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China's President Hu Jintao Visits Microsoft's Bill Gates--Who is More innovative?

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on April 19, 2006

China’s Hu met Microsoft’s Gates at Bill’s 40,000 square foot home (is that right?) and I am thinking what must Hu be thinking? But that’s another story. The big historical question for me is whether China can make the leap from low-cost producer to actual innovator. The latest 5-Year Plan (yes, they still do 5-Year Plans in China) puts innovation at the center of government investment and planning. That’s a good thing.

What is also interesting is how senior executives around the world see China in terms of innovation. I am still mining the insights of the BusinessWeek-BCG Most Innotive Companies survey and find this slide. So China is virutally tied with India as a destination of R&D money from global corporations—and just slightly behind Europe. Imagine that.

One slide not up on the site asks the purpose of the R&D spending. So the senior execs said that, for the most part, they still see the U.S./Canada as the place for idea generation, product design and product development but look to China and India only for product development. I take this to mean lower-cost, commodity-type design and development activities.

The big challenge for China now is to make the great leap to innovation. Some companies, such as Lenovo, are already there. Most others are not. Lenovo, by the way, is an official sponsor of the 2008 Olympics in China, the 21st century “coming out” party for the nation. As such, it offers cute little mascot dolls that are collected by Chinese kids. The big buzz in China is that no one knocks off these Olympic dolls. No one. Beijing just doesn’t allow it. So if the government can stop the knockoff of this little piece of IP, why can’t it stop……. Think about it.

One final thing. Lenovo just announced it will load its its PCs and laptops with real Microsoft software. That’s a big step in stopping piracy of software in China where most folks think nothing of it.

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Reader Comments

RitaSue Siegel

April 21, 2006 04:41 PM

To be fair, obvious and level the playing field, Lenova did get a rather good head start on innovation by buying some very sophisticated products,technology and people from IBM.

Douglass Turner

April 22, 2006 12:28 PM

I'm sorry, but the notion that a five year plan will kick start innovation and creativity in China is itself a clear indication that innovation will be a long time coming there.

Last time I checked Chinese culture was still hierarchical, deferential, tradition bound, alergic to discent, risk averse, and in general a good place to wind up in prison or worse if you say the wrong thing. All of these things are death to creativity and innovation.

Fixing all of that will take more then five years. Try 50 years, if ever.

Before innovation and creativity can blossom you need to fix that culture. Change behavior. Wait for clueless leaders to die off. That takes a long time.

Think Different,
Doug Turner
skype: dduuggllaa

Douglass Turner

April 23, 2006 01:07 PM

And right on time for this discussion thread,

Here is a snippet from today's Sunday New York Times piece on "Google's China Problem":

The penalty for noncompliance with censorship regulations can be serious. An American public-relations consultant who recently worked for a major domestic Chinese portal recalled an afternoon when Chinese police officers burst into the company's offices, dragged the C.E.O. into a conference room and berated him for failing to block illicit content. "He was pale with fear afterward," she said. "You have to understand, these people are terrified, just terrified. They're seriously worried about slipping up and going to jail. They think about it every day they go into the office."

Raise your hand if you think this is the climate for folks in China to wake up each morning ready to be creative, innovative, and generally ThinkDifferent.


James Feng

April 27, 2006 10:14 AM

seems to me that most of people whining here are with no doubt, americans.

I'd just like to know how many of you have actually been to china? Please don't tell me u know that country a lot because u heard some stories from a friend who went there for a three-day trip. And please dont tell me u know that country a lot because u hear people talk about it on radio.

Please, none of these immature stuff.

As a Chinese-born university student living in a western country, I can bet all my money on saying that although the chinese are still behind on a lot of things, they r catching up faster than u think.

For example, the chinese can boast one of the fastest internet accesses in the world; music, teen culture, film, fashion, etc have all flourished in the last 10 years or so; let alone the rapid development of infrastructure.

And guess who is pumping in all the money? U americans.

If u can actually get a chance to go to Beijing, u would probably start thinking "why the hell do these bloody rich american assholes invest their money in an undeveloped, increative country like this one?"

I dont know the answer either; simply dont know enough to comment on that. I guess it's just simple economic incentives at work, coz it would be hard to understand why these elite business people invest in something which offers no return.

If I had the money, I wanted to invest in a country that offers creativity, vitality, variety and continual growth.

By all means, remember china only kicked off its economy 25 years ago, by then my country was in a much, much, much worse economic shape than, guess who, India! But look at how far behind India is trailing behind us today.

By all means, I didnt intend to insult India, I really do appreciate their remarkable achievement and their status of the "second fastest-growing economy in the world".

But one thing I can't tolerate is people insulting Chinese culture. How much did u know about it when u said "Before innovation and creativity can blossom you need to fix that culture"? U know man, that statement just shows how ignorant u r. I've studied my country's culture for 10 years and i still can't pin down a single conclusion. I just can't tel u how diverse it is.

Last words: modesty is not a sin, next time before u open ur mouth commenting on something, or someone, think about how much u know about it.

Oh i nearly forgot to say, i dont think the next generation americans will stand a chance in competition against the next generation of chinese; i dont think u guys need me to tell u why.

Why dont we wait for another 20 years and see?


May 8, 2006 01:28 AM

i do agree with u! lets wait and see!!

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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