Archives For China

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Roshi Givechi is a calm, cool, design director and associate partner at IDEO. About a year ago, she uprooted herself from the San Francisco Bay Area and embarked on a nomadic year in Asia to support our growing locations in ShanghaiSingaporeTokyo, and Mumbai. When she proposed the idea of a one-year externship within the firm, it was an experiment for all of us. Recently, I checked in with Roshi to see how it’s going and what she’s learned over the past year. Here’s what she said.

What do you think businesses gain by letting their staff work abroad for a year?

I think there’s a lot of value in supporting cross-pollination within companies. For me, it’s not just about getting inspired about design in Asia, but also about understanding IDEO’s business role in China, Singapore, Japan, and so on. For our Asian clients, me being in the room represents a global background coupled with 15 years of experience: things that matter to them. Being able to work hands-on with IDEO project teams also brings a certain peace of mind to young designers—an added benefit that’s important for global businesses to keep in mind.

Change reinvigorates. It broadens your horizons. Besides, if you let people channel their creativity in ways that map to their own interests as well as the company’s, you’re likely to get more value out of the person in the long run.

Name one pitfall from a year on the road.

One pitfall, If you’re endlessly inquisitive like me, is taming one’s curiosity so you can simply recharge. Asia, in particular, has a plethora of things to explore. I’ve had to remind myself that it’s okay to close the blinds once in awhile and tune out.I’ve realized that without time to “simmer” now and then, I won’t fully benefit from the creative inspiration this year has already given me.

Any personal revelations?

To me, it’s necessary to experience the unfamiliar every now and then. What I didn’t expect, however, is thatliving in various countries in Asia where I don’t understand the local languages would give me a sense of calm. I can’t decipher the chitchat I hear on the streets. I can’t participate in certain client meetings in my usual way because of communication barriers. Because I have no choice but to downplay what I hear on the outside, for better or worse, I’m hearing my inner voice more clearly and I reflect more deeply and frequently. And with reflection, comes learning.

What noteworthy trends are you seeing in Asia that could inform how businesses innovate for growth?

I’m sure many have heard the term “Shanzai” used to reflect Chinese imitation, or pirated brands and goods. Shanzai 2.0 reflects a culture that has been learning for a long time, is beyond copying, and—one could speculate—is now innovating.

GooApple, for example, is essentially an Apple iPhone knockoff that runs Android inside. It combines two experiences people love, eliminating the need to choose between them. Not only did this clever“merger” offer a better camera and processor when it came out, its makers show no qualms about celebrating the originators (as seen by the Apple logo placed on top of the Android logo). There’s something good to be said about craftsmanship learned by copying. It’s like apprenticeships in days gone by.

And, of course, when we think of Asia, we inevitably think of speed and agility. Along with the boldness of Shanzai, what I’ve come to admire most is a fearlessness in going to market sooner, instead of waiting to perfect things. Anyone who’s worked in India, in particular, can attest to a willingness to try things out in-market earlier and more frequently than you see in North America. To me, the motivation is simple: if companies don’t innovate in-market, others will pass them by.

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

A new phase for Asia

August 16, 2009 — 4 Comments

The BBC excitedly reported today that Japan has experienced economic growth for the last quarter. It seems as though much is being bet on Asia lifting us out of a global recession. But an important comment came from the Chinese government which has declared that future growth will have to come from domestic demand and not from exports. This represents a shift and I think may be the beginning of an important new phase. Instead of looking to serve global consumers with global brands that emulate the Sonys and Samsungs of the past, Chinese and Indian companies must look to serving and growing their domestic markets. This will require real innovation. Not just in meeting the price points that the majority of domestic consumers can afford but also to meet the social, cultural and individual aspirations of these newly emerging middle class consumers. They will not be the same as the aspirations of Europeans and Americans.The databases full of marketing analysis collected about Western consumers will be little use in this next phase of global growth. They won’t tell us about how people value education over acquisition of material goods. They won’t tell us about the relative values of community and individual. They won’t tell us about the sacrifices people are willing to make to ensure good health, income stability or adequate infrastructure. It is a long time since Europe and America went through this phase of development. The early 20thC for the US and the late 19thC for Europe. Long before the emergence of marketing and design as tools of consumerism and growth.

What are the implications for the great Asian nations and for the organizations that hope to do business there? How will they build the domestic capacity to serve their own markets instead of relying on the marketing experts and design agencies of the West to translate low cost manufacturing into brands that meet Western tastes? How will the threat of global warming and the rules of global trade effect how they meet this challenge?

One thing I am pretty sure of. The only way to find out is to be there.