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Monday, June 05, 2006

Tolerance and Innovation

This view from China Daily of what China needs to do to develop its economy is from "a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference from Hong Kong":

Tolerance is the key to achieving innovation, by Lau Nai-keung, Commentary, China Daily: One of the main themes of the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10) is indigenous innovation. ...[T]he main reason underlying China's continued rapid growth has been the increased application of factors of production. We invest more capital and use cheap and industrious labour, and therefore we have more output. The end result is that although we break our backs, pollute our environment and use up our precious natural resources, we only earn a penny by being the world's biggest OEM (original equipment manufacturer).

Not only is this unfair, it is also unsustainable. This is not efficient, and we do not enjoy limitless supplies of capital or labour. We have to add more value to our products and services by migrating from OEM to ODM (original design manufacturer) and OBM (original brand manufacturer). Indigenous innovation is the logical way forward.

But it would be illogical to expect the country to achieve this objective in five years. It is easy to boost the number of patents in the space of a few years. But it will take one or two generations to shift from the present situation to a society conducive to creativity and innovation....

It is vital for us to take a longer view and be patient, because Chinese culture generally curbs creativity and innovation. In our society, official authority is never to be challenged. Starting from kindergarten, children are trained to follow the rules. Our education system is based on rote learning. Even in our postgraduate studies, the teacher is always right. Admittedly we have changed. ... But let's face it, we are still a conformist society.

Look at Japan, which is also a conformist society. It displays great creativity in animation and other art forms, but apart from those, the only other major innovation it can claim is perhaps the Walkman. However, the number of patents it owns is one of the highest, and it has many global brands such as Sony and Toyota. If this is the model we want to emulate, we will arrive there in a relatively short period, and without needing to do much soul-searching. But in that case, we might have to forget about Silicon Valley, information technology and many other major breakthroughs.

Some suggest that these have to come from a highly individualistic society like the United States. I do not agree. ... Creativity and innovation only thrive in an atmosphere where a certain degree of social deviation is tolerated. If we look closer at our traditional culture, apart from the Confucian orthodoxy championed by officialdom, there have been many thriving sub-cultures such as Taoism and Buddhism. And, most of the time, there was plenty of room for the somewhat eccentric in traditional Chinese society. ... This is because our traditional culture was a highly inclusive and tolerant one. Sad to say, we cannot say the same about our current society. ... 

Start with our children. Teach them that getting into university is not the only objective of studying, and that rote learning is not the only way to study. Give them the ability to think critically, and let them challenge the authorities. Tolerate those who think and act somewhat differently from most of us, and leave them alone to do their own things. Let our children know that making money is not the be-all and end-all. ...

It will be interested to see if China can make the leap from an economy based largely upon assembly of parts into finished goods to an economy that is based upon innovative activity. If so, then it provides a development model other countries will attempt to follow.

    Posted by on Monday, June 5, 2006 at 06:57 PM in China, Economics, Technology | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (7)

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