3 powerful lessons I learned in China

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It’s already the end of the year, a time that marks the anniversary of my arrival in China. I landed here for the first time in my life in December 2012 with just one suitcase and probably unaware I was embarking in the most exciting trip ever. I’m so grateful for every experience.

The list of insightful life and business lessons one can learn in China is probably endless. I have picked up these 3 that have more to do with core values that have resonated strongly with me.

 It's hard to beat someone who never gives up

In China most people are incredibly hard working. Here, each and every one of us have 1.4 billion reasons to do our best every single day. Hard work is affirmed as a virtue by Chinese culture. But it’s not just working from dawn to dusk that push things forward. It’s the combination with strategy and ambition to change.

If you don't give up, you still have a chance. Jack Ma, CEO Alibaba

Almost everyone around me has a very pragmatic dream of future life. They put their vision into action as quickly as possible. People are willing to sacrifice weekends, holidays, sofa based entertainment, etc to do much more work. It’s about achieving the best to make the family proud and set a solid foundation for the future. They encourage the same values to their kids from a very young age. I had an opportunity to explore this briefly a few days ago when I was invited as visiting teacher at a primary school in Suzhou.

The school asked me to teach basics on science with some easy experiments for their 8 year old kids. I accepted gladly because it goes in tune with Höganäs commitment to give back to the communities in which we operate. And personally, it was cool and doesn't happen very often. The point of it was to stimulate curiosity for innovation and strongly promote learning foreign languages at such a young age. The kids greeted me with a round of applause (very touching!) and at the end of the lesson thanked me in perfect English. One of them offered me a small bun as a gift.

Virtue lies in the middle ground

Idea cross-pollination makes business stronger. It all boils down to cooperation between people.

The Chinese are masters in networking. They create networks that last a lifetime. Based on mutual trust and the guanxi (*) generated between people, things can always be negotiated to get a mutually beneficial agreement. A deal where the counterpart is given face. Giving face is about shifting the spotlight away from oneself and being a bit less savagely self-centred. And this is the radical opposite from the so called silo-mentality, the ‘us’ vs ‘them’, the ‘this is mine’ vs ‘this is yours’. When you need to work in the middle ground with someone else to create something new, you have to care about the other person.

Everyone is talking about the new Starbucks Reserve Roastery here in Shanghai. Why do I mention this here? I think it exemplifies the concept of middle ground cooperation quite well.

The origin of coffee dates apparently to the 10th century. However in China Starbucks reinvented it twice. The first time in 1999 when they opened the first store at the China World Trade Building in Beijing. And the second time December this year when they partnered with Chinese tech giant Alibaba to create an in-store augmented reality (AR) experience. American coffee and Chinese e-commerce; probably an unconventional marriage but with a sharp innovative concept right in the interface.

I obviously had to check it out, and here are some observations: The coffee and food are exceptional and so is the friendliness of the baristas. But the customer experience is much more than that. The facility lets smartphone users walk around and point at different features with their phones to learn information about the production and roasting of coffee, status of their order, etc. It’s virtually a factory tour with luxury entertainment. This is the largest Starbucks in the world, in a country with big tea-drinking culture.

The business crossroads is a concept that opens the door for plenty. Cooperation is not an idealistic activity only for the pure of heart, but a way to reach innovation altitude.

  Adversity causes some people to break, and others to break records

The proverb goes as the flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all. One of the things that amazes me about the Chinese is the way they quickly and utterly get back on the horse after a major setback with what seems to be the right attitude. And that is about actively choosing every step that follows a poor hand of cards that one may have been dealt.

For those of you who like art, plum blossoms (梅花) have been frequently depicted in Chinese paintings with a hidden meaning. These flowers are seen as a symbol of resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity because they grow fearless of snow and ice. It is also a symbol of longevity. It was so far officially designated the National Flower of China in 1964.

In Shanghai just a few weeks ago model Xi Mengyao showed an audience of 18,000 people the art of recovering from a fall during the first Victoria Secret’s fashion show in China. She laughed it off and got back up on her feet. ‘The future road is long. I will always continue walking’ she said.

Shanghai, December 2017

(*) Guanxi: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guanxi

I wrote this post myself and it expresses my own opinions. I’m not receiving compensation for it. Besides Höganäs AB (www.hoganas.com) where I work full time, I have no business relationship with any other company mentioned here.

Now, I’d like to hear about you! I’m always looking for new ideas! If you would like to read about any particular topic related to China and business in China go ahead with your suggestion in the comment box. Thank you!

Acknowledgements: to Kevin Shi (施正) and Frida Wainult (Höganäs AB) and John Moon for assistance. And to the talented Zeng Lixiang (丽香) for drawing a plum blossom for this post.


The Asia Environmental Daily