Lean Manufacturing

Top 5 Things I Learned in China Last Week

By Jon Miller Published on November 19th, 2006

Here are the top five things learned after a productive week in China:
1. You can’t overstate the value of respecting another’s culture
I gave my rudimentary Chinese a workout this time and the results were interesting. Doors opened more smoothly. Services were rendered more quickly. Smiles appeared on the faces of people making $8 per day. Black car drivers didn’t gouge as hard (southern China excepted). Respect for people starts with respect for the person immediately before you. This is true in factories, offices, families or in visiting foreign countries. Observe simple courtesies. Take interest in people, their customs and their language. Remember that we’re all in this together.
2. Even at 10PM people will stand in line for 45 minutes for $15
What fascinated me about this was that travelers at Hongqiao airport in Shanghai, from various nationalities, economic classes and ages, all preferred to wait in line late at night for a 32 RMB ($4) taxi ride rather than pay the 150 RMB ($19) being asked by the unlicensed “black car” taxi drivers. Not all of us needed that $15. Some of us could have used the 45 minutes of extra sleep. Was this herd behavior? Do humans have a natural tendency to queue? Perhaps it was on principle, to avoid the black cars than to save $15 (the black car drivers in China – except southern China where they are to be avoided – are the friendliest in the world). What was my reason? Curiosity.
3. Many URLs with “blog” in them are hard to access here
This is no doubt due to the Chinese firewall blocking unmentionable political or religious blogs written by disaffected Chinese people and hosted by Blogger, Blogspot etc. I bet a certain North American political party wishes it had had similar powers prior to a recent election.
4. Eight hundred million people making $400 per year or less can’t be wrong
Everyone here seems to be working hard to improve their lot, seven days a week. This is evident in the hours people put in and the patience and persistence they show in their effort to make a buck. Even the best educated people with the best jobs in multinationals who speak English and Chinese who would seem to have it made are taking training, practicing, improving. You don’t see a lot of complacency. The lounge of the Ritz in Shanghai is not a “loungey” place. The local people there are not lounging around comfortably. They are improving their lot, or talking about it with others, or scheming about it, or reading about it. When people are given a clear vision for how to improve their lot (hard work), the society is dynamic and there is positive sense of urgency. When this is lacking or when people are paid basically to exist, society stagnates.
5. How not to travel with a computer
This is what happens when rapid development (rising income in China) and Moore’s Law (dropping price of computing) meets a lack of clear standards in air travel.

  1. VIki

    December 3, 2006 - 2:20 am

    Jon- when did you last go to Mumbai or Bangalore ? If you haven’t, I would urge you to make the trip.
    When I was in secondary school, two decades ago, we were taught in every manner that our population was our bane ….alI hear these days is the virtue of the growing mass of middle class and how its the catchment for young & hungry talent or the every retail marketer’s dream !! What goes around comes around and thats what i think will happen for the next two decades. The economic axis will shift …to a bi-polar Asia- China / India from a distinct US / Europe axis at present. Reminds me of a belief my dad always held …he would say hunger is the biggest motivator and in every family the second generation, that had seen good times was doomed to begin the decline, which would inevitably gather momentum by the third generation. I suspect the same logic can be extrapolated to economies !

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