The Impenetrable Chinese


The Chinese are going to kick our butts in the next twenty years. I think you should know this. 

Why? Well, they have their priorities straight. Innovation in China serves the people. The Chinese may have altruism and social atavism militarized into their culture, but they write algorithms and have bullet trains.  They presently have ninety (that's right, 9-0) of them criss-crossing their country. They innovate to accentuate their Chinese-ness. To make themselves a better country. Mind you, there is a whole lot wrong with China, too, but they are making progress at an almost frightening pace. 

We innovate too. Ten years ago, the iPhone didn't exist. Today, a device that fits into the palm of my hand can do innumerably cool things.  But it is a tool, not an economic plan. We need to begin to work together to create systems that benefit the whole of society without and that may require a slight downgrade to the system itself. There is nothing wrong with the marketplace; it just needs to go in a better direction. Let’s be clear:  it is really going to come down to the willingness of major companies and entrepreneurs to live up to the implied contract they have with communities and consumers.

Just look at what happened in the wake of the 1999 boom.  My point is that if entrepreneurs and investors really could singlehandedly “create jobs,” then those jobs would still exist.  By 2001, when the Internet bubble had gone kablooey, and all the money had receded from the market, most of the jobs created by those guys disappeared.  We all know why. There was no real demand for their products, and in some cases, no real products at all. Does this sound eerily familiar? It should. Give me ten consumer media social platforms, and then show me ten actual products.  Good luck with that.

The number one revenue source in social? Wait for it....virtual goods! That's right the biggest revenue-generator in the social sphere is buying things that are not real.  Perhaps we ought not to be encouraging every kid that can do his math homework to be the "next Zuckerberg".  Perhaps we should be focusing our collective genius on building better systems in transportation, better water purification systems, and better ways of delivering energy.  Sure creating consumer media platforms is interesting and innovative in its own right, but really does nothing for society as a whole. I mean do you really need an app to show you how close your yoga studio is to your dog's groomer?  It’s also great that you can get your video distributed in real time to segmented audiences, but have you been on public transportation recently?

What some are calling the "Second Economy" will comprise collaborative solutions architects—people who will want to make money by improving the lot of society. Shared value systems are not just novel ideas for dinner-party conversations. Shared value systems are essential for reinvigorating an individual's sense of purpose and their role in society. Shared value systems at least insist that corporations and customers can collaborate.  In the final analysis, we would do far more for ourselves to teach our children about altruism than we would to teach them to write algorithms. We need to be more like the Chinese.

One doesn't need to be a genius to see that today's American innovation culture tends to pivot the attention of the person inward instead of focusing that energy outward. We are a heroically individualistic society, but business people are not trained to think about things that could benefit society as a whole. We need a little more Confucius and a little less Trump in the diet. Although the Trump is a bit like mental fiber, once you take it in it helps sort of the rest of the crap in your head.  

The Chinese teach their children both, and yet they are no more "brilliant" than we are. Or are they? 

Swords & Plows