is also bored with blowing it self up every 40 years. But is humanity altruistic enough to compensate for those beating the war drums? Lets hope we are.

I’m sure you wonder what all this has to do with keeping innovation and knowledge locked away behind patents and other pay walls. It is this: All that is required to keep a truly great idea from seeing the light of day is to keep it behind lock and key so that no one may learn it even exists.

I know I know, love sounds terrible unattractive but as technology progresses things will polarize that way. If we build for ourselves a world where every technology has to be implemented on the battle field it is probably better not to have technology. If we chose for ourselves to care only about ourselves the best thing to do is to deprive others from everything in every possible context.

If we cant exploit you, what reason do we have to keep you around? If one has no intention to do anything for others simply for the joy of helping others – why not put a big bomb on you? If you are nothing but trouble, why not? Think about this paradigm where people want humanitarian ideals only for themselves. Is that kind of people worthy of the truly powerful technology?

The state of innovation today is like when Tesla told Walter Russell to put all his discoveries in a big chest and make sure no one would find it for at least 500 years. It had nothing to do with who reaps the profits. That mindset is reserved for those victimized by endless exploitation. The only real topic on the table if you ask me.

There, now I’ve shared my mindset with you. The ins and outs of the utopia of the future. I expect to be paid in full for this priceless idea. You better not try implement my idea without me! I thought of it first, I deserve all the money for it. If we look what you are getting out of the deal I’m talking trillions of Euroes.

Or wait… maybe it shouldn’t work like that? Maybe I should settle for having you entertain the idea for 5 min at the least and billions of happy people at most? Maybe that is the most wonderful thing to have – for me?

I have enough imagination not to have to see you sit there to know what you are thinking. “What an idiot, how dare he interrupt my diet of terrorism articles with this nonsense, I have bills to pay and masters to serve.”

That is why I feel I should add a video by someone who does a wonderful job explaining things.

And lets have an article by the CFR

And lets have Nick Hanauer’s TED talk

Lets also read “Imagine A World Without Money” – By John Steinsvold

And of course “SHIP OF FOOLS” – by Ted Kaczynski

And finally “A million years of leisure” – by Gaby de Wilde



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