Business Brains

Can Silicon Valley's free-spirited innovation be exported to China?

Posting in Education

Signs of innovative spirit sprout up within the long-suppressed business culture of China.

"Silicon Valley" isn't just a region of office parks stretching between San Jose and San Francisco, California -- it's a state of mind, a passion for innovation and unconventional and non-conformist thinking.

So Lara Farrar of CNN asks the question: can managers and employees in a highly conformist society such as China learn to think the Silicon Valley way?

There are huge barriers to growth of more free-spririted thinking and capitalism in Chinese society, Farrar observes. "Businesses in China revolve around perplexing power structures, where innovative thinking is often stymied, partly by an education system that prioritizes rote memorization over creative thinking, and partly because employees are afraid of offering input that might insult the intelligence of their boss."

Yet, the business culture within China has been rapidly evolving -- thanks to an influx of foreign companies, Chinese citizens returning from education abroad, and the pervasiveness of the Internet.  Members of Generation Y in China -- those now in their 20s and entering the workforce -- also are driving change in some places.

"Most who work in fields related to management studies in China say that offices are becoming more democratized with traditional power structures fading away where employees are equals and ideas can be shared and criticized openly....  Not only white collar workers but even blue collar workers are expecting more fair status, more learning opportunities.... 'The older managers, the command-and-control style management, that was in the past,' [said Elisa Mallis, an executive coach at Management Development Services Ltd. in Beijing]... In Zhongguancun, a technology hub in Beijing, it does seem that change has happened almost overnight. Only a couple of years ago, debates especially among foreign executives and investors working there complained of the dearth of innovation and lack of skilled entrepreneurs in China. Now there are more start-ups than ever, with some growing into major companies with operations overseas."

Is the command-and-control style of management -- considered counter to innovation in North America and Europe -- breaking down in China? Can Silicon Valley's free-spirited innovation be exported to China? Granted, with Internet censorship and heavy-handed government regulations, China has a long way to go until free-spirited hubs of innovation really flourish. But things are sprouting.

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure