China – from copy to create, learners to leaders and imitators to innovators

By Natalie Cope, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program and BOSS Emerging Leaders MBA Scholarship Recipient

150226_SydneyUni_SH03_11200There can be no question that global, economic, strategic and political influence is shifting towards Asia. The meteoric return and economic re-emergence of China is unquestionably a defining feature of the increasing influence the region wields. In this rapidly changing world order, Australia’s future stability and economic prosperity will hinge on our ability to keep pace, be malleable and deepen our ties.

But when people speak of and consider China, it is often only in reference to the numbers, scale and the economic opportunity. That it is an Asian giant, a global powerhouse and an economic phenomenon. They highlight statistics and reference the population of 1.36 billion people as little more than a potential customer base (of which 300 million are now considered middle class).

While the scale, numbers and economic possibilities are not mistruths, to construe the opportunity purely in economics is to overlook important aspects of the “China opportunity” and what is a remarkable socio-cultural and intellectual metamorphosis. Without proper consideration, it will be the undoing of any business and their desire for success.

It is so important to stop and absorb the (often times intoxicating) energy, to appreciate and understand the history and character and strength of the people who are driving this story. To acknowledge that it is an atmosphere created as a result of a competitive environment of unimaginable proportions. Despite the incredible and increasing wealth in China, the reality for many remains challenging. China is still in the process of strengthening its social safety nets, and the population largely continues to exist in the absence of an institutionalized modern welfare state. The stakes of failure are therefore great. Livelihoods are defined by an ability to maintain pace, to keep pushing, to be innovative, and often times ruthless.

It is this environment that is driving an era of innovation and creation that is a defining feature of modern China and changing not only China’s but also the global playing field. The resilience, grit and determination of the people behind this story is seeing China quickly mature from a country of copy-cats to creators, from learners to leaders and from imitators to innovators. China is driving innovation across business models, product development and technology, examples of which were abundant and on display during our time in the country on the international business project. This constant evolution and adaptation is being propelled by the aptitude and willingness of Chinese companies and businesses to be the first, the fastest, and the best – to understand their customers and deliver not only on what those consumer preferences are, but by predicting, and informing the trends of what consumers don’t yet know they want and need.

If Australian and global businesses wish to include China in their global growth strategies, which is increasingly not an “if” but a “must” then they will need to pay heed to the above, and understand and be prepared for an increasingly sophisticated and competitive landscape. They will need to constantly reinvent themselves; to be nimble and move fluidly and adapt as the market shifts and changes at an often uncomfortably rapid pace.

It was apparent no more so than on this most recent visit, that to play in the China league will take dogged determination, work ethic and unrelenting patience and commitment. It will take considerable investment and smarts. Playing in China is not and never will be an away game. While a haven of opportunities, China is not for everyone; but it will reward the bold, the resilient, the prepared and the curious. An incredibly important step (amongst many) on this journey is to first stop, draw breath and take time to build relationships and better understand China’s history as well as its business, cultural, political, ethical and regulatory environment. Good luck!

 

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