July 5, 2012
A How-To Too Many

                                            

"9 Beliefs of Remarkably Successful People." "7 Things You’re Doing Wrong on LinkedIn." "5 Toxic Beliefs that Ruin Careers." "7 Habits of Extraordinary Teams."

Just one glance across Twitter feeds, glossy magazine pages, or general business directed articles yield a grandiose amount of listed advice. It seems that there are 7 secrets to anything and everything, 5 things you should always be doing before breakfast, and 8 constant takeaways to cram in. 

As I rummage my brain for anything of value I’ve consumed lately, none of it appears in a neat list form.  Yet psychologically, I, like many readers, am so instantly drawn to these articles proclaiming steps and bullet points and to do’s to sweep the world with a magic how-to wand. 

But where have these steps truly taken us? Are we any more enriched? Any stronger? Any more fulfilled?  Probably not.  In fact, likely the contrary. We’re bogged down by advice, stressed with more to do’s on top of to do’s, with words that will prove to be more than forgettable down the line.

Instead, there are many more ways to put our thirst for knowledge to practice. Try reading material scoping out the world beyond your typical line of sight. Facts are hard to remember, details even more so, but oftentimes what sticks is the great concept at hand. A biography can expose the instincts of the person in question, a novel or poem inspiring ideas otherwise lost in a mirage of numbered lists.

There is no neatly paved garden path for everyone, so why should we rely on broadly stamped how-to advice to constitute so much of our knowledge? Instead, we can sculpt our own garden, plant our own crops, pick our own fertilizer. A nugget here, a seed there, bringing together a vast array of insights.

They are called classics for a reason.  A reason why Aristotle, Thoreau, Franklin—all names that live through the ages.  Perhaps it’s time to put away the minute snippets and indulge yourself in the deeply cultivated words of our forefathers, history makers, and men of thought.

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Filed under: reading thoughts 
March 7, 2012
Opportunity Cost and the 4th Dimension

Econ 101 tells us it’s the foundation between scarcity and choice.

Intuition and gut tells us it’s what we want more.

We’re faced with infinite choices on a day-to-day basis, from the minute our alarm clocks thunderously announce the day, to our tired tumble under the covers after a long day…or not.  Depends what you’re willing to give up.

What textbooks and teachers alike often forget, however, is the factor of time.  Sure, you might give up producing fewer guns for more butter, you might take in a few more dollars by selling this new product line versus continuing an old one, but we forget to ask ourselves…how often is this event going to happen again? 

Whether it’s sacrificing a few days out of your week before two exams to attend the 2012 Startup Weekend Organizers Summit, or dragging yourself out of a few hours of productivity to grab coffee with a potential sales lead, seize moments that are scarce, not simply tangible goods or returns.  If the Summit only happens once a year, the only time you’ll see the greatest people you’ve ever met in one place, or when you’re only in the same town as Sarah once every five months, then get on it.  Chances like these are the ones dreamers look back and say, “if only I had…” or “we almost…”  Should have, could have, would have.   Don’t let yourself say any of those words down the line.

It’s these moments that create stories, build bonds, and take ideas like Zaarly and launch them into action.  They’re moments that can help you find a job.  They’re moments, settings, people, and places you can never reconstruct

So.  Are you going to be a would’ve, could’ve, should’ve kind of person, or are you going to say, “and that’s where we did this”?

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Filed under: thoughts 
January 24, 2012
How do you let someone go?

                                                 

Hi.  You’re not right for me.  This isn’t going to work because of a, b, and c.  Even more so now that you’ve just committed d.  Here’s a feel better package, but after that you need to leave.  Simply put, you’re fired. 

There’s no easy way to say it.  Whether you’re ending a business or personal relationship, your message is as clear as, "We are not a match.  You are not helping me, and I am not helping you.  Please leave."

In my time serving on MPowered’s executive team, one of the deepest and lasting learning experiences has been in learning when to let go—if at all.  Whether it’s a peer, a fellow leader, or friend, it never gets any easier.  But there’s certainly ways to make the road a little less rocky, and taste a little more like mint chocolate chip.

  • Leave the emotions at home.  Tensions are high.  Emotions are the last thing this recipe for disaster needs.  Be cognizant of your body language, your tone, and most importantly, your volume.  It’s in our nature to mirror the person across from us, and once things have escalated, there’s no turning back.  
  • Use specific examples.  Be ready to refer to specific straws that have broken the camel’s back.  Avoid accusations, and instead point to ways that the person on the other end has broken your contract, agreement, or collaboration.  Facts will have never seemed so friendly, and instead of fingerpointing with “You did x” or “You didn’t understand y,” speak for yourself!  Try “I feel that when you did x” or “I think you didn’t understand y.”  
  • Anticipate reactions.  You can never fully prepare yourself for the reaction on the other end, but it doesn’t hurt to empathize.  There’s no reason to be unnecessarily harsh or meek if that’s not either yours or his/her style.  Be deliberate in your delivery.
  • Keep it in person, not on paper…or print!  Two words: email forwarding.  Sound scary?  It is.
  • Short, sweet, and safe.  Concise, to-the-point statements will carry you through, and lessen the pain for both sides of the table.  Now’s not the time for long-winded goodbyes, or a recap of an annual performance report.  Focus on the issues at hand and what has provoked this act.  
  • End on a positive note.  It’s over.  Why scold, nag, or be upset?  After all, this is a person you’ve worked with, and at least at one point (if not still) enjoyed being around!  Have a heart.  We all do.  And you never know when you’ll cross paths again. 

In most cases, be sure to come in with a decision already made.  Stick to your gut, always remember why, and don’t trip on the way over.

At the end of the day, this should be your very last resort.  Letting people go not only distorts your team dynamic, it also sets you back in performance and transitioning is certainly no easy feat—both emotionally and at work.  

Better yet—this can be easily steered clear of!  Set expectations early (even better if they’re in writing), and always check in!  Great collaboration is a two-way street, requiring signals and movement from both ends.

Great leadership is not about control or delegation.  It’s about inspiring the team, laying a foundation of common ground, common goals, and a united mission to build, create, and innovate.

August 31, 2011
Humble Pie: Part 7 of the Food Pyramid

                                         

Humble pie.  Tastewise, it may be on the same level as Popeye’s spinach and brussels sprouts.  But an extra helping or two might just be what the doctor ordered.

It’s a fine tightrope to walk between possessing complete self-confidence and complete conceitedness.  But possessing humility is a rare asset. 

By tossing the gem of humility in your toolbox, you’ll find that you’re learning, not to mention hearing, much more than before.  Throughout my summer at the Kauffman Foundation, I was continually both humbled by and struck by the humility of those that surrounded me.  Whether in a contained work environment or between the streets of South University and State, it’s all too easy to trip up on your tightrope of confidence + conceitedness.  

As a very wise Munro Richardson of the Kauffman Foundation has once guided me:

Be willing to say “I don’t know.”  Don’t worry about perceptions.  There is little admiration for those with an answer for everything—instead, try practicing listening.  You might come across a golden nugget you wouldn’t have had you only been practicing answering.  

In classes, tests, and exams, we’re consistently punished for saying “I don’t know.”  Yet avoiding such an admission is avoiding a learning opportunity.  We’re taught that the Hermione Grangers of the world are the ones to emulate, yet why is that she plays a supporting role in many of her adventures?

From the words of Danny O’Neill of the Roasterie Coffee:

Put on your sales hat and ask, “What can I do for you?”  Sellers and consultants are most often pegged as ‘good with people.’  They’re willing to step back, eliminating the “I,” and reconsider whose agenda is on the table.  Expect to give and take.  Too often, we are so wrapped up in our own goals that the true reciprocated value of a potential relationship is lost in the glories of “networking,” of overeagerly selling our personal wants.

And finally, with the help of Munro:

Pick your fights and pick your buttons wisely. In class discussions, team meetings, weekly updates, and more, that knee-jerk reaction to speak out against a differing opinion or idea may spill over in negativity or overconfidence.  Put in your own cost benefit analysis—is it worth it to pick this fight?  Rather than insisting on your way or the highway, will it pay off to play devil’s advocate instead—rooting for the underdog?  Will it pay off to compromise?  Put yourself in another’s shoes.  What’s the root cause of this opinion?

Jumping at every opening to argue your way might feel like a win, but you may load up on a large dose of backfiring.  By lending yourself to such situations, you’ve automatically labeled yourself as the overbearing antagonist.  Instead of being a problem pointer, try being a problem solver.  Sure, a dose of compromise doesn’t seem to serve as the tastiest complement to humble pie, but perhaps it will pave the way to a stronger relationship.  A new relationship is like a new hire—you need to be willing to provide guidance and commitment to make it work.

There’s no right or wrong way to go about snagging your very own slice of humble pie—and keep in mind, just like with any of Grannie’s famous pies, humble pie is simply pie; a dessert, not a substantial meal.  A small amount goes a long, long way, whether you’re headed to class, to an interview, or to a meeting and more.

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Filed under: kauffman thoughts 
August 1, 2011
Confessions of a Cheetah Child

                         

I am the product of cheetah parents.  Unlike the big cats, they do not roar, but they purr.  They have semi-retractable claws (key word: semi).  They are fast, they are fearless, and they are formidable both as hunters and as family protectors.

Growing up, my parents were unlike their tiger counterparts—I did not attend Chinese school on the weekends, I was encouraged to pursue interests in drama and the arts, and yes, I received my fair share of Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.

They always said yes.  Yes to anything I wanted to pursue; they never cringed at my constant piano and swimming bills, my tuition, my books, my magazine subscriptions, or all the trivial things a growing girl requests.  But the yes always came with a stipulation; they wanted to see me put my all into it.  They hoped I would appreciate it, they dreamed I would achieve the very same dreams that filled my sleep at night.  Nothing was ever simply given outright—it was earned, and only then deserved.  As my long-awaited sixteenth birthday neared, my parents weren’t about to fork over a car simply because I now held a plastic card to freedom.  Since I was twelve, I knew the rule—any car was mine, if, and only if, I received award recognition at the state level for one of my academic and extracurricular pursuits.

They taught me the power of resilience, the power of perspiration, the power of dogged tenacity.  And now, as I round up my first summer away from home, I’ve begun to wonder…have I been bred to become an entrepreneur?

In Mark Suster’s series on Entrepreneur DNA, he lists 12 attributes to possess to become a successful entrepreneur.  But is there any kind of training that might encourage these traits?  Where are these qualities most persistent?  Most accessible?  Most dominant?  Most visible?

Does playing team sports build entrepreneurs?  It sure helps in the competitiveness, resiliency, perspiration, and decisiveness departments!

Does playing instruments build entrepreneurs?  You’re taught to pay attention to detail, to put in the hours, to continue to iterate on your previous attempts at a piece.

Are science labs the secret ingredient behind producing lean startup experts?  Spending hours in the lab equates to hours of experimenting, testing, measuring, and even pivoting.  

Perhaps Momma Xiao was onto something.  Perhaps she wasn’t.  In any case, Cheetah Mom, thanks.

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Filed under: thoughts 
July 5, 2011
Bucket List Begone!

We all have a bucket list, but what are we waiting for?  Why is it that we collect these hopes and desires only to note, “I want to do this someday,” and prioritize monetary needs before anything else?  Why is it that society influences our youngest generations to work 80, 90, 100 hour weeks when they are in their prime, in their 20s?  When they could be exploring so many things beyond the walls of their cubicle, beyond the ends of an Excel spreadsheet.  But instead, we save all these things for our so-called bucket list, which simply collects dust as we proceed through the expected stages of life.  Why not save the crazy workweeks for later?  When, perhaps, after exploring so many new things, after allowing ourselves to explore so many new facets of the world, we may be much more informed?  Our perspectives may be broadened, our relationships may be stronger, our minds more mature, and our lives more fulfilled.

More to come soon.  Current reads: Success Built to Last, the Audacity to Win, Ahead of the Curve, and the Alchemist.


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Filed under: thoughts 
May 31, 2011
18 Candles + a Dose of Disrupt

                                     

I have been eighteen years old for just over ten days, and I feel ten times more enlightened, and more humbled already.  

In ten days, I’ve left my hometown of Seattle for my first trip to the Big Apple, attending TechCrunch Disrupt.  Day twelve finds me in Kansas City, Missouri, for my second day as an intern at the Kauffman Foundation.

Over the course of countless panels, fireside chats, and meeting entrepreneurs across the globe, Disrupt served a great launchpad in identifying the next big trends in tech, in addition to opening up new questions and thoughts to ponder. 

We are on the brink of a “societal revolution,” as Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures puts it.  As founders, we are revolutionizing the way people approach a problem.  As leaders, we are revolutionizing how people think and behave.  As students, we are revolutionizing the way our peers + our following generations view the world.  As MPowered members, we are revolutionizing the way our campus evolves, empowering them to embrace entrepreneurship + entrepreneurial thinking as a way of life.

Such a revolution requires noise.  It requires interaction among many parties, and it requires collaboration and compromise as well.  It requires the promise of achieving a remarkable end result.  

Such a revolution requires certain key players.  It requires founders, leaders, and strong team members.  Are good founders always good leaders?  Are good leaders always good entrepreneurs?

These are questions I continue to search answers for as summer @ Kauffman progresses.  My biggest question lies here—what are the traits that produce a great entrepreneur?  While many have tackled this question, from Mark Suster to Thomas Zurbuchen and more, perhaps we can also examine the behaviors that lead us to become entrepreneurs.  Is it the competitive streak from playing sports throughout those teenage years?  Is it the persistence of learning an instrument as a child?  Perhaps a better understanding of where this entrepreneurial mindset stems from the is the first step to igniting an even more powerful societal revolution.

What are your thoughts?  Post to follow soon.

—And parents: instead of yet another bundle of gift cards, jewelry, or gadgets, considering purchasing your child a ticket to TechCrunch Disrupt for their next birthday.  You won’t regret it.

Thanks to the Kauffman Foundation for the great opportunity + ongoing summer of learning!

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Filed under: kauffman thoughts 
May 1, 2011
Why I thank God I didn’t go to Cornell

                                             

Almost a year ago to this very day, I sent a letter that has changed my life forever.

I remember the day like it was yesterday.  I delayed.  I took a shower.  Read a book.  Checked cnn.com.  I panicked like a guy whose wife just went into labor.  And finally, the moment of truth.

I sealed the letter, and off it went to Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Four months later, I packed my bags for the University of Michigan, in some Midwest town, to this place that I knew absolutely nothing about except that it was cold.  I didn’t even know that the school was split into two campuses, or that people were fanatics about football…and what was all this “Go Blue!” nonsense?

And yet—the longer I’m here, the more I never want to leave.  I’ve caught the Wolverine fever.  Although frustrated by the “college bubble” that we reside in, the campus and its neighboring Ann Arbor community has been incredible.  Just three months ago (a lifetime, really), in conjunction with MPowered, I’d organized the University of Michigan’s first Startup Weekend, and it was one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences I’ve ever had, and I’m honored to have been a part of it.

But this wasn’t the original plan.  On March 15th of last year, I thought I was the happiest girl in the world.  I’d been accepted to Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration, a dream I had long ago given up.  By March 16th, I’d all but hopped on a plane to Ithaca.  

Why did I do it?  Why did I choose a school I’d never laid eyes on, let alone an entire part of the country that I’d never stepped foot in?  I could have graduated from the University of Washington at age 19.  I could have entered the Ivy League.  I could have stayed right at home, right in my comfort zone.  And…I could have hated my college experience.

Instead, I embarked an adventure.  Sure, I’d miss Seattle, I’d miss the familiarity, the home-cooked food, the friends, and even the rain, but I needed to seek what was beyond my current scope of the world.  And I didn’t want to limit myself.  I didn’t want to set barriers early, both academically and socially.

I came thinking I would study Business and English.  Today, I’m not so sure.  Instead, the incredible faculty and friendships I have found here have taught me to explore.  To challenge myself.  To be unafraid of uncertainty, or failure, or criticism, or rejection, or most importantly, of compromise. 

And today, as I write this on the last night in my dorm room (aka messy hurricane of packing supplies), I don’t want to leave.  This community of leaders, of explorers, of change agents have impacted me in ways I could have never imagined.  In the past four weeks alone with MPowered, with our Center for Entrepreneurship, and with my fellow friends, peers, and risk-takers, I have learned more than ever about leading and building a team, the dynamics of this university, of entrepreneurship education, and much more.  But more than anything, I have had to make decisions.  As a part of MPowered’s exec team, no longer do my decisions only affect myself.  My decisions affect programs, projects, and people.   

The University of Michigan has provided an environment in which I have learned, thought, and created.  It has shown me my fears, my flaws, my failures.  It has enabled me to grow as a student, as a thinker, as a leader of an organization.  And it has shown me that with a little bit of smart risk-taking, a healthy dose of invention, and a dash of fearlessness, we can lead our very own action revolution.  

April 12, 2011
Compromise (Yes, it’s real.)

                                              

Failure.  It’s a seven-letter death sentence.  It’s that look Tiger Mom gives you when you’ve done poorly at a piano recital, it’s that C on your English paper, it’s that product that never took off, it’s that “oh, crap” moment when you realize things aren’t quite going according to plan.

And oftentimes, when it happens, it happens.  We push it aside, ignoring its existence.  We refuse the acknowledge it even happened, and it’s buried in that pile of “oh wells” we all keep in our closets.

Yet when taken as a learning experience, failure can be the best teacher of all.  Why not take initiative and apply the learning from our failures to create success?  Cut the bs.  We failed.  So what?

Instead—let’s take a step back.  Let’s revise, reinvent, reinnovate, reincorporate, and adapt what we’ve learned into something successful.  

As Paul Buchheit recently noted, we are driven by ego-fears: by the fears of being embarrassed, humiliated, rejected, criticized.  But perhaps our true fear lies in compromise.

Nobody likes to admit that they’ve failed.  Failure is one of our biggest ego-fears.  But compromise in fact is one of the most valuable traits one could have.  It means a person is willing to take a step back, evaluate where we agree, where we can work together, and where we can improve.  Compromise is not a matter of winning or losing—it’s a win-win on both sides of the equation.  Compromise is enhancing and honing mutual ideas, hopes, and goals.  Compromise is the first step in slapping failure in the face and turning it into a success.  

So next time you’re sending out that resume of yours…it could do you well to list “Compromise King/Queen” under those special skills and achievements!

*post inspired by Paul Buchheit’s “Serendipity Finds You.”  Check it out!

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Filed under: thoughts 
April 7, 2011
”%*&!”—the dreaded four-letter word, “Team”

How do you motivate a team?

                                           

It’s a question that’s come up many times in the past month, a question I love to hear the response for. 

Throughout my time in higher education, group work has been consistently stressed in all my courses and projects, no matter what the subject.  I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time working together with others, often people I rarely interact with as soon as the project’s done with.  I’ve labored over team homework for calculus, a business plan competition, skits for Chinese class, projects for MPowered, and more.

No matter if you’re trying to drag Danny out of bed to solve derivatives + integrals, or pull Dan to check out a venue when organizing Startup Weekend, you’ve got to be able to spark that motivation to get them going.  

Where does that spark come from?

  • The story.  Share it, mold it, shape it together.  

Oftentimes the first push is the hardest—navigating unfamiliar territory as a team, whether it’s a new math problem or planning a new Student Business Consulting program is always a murky task.  But when you build your story alongside your team, when they are there creating it with you every step of the way, you build ownership and dedication.  

  • Providing ownership.

Nothing’s more discouraging than working hard on a project without getting any credit for it.  But maybe you don’t trust your new team’s judgment, or you can’t stand the idea of them taking the reins.  Get over it.  Give them a sense of ownership, a sense that they are a piece of the working puzzle, and they’ll want to see the fruits of labor just as badly as you do.  People want to feel like they are needed, wanted, and making an impact.

  • Plan to fail, and plan to fail fast.

Sometimes things just don’t work out.  Your project’s progress should be 100% transparent with the rest of the team.  Sure, there’s mistakes—but that way, everyone can see where it’s going wrong and learn from it.  Everyone can become a part of the driving force that makes your project a success.

  • Creating genuine interaction.

When was the last time you had a real conversation with your boss, professor, or project manager?  When was the last time you weren’t pitching something, persuading, or being sent to do a task?  As David Pisor of the Elysian Hotel in Chicago puts it, genuine interaction means you “value authenticity, and you value the the process.”  A strong relationship with your team is a multi-directional street that requires cooperation and two-way conversations.  

September 14, 2010
McDonald’s Makes Bible Characters

                                                

Do you remember a time when the mere color combination of red and yellow didn’t instantly conjure up the image of Mickey D’s golden arches?  Probably not.  Or maybe you can think back to those days when a mustardy yellow M wasn’t synonymous with “ba da ba ba ba, I’m lovin’ it”?  It’s probably safe to say that when it comes to advertising, the iconic fast food joint is on top of their game.  

As McDonald’s released strings of advertisements all over the country this past summer, their theme seemed to be simplicity and quality.  And yet, maybe it wasn’t simple enough.

"Our hotcakes are going like…"

"If coffee is Joe, consider us Joseph."

Tweets declared general confusion with many of the ads, yet personally, I’ve really enjoyed them.  But the key thing missing here is a connection with customers.  Instead of thinking for their customers’ benefits and what they want, the fast food giant simply attempted to bolster its brand as a semi-premium and contemporary company.  

Sorry, Ronald.  Not going to happen.

At IDEO, the famed consulting/design firm that takes a different approach to solving business problems, one of their key themes is “Human Centered Design.”  All McDonald’s needs to do is take a small step back and go back to basics.  What happened to the days when going to McDonald’s was…fun?

One little tweak would bring “If coffee is Joe, consider us Joseph” to a whole ‘nother level.  It’s missing that key element of personal connection.

"If coffee is Joe, it’s time for you to meet Joseph."  

With that, old Joseph might just give that green mermaid a run for her money.

                                                           

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Filed under: thoughts 
August 28, 2010
Why China Needs a Michael Arrington

                                              

He’s loud.  He’s brash.  He stirs things up.  And we listen.  

In a country of passive people and banned blogging, China has seen its share of international controversy, but never actively created any.  As sites like Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter are axed, they have certainly been mourned by China’s 298 million Internet users, but they have certainly been mourned quite peacefully.

Without any Michael Arringtons or Andy Sacks in the Orient, it seems that even with all of their technological advancements they won’t actually be able to make any real progress.  We cannot measure a country’s growth simply by its GDP.  Sure, China’s edged out Japan to become the second largest economy, but will it ever be able to embrace outside ideas and tools?

The current Chinese startup community is small and reserved.  There are no Andy Sacks running around with his team of TechStars, and there are certainly no such things as Techflash BBQs or Startup Weekends (although one is being planned for this fall in Beijing).  The startup community is meant to nurture each other.  To debate, to communicate, to learn. 

But with a Michael Arrington or Andy Sack, China could certainly make big strides.  There’s definitely no lack of innovation or bright minds out there, but they would also need to take steps in different directions.

Example: the education system.  But not in the way any of us would appreciate.  Students in China are pushed nine, ten hours a day with constant studying and tutoring on the weekends.  They must take a test to enter elementary school, another for junior high, and yet another for high school.  Their innovation is sucked away, and spending endless hours in the classroom lends for no time to explore other activities.  There is no time to learn to play an instrument or a sport, much less start a business (sorry, Neil Patels of China) or attend a Startup Weekend on the side.

Culturally, parents are pressured to make sure their only child is accepted to the best schools, study incessantly, and pursue the “right” major in hopes of someday becoming independent and maybe even moving to America.

Without the freedom of exploring and voicing new ideas, the Chinese startup community will simply shrivel up and be filed away as quickly as Facebook.  The country needs a Michael Arrington to encourage its people to think, to learn, and to try something new.  

Wake up, China, and get your notebooks out—you might want to pay attention to what the rest of the world is saying.

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Filed under: thoughts china 
August 27, 2010
Diamonds, Debt, and Dealing with China

                                                          china pavilion

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and take your bets.  What will it be, the old Stars and Stripes or Big Red and its lucky yellow stars?  

Amid recent reports from the New York Times of China’s quick sprint to become the world’s second largest economy, it comes with more easy acceptance than as a surprise.  As one of the world’s longest lasting civilizations, China is a country built on values and perseverance.  The differences in culture between East and West are vast, yet both find themselves vying for the top spot in the world hierarchy.  

While America is built on debt and currently spinning in economic turmoil, with unemployment being the hot topic in diners and cafes across the country, Chinese culture in itself is vehemently pitted against the mere idea of debt.  In China, credit cards do not exist.  Mortgages are unheard of.  When a couple plans on buying a home, there are no vague thoughts of future home equity lines of credit or refinancing.  Instead of the “work hard, play hard” philosophy Americans have adapted, the Chinese in turn “work hard, save hard.”  

                                                              daimonds

Example: diamonds.  Having recently travelled throughout the country, I was startled to see the lack of wedding rings dangling from ring fingers.  Maybe it’s a girl thing, but I’ve always been drawn to jewelry displays and their glittering products.  And sure, many big brands set up shop in the larger cities, including name brands like Tiffany and Cartier.  But the typical diamond ring was in fact much, much smaller than the ones you see in America.  They weren’t anything to ooh or ahh at, and definitely didn’t measure up to the spectacular rock one dreams of in her girlhood.  

How could this be?  I’m sure Chinese men love their fiancees just as much as Americans love theirs.  But for the Chinese, it isn’t a matter of love.  It’s a matter of necessity and priority.  Diamonds are incredibly expensive in China, and a young couple would much rather put that money aside for a future home or car.  When a typical Buick or BMW costs double, triple its price in America, it’s going to take a lot of piggy banks to save up for that car.  For example, a $50,000 BMW will cost maybe $120,000 in China—convert that to yuan, and the price tag comes out to a whopping 814,800¥. 

So how did they do it?  How did a country that was struggling to feed its people just thirty, forty, years ago rise up to compete with the world’s greatest?  Taking a look through history, China proves itself to be a passive country.  A country with the willpower to survive, through wars and famine and attacks alike.  While many great civilizations crumbled to the perils of corruption or greed, China has sustained over 5,000 years of history.  As historians repeat, the Chinese are a passive people that shy away from war.  When the Mongols launched attacks on the country, they didn’t go off and try to exterminate them.  They put up a wall.  They are much more inclined to discovery and innovation—many of the most commonly-used inventions are often credited towards the Chinese—fireworks, pasta, ice cream, coal.  There is even proof that the Chinese were able to discover the Americas in 1421, generations ahead of Columbus in addition to circumnavigating the globe a century before Magellan.

Leaders are chosen based on their experience, their expertise, and their expansive knowledge on leading the country.  Crime is taken care of by the death penalty—even taking bribes of 100,000 yuan will set off the ultimate punishment.

And yet the country has its faults.  The widening gap between classes is alarming—it now takes the average Chinese 25 years to purchase a home.  Yet the housing market is still raging in popularity, with new establishments and neighborhoods going up every single day.  The wealthy are lining up to purchase mansions in the most elite neighborhoods, and middle class families are purchasing multiple properties as investments.  

We’ll see where this road takes us.  But for now, I think I’ll be splitting my bets 60-40.  I’ll let you guess which is which. 

[pictures: top—china pavilion @ the shanghai world expo 2010, middle—diamonds]

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Filed under: thoughts china 
August 2, 2010
If Singapore and Beijing had a baby, it would be named Shanghai.

Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Jimmy Choo, Chanel, Gucci, Ferrari and Maserati…these brands have all made their home in one of China’s most economically developed cities, Shanghai.  

This past July, I had the pleasure of embarking on a month long trip throughout China, and Shanghai was by far one of my favorite destinations.  A big, bustling city with endless sights to see and people to meet, it was at the peak of tourism traffic this past month.  Currently hosting the 2010 World Expo (more on this in a future post), the city was loaded with tourists and businesspeople alike.

Shanghai plays host to some of Fortune 500’s biggest companies—including Walt Disney and Kraft.  During my stay, I had the chance to visit the Shanghai World Financial Center, located in the world’s second tallest building.

shanghai tower

It’s a city that thrives on exchange: cultural exchanges, business exchanges, and more.  As China’s largest port and center for trade, its residents also have the highest disposable incomes in the country.  It’s no wonder companies flock here the way hawks circle a fresh target.  

Although recent statistics show a decline in exports, Shanghai still proves to be one of China’s greatest assets.  Just ask Ermenegildo Zegna, one of Milan’s biggest luxury fashion brands.

As CEO Gildo Zegna very simply puts it, 

"China is a very important part of this growing process, together with India, and the New World," Gildo says. "If you don’t get it (the market), I think you go backward. These countries keep you energetic."

Head designer Alessandro Sartori agrees: “Shanghai is a fashionable city. It is probably the most fashionable city in China. Milan is where we were born, and Shanghai is where our future lies.”

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Filed under: thoughts china 
June 24, 2010
Got a case of overachieving? Let’s prescribe you a dose of fun.

                                               prescription

Having just returned from a trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan, I spent three days attempting to plan out a schedule for my first fall semester at the University of Michigan.  As always, I was instantly drawn to maxing out the number of credits I could take while simultaneously joining 98713876 clubs and doing 2839 extracurriculars.

But for once, I decided to take a step back and reevaluate my actions.  Sure, I’d taken twenty credits in a quarter before.  Sure, I’d gotten top-notch grades that quarter while balancing 35 other things.  But I think throughout that period I’d probably suffered through at least two minor coronaries and a lot of unnecessary premature aging (and potential gray hairs).

It’s a chronic condition that many entrepreneurs and students alike suffer from—overachieving.  Trying to do too much with too little time.  But in retrospect, why not tone down the quantity of things you’re doing and ease up the quality?  Why not, instead of attempting to conquer three different target markets and build three concepts at once, just streamline your product towards one very viable opportunity?

Or why not, instead of taking 24 credits (what was I smoking), tone it down to 15 and run for student government president?  Start a club?  Bring Startup Weekend to Michigan?   

It’s hard to let go.  Don’t worry, you’re not the only one.  But in the long run, you will be more successful.  You’ll be proud of having accomplished one thing exceedingly well, and be able to grow from there.

Plus, it’ll save you a lot of hair dye and elusive gray hair.

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Filed under: thoughts college 
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