Innovation in practice: A rich history

China has a rich history of innovation, from printing, porcelain, and the production of silk. Over the centuries it’s been a leader in science, art and health. In recent years, it has also emerged as a global leader in technology and digital transformation. 

The PBC documentary “Inside China’s Tech Boom” 2023 provides a fascinating look at the rapid advancements and the profound impact digital technologies are having on China and the world. It delves into some of the unique factors driving this transformation and looks at the geopolitical implications associated. It’s worth tracking down and watching to get a more detailed understanding

The relationship between China and the West is complex and I don’t intend to comment on the intricacy of this. What I found interesting are the differing mindsets, attitude and approaches to innovation between China and the West.

Points of View

Having recently designed and delivered a range of innovation programs and workshops its been top of mind. Introducing people to some aspects of the, why, what and how of innovation it was thought-provoking to get insight into the differing views China and the West have in relation to how innovation is thought about and approached. .

Image: Cathryn Lloyd

If you look at history, innovation doesn’t come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect. –Steven Johnson

The Art of Making

With a strong emphasis on manufacturing and a disciplined work culture, the practical hands-on tinkering, making, prototyping approach China takes plays a fundamental role and in their relationship toward innovation.

While the Western centric view of innovation is often about an entrepreneurial, charismatic, mostly male, technology creative with original ideas, which is a somewhat questionable concept, given ideas are regularly stolen, adapted and reinvented to produce products, services and solve problems; it appears that China’s innovation ethos lies in the art of making, manufacturing, imitating, learning by doing, and modification. 

As one of the people interviewed in the documentary said ‘China is masterful at process innovation’. It’s through process innovation that China can develop better and cheaper products and there is a mindset of learning by doing and iterating. The practical hands on approach and maker spaces fosters a culture where ideas quickly evolve from concept, to prototypes, into market-ready solutions. 

While all that tinkering and making plays a huge a major role in China’s approach to innovation, where China is lacking is in diversity. In contrast the West is also more likely to bring together different cultures, perspectives, and engage in international co-operation, research and collaboration for innovation.

Image: Cathryn Lloyd

Is there a secret sauce to innovation? And what do I take from the angle provided in Inside China’s Tech Boom and the different attitudes toward innovation? 

I would say it is a ‘yes and’ approach we need to have in relation to innovation. There are aspects from both cultural approaches that we can adapt and adopt. Here’s a few points I identify – 

  • First and foremost, there are different ways to think about and go about innovation. The West’s view of innovation is not the only view or approach. We need to think broadly about innovation. There are different pathways to explore.
  • Diversity of thought, cultures, experiences, are critical for innovation.
  • Innovation doesn’t happen in isolation, it necessitates intentional co-operation, collaboration and communication. 
  • Time and funds for R&D is needed from government and private sectors. Innovation doesn’t just necessarily happen. It is also intentional.
  • Making, tinkering, prototyping, iterating and learning by doing are fundamental elements in innovation. These activities are not a waste of time.
  • Constraints provide opportunity to push, pull and find the cracks for creativity to flourish and opportunities for innovation.
  • Reframe constraints and problems through the art of questioning and a curious mindset. Learn to ask better questions.
  • Necessity is the forerunner to invention and innovation 

Innovation-any new idea-by definition will not be accepted at first. It takes repeated attempts, endless demonstrations, monotonous rehearsals before innovation can be accepted and internalized by an organization. This requires courageous patience

Warren Bennis

Maverick Minds helps people to shift their thinking, connect and create, adapt and innovate in their unique professional context, to enhance wellbeing and for business to flourish. We love partnering and working creatively with our clients in complex and changing environments. Get in touch to find out how Maverick Minds coaching, and facilitation services can help you capitalise on your creativity and embrace innovation in your team and organisation. We’d love to hear from you.