Apologies to everyone for the long stretch between this post and my last; it is crunch time at work, and recently I’ve been doing more reading than writing.
As a blogger who cannot help but analyze the world through demographic and sociological trends, I have (as I am sure many of you have also) been saying for a long time that it is critical for us to understand the One Child Policy generation if we are to better foresee the direction China will develop.
For fairly comprehensive information on the One Child Policy, click here.
Controlling population growth. Done. But this is where the One Child Policy experiment really gets interesting.
For me, the One-Child Policy generation is intriguing and alarming as it is a grand socialogical experiment, happening just at the time when the world’s next great economic power is relying on this generation to power their next stage of growth. This stage of growth depends on China’s rising companies and budding industries, and these organizations are in-turn reliant on the cooperation of the people who make the whole thing move.
Now think of your childhood classroom, where kids interact with one another and their teacher. The dynamics of the interactions you remember as a kid are greatly influenced by the fact that you, or some of your childhood classmates, were older or younger brothers and sisters of other kids. This means by the time you first met them in the classroom, they already had 5 or 6 years interacting with another person their age, and also sharing the love & affection of their parents with another. That makes a big difference in work-group dynamics, both in the classroom and later at work. Patience, Sharing, Communication Skills, Passive/Assertive balance, are all influenced by whether a family has one or more children.
Now flip back to the China experience, and if you can imagine it, a whole classroom of single children. Can you deduce that the interactions & cooperation between One-Child Policy children would be different?
We all know about the “Four-Two-One” problem within Chinese families, and the term “Little Emperors”, while over-used the past couple years, still rings true to the contemporary Chinese experience.
We have to remember though, that the One Child Policy came into effect in 1979, meaning that the first children of the One-Child Policy generation are not really children anymore; they turn 30 this year. The One-Child Policy generation has stealthily grown up and become adults while we weren’t looking, and the first waves are now in and among us in the workplace.
Hitting the workforce & changing organizational behaviour
If I had been born and raised in China, I would be among this first group of ‘One-Childers’ (I’ll call them that for brevity). Having lived in China for a number of years, I have watched as this group of my peers graduated from university, found their first jobs, and gradually made headway in their careers with the few years of experience they have since gained.
This first group of One-Childers (those born between 1979-1985) have actually been fairly successful in adjusting to worklife and work-life balance. They have been able to integrate well into pre-existing company structures and have proven to be able to take responsibities. Many, watching the generation before them (like Jack Ma (1964) of Alibaba, Charles Zhang (1964) of Sohu, and Pan Shiyi (1963) of SOHO China) even caught the hungry and drive to be successful.
But this first group of One-Childers is a little misleading, and is not a good indicator of things to come with the rest of the One-Child Policy generation. Here’s why:
1) A number of the first group of One-Childers are actually younger siblings and not really single children. As the roll-out of the One-Child Policy varied depending on the region of China, families who had their first child before 1979, may have had a chance to have a second child after 1979 without being penalized.
2) The Open-Door Policy having just been instilled in 1978, the first group of One-Childers came from families just emerging from the cultural revolution. Thus, the early half of their lives are generally characterized by humble beginnings. Accelerated wealth creation for Chinese individuals and families only began to take off into the mid 80′s as Export industries, Real Estate, and Raw Materials started benefiting private owners. Therefore, the entire “Little Emperor” experience — getting whatever the child materially wanted — is not present for this first group of One-Childers.
Its now 2009, and those born after 1986 are starting to enter the workforce. This group is fully set in the single-child environment, and the term “Little Emperors” was really invented to describe the generation starting with this group.
Now that my generational group has gained enough experience and are in managerial positions hiring entry-level staff, my peers and I often share stories about the characteristics and quality of this group of new hires. There are several rising themes often attributed to this new group of One-Childers: 1) they have serious problems with authority figures 2) they have a general disillusionment with responsibility & reality 3) they lack passion/drive to stand out 4) they have problems with group collaboration/communication 5) they are incapable of identifying fault/areas for improvement within themselves.
These five characteristics are broad generalizations that may not apply to each individual, but for those who have experience working with or managing One-Childers born after 1986, I would guess that a large majority of these themes are apparent. And these five characteristics are direct products of the Little Emperor syndrome.
The major issue is, how do you deal with such characteristics? This group is just the head of a long generation of One-Childers with the same qualities, perhaps even exacerbated. There is little to mitigate from this situation. Pretty soon a large portion of all China’s companies will be staffed by this generation. In a few years, this group will move into managerial positions and begin reformatting team structures and work-flow based on their own preferences, likely influenced in part by these five themes. The question is, how will China’s emergent work-dynamic look like? Will this transformation in China’s organizational behaviour be efficient? effective? offer competitive advantages or blunt China’s edge?
A brief, brief word about marriages in China. If there was an industry to invest in right now, it would be the ancillary businesses related to weddings. The “Four-Two-One” factor magnifies the significance and value potential of this still-growing industry. As the first group of One-Childers enter their late twenties, marriage season has begun, or should I say, the marriage competition has begun.
Three entire generations of two families now arrive at the apex of their chance to show off their new-found wealth and success. Forget the big screen TV, the new apartment, or luxury sedan. The Wedding of two One-Childers will make those shows of wealth look like chum-change. (Actually, the wedding will probably include all those things just mentioned). And one relative’s only-child wedding will be compared to another relative’s. One former classmate to another’s. One work colleague to another’s. And lets not forget what a Little Emperor wants, he/she gets. Its a vicious cycle, but I guess a good one for those in the business of weddings. Its 2009. There is at least 30 more years of One-Child Policy weddings. Damn.
Back to China’s One-Child workforce. What’s the Upside?
Is there a saving grace? I hope so. The only one I can think of so far is technology and new media. They are the X-factors in this whole equation. Perhaps the characteristics we currently see as major faults in the One-Childers can become advantages in new utilization of technology & media. Can the One-Childer’s teach us a thing or two about using technology for collaboration? Remember, this is the first real generation of Chinese that grew up with PCs, the internet, the mobile phone, first in an entertainment context before they became work tools.
So maybe we’re on the brink of a Chinese-style collaborative revolution instead of implosion.
Here’s a Video Resume a new Chinese graduate just uploaded onto the web. He’s trying to enter the workforce for the first time, and he’s using the tools he has around him; namely technology and media:
Pretty cool huh? Maybe this is the beginning of something. I’ll leave you with that. I’d love to hear your comments on this subject. Its definitely a work in progress.
In the last post, Part I, the idea of digital ecosystems was explored with a closing question about where we are headed with these three ever-growing empires.
I believe the answer lies in analyzing the issue of screensize.
In the past year and particularly during the last few months, there has been great attention spent on Netbooks. This new sub-category of computing devices fills the gap inbetween the cellular phone and the laptop. Being larger than a cellphone with a fully functional keyboard, it allows a user experience much nearer to the laptop. However being on average 50% – 75% smaller than a standard laptop means it offers even more mobility and is a better fit for those that demand constant computing capabilities that can keep up with their active lifestyles.
Indeed, some have begun to openly wonder whether the Netbook will eventually replace the Laptop. The reason for the rise of the netbook now can be attributed to two primary developments: 1) Better microprocessors made specifically for mobile computing and 2) The coming of age for Solid State Memory. With microprocessors such as Intel’s Atom, the priority is continued reduction in size, while maximizing energy efficiency while still offering a competent processing speed. The major reason for the viability of the Netbook is the rapid price reductions of Solid State Memory. It has been falling in dollars/GB for several years now, but in the past 2 years has only just begun to break the thresholds of being affordable enough to be used in mass commercial products. Apple’s MacBook Air was one of the first major mainstream computer products to set a vision for what SSDs can do, even if the price tag was (and still is) reserved for the rich and famous. Netbooks are only the next iteration of SSD usage in mass computing. While still more expensive than original Hard Disk Drives, SSD are far more durable to drops, extreme temperature, make no sound, and are more lightweight and compact. A perfect combination for mobile computing.
The netbooks also have a much lower price tag than laptops and desktops too. The reason is not because its significantly slower than the other two computing options, but because it has less memory capacity. There are two drives for having less memory: 1) To lower price of the product to an attractive level that will make it a competing alternative to the laptop and 2) Because people are increasingly needing less and less memory on their computing devices. Price is obvious, but people using less memory may be intriguing to some.
With Facebook, YouTube, Google Docs, iWork.com, Picasa, Flickr, LastFM and SalesForce.com to name a few, it is plain to see that storing things online is becoming the norm and not an anomaly. When a person finds that their life is increasingly online and all their content is stored online, the computing device’s priorities shift to processing speed and connectivity. In-device memory merely facilitates the uploading of information onto the net.
With this in mind, and the commercial success of the netbook this year, it isn’t surprising to see Apple planning a large, 7 – 9 inch screen iPod touch. And there you have it. The emergence of the mini tablet PC. Each new generation of computer strives to be lighter, faster, more connectivity, thinner, convenient, and offers a superior user interface more efficiently translate your requests.
Essentially, the computer will evolve into a simple, light-weight access panel to the internet with primarily upload capabilities.
We’re already starting to see it happen with iPhone/iPod Touch, the mini tablet PC, the regular tablet PC, the new iMacs that have done away with computer towers, and large LCD and Plasma flat-screen TVs.
As more and more functionality and our lives moves online, the need for varied formats of the computer will decrease. Eventually the only choice consumers will have to make is what size screen they’ll like.
It is a question of screensize.
Large screens for home, mid-sized screens for mobile work and when carrying a bag, small screens for ultra mobility when carrying a bag is not desired.
Going back to the three present digital ecosystems being offered by Microsoft, Google and Apple, which one will prevail if computers evolve the way its been described above? Microsoft’s present business model of selling installation-based software isn’t going to be compatible with an online, browser-based world that is more concerned with upload than download. Google’s model of offering completely free access to its online products and charging advertisers for revenue seems to fit better with a world with thinner, lightweight computers. We just witnessed an extraordinary event where two developers grafted Google’s Android platform onto one of the new Netbooks. This could be the first steps of many Google may take in securing its leadership in the next generation of computers. Apple’s closed-system software-hardware bundle still has a fair chance of succeeding if Apple can guarantee it continues to introduce the next must-have computing device that takes everyone one step closer to a thinner, more light-weight computing world. I hear iWork.com, Apple’s answer to Google Docs will be subscription-based. If Apple can keep its momentum it just might be able to lure enough people and lock them into Apple’s ecosystem to charge them all subscription fees.
It seems that if computers continue to get thinner and lighter, then for the longevity of this development (say the next 5-10 years), Google and Apple have very bright futures while Microsoft has a tough battle ahead.
But if we review the question of screensize again, an astute entrepreneur may take the idea of screensize one step further and ask: “why would we need to continue requiring consumers to carry a screen with them wherever they go? Why can’t we provide screens for them wherever they are. so they don’t have to carry screens anymore?”
Then the question no longer is about screensize, but about moving screens from 2D to 3D. Enter surface computing. All the surfaces, wherever you are, are screens for you to access your information, upload your information, and communicate. The tables, walls, clothes, all surfaces will become computing access points for the digital ecosystem.
If thinner, more lightweight 2D computers/screens is the 5-10 year mid-term horizon, then surface computing is the 15-20 year long-term horizon.
I think its fairly clear the direction we’re all headed. The movers & shakers of our generation, whether we love them or hate them, are busy at work creating competing information/media/communication ecosystems for us to live in.
How about doing work? Google Docs are 24/7 networked up-time, Microsoft Office has a lot more bells and whistles but you pay a pretty penny for this stand-alone product. And Apple’s iWork is just prettier.
Big on entertainment? Apple’s iTunes has cornered the music market and offers some of the best webcasts, games & apps in a sweet GUI. Add to that Apple TV and all these goodies can be accessed not just on your computer but in your livingroom too. Microsoft’s Xbox attacks the entertainment question from the gaming angle, but with MMO and SecondLife-like Avatar capability now the norm, interactive communication is a readily available function available on your bigscreen tv. Xbox’s next iteration will see Blu-Ray player capabilities, and its cooperation with Netflicks brings a mountain of new content. Google has YouTube. And as it inks more syndication agreements for YouTube content, it spreads its net wider. Even now, record labels and broadcast networks are sweetening to the YouTube platform as ad revenues start coming in. YouTube has become today what MTV was for the MTV generation.
With Apple’s domination of mobile music with iPod and pioneering of mobile digital communications with iPhone, the digital ecosystem continues to extend. Microsoft is fighting an increasingly uphill battle with the Windows Mobile Platform, and its Zune, while the first in its product segment to boast Wi-Fi capabilities, far trails Apple’s iPod. Google has gotten into the mobile game in a paradigm-shifting way with the open source Android platform a year ago. Now with the T-Mobile G1 phone, or any of the other new Android phones coming out in 2009 from Huawei, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson, Google is on its way to being a household name for mobile devices.
So catering to your whole digital life, Microsoft, Google and Apple have each created separate digital ecosystems for you to inhabit. Whether its on your desktop, laptop, in your livingroom with your big-screen TV or out-and-about with your mobile device, these three digital giants have some product to keep you linked into their domain.
These three are building their digital ecosystems in different ways though. Microsoft, coming from a long heritage of selling installation-based software maintains the philosophy that the device doesn’t matter, but a digital ecosystem is all about a software ecosystem. Albeit, Microsoft has made forays into devices with the Zune and Xbox, with fair success. In part, Microsoft has seen the success of Apple’s approach. Apple maintains the philosophy that a digital ecosystem is derived from the complete user experience in a hardware-software bundle. As a closed system with high standards and high focus on the User Interface both virtual and real, Apple has produced hit after hit and everyone is taking notice. The closed system also makes Apple’s ecosystem particularly sticky with things like DRM in addition to general design appeal. Selling these hardware-software bundles at a premium price, you’re literally ‘buying into’ Apple’s ecosystem. Finally, Google’s philosophy is similar to Microsoft’s, in that the digital ecosystem should be primarily software, and should be run/accessed from any device regardless who made it. Where Google differs from Microsoft is that instead of selling installation-based software like Microsoft, Google’s ecosystem is web-based with little or no download/installation required and -even more shocking- Google is offering its ecosystem for FREE. Google’s ecosystem is powered by ad dollars.
Three digital ecosystems, one selling installation software, one selling hardware-software bundles, and one offering free use of software hosted online while making money from some other guy.
Which ecosystem will we eventually find ourselves in? Is there room for more than one?