Chapter 11: Part 1 – From Left to Right

Forty years after the reform and opening up, China’s economy has risen to second place in the world. Chinese companies are also increasingly going abroad and stepping onto the global competitive stage. But overall, Chinese companies are often large but not strong, with relatively few original innovations, especially truly world-changing disruptive innovations. We can’t help but ask why Chinese companies always seem to be “a breath away” from innovation?

China is not short of “right-brained leaders.” Faced with US sanctions, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei once likened it to this in an interview. He said that in the global technology field, the United States is like being on top of the Himalayas while China is at the foot of the mountain. The snow on the mountain melts and irrigates the crops at the foot of the mountain, but the United States can also share the benefits of the crops through this water flow. But now the United States does not let water flow down, which has two consequences: one is that people at the foot of the mountain will dig their own wells to irrigate their crops; and the other is that people at the foot of the mountain will not give money to the United States. Ren Zhengfei vividly likened it to: “They are very cold on the mountain, and if water doesn’t flow down, it will freeze up there.” His conversation was very visual. He expressed his views through storytelling. This is a very strong “right-brain ability.” But in China, like Ren Zhengfei who relies on vision-driven “right-brained leaders,” he is not unique. We mentioned earlier that Jack Ma believes that talent can be recruited by “smelling” and observes the working status of his team. He even tried to sing with Faye Wong and made his own movies. Whether these are considered “abilities” or “interests,” one thing is certain: these ideas’ “sparks” all originated from Jack Ma’s “right brain.”

China is also not short of companies that adhere to a “user-centered” belief. Even companies like Xiaomi have actually gone further and earlier than Apple in their exploration of innovative “user-centered” management models. And Zhang Xiaolong once said at Tencent’s internal annual meeting that although WeChat’s “daily active user count” indicator is very high, in order to give users a good experience, they will not replace users’ homepage with advertisements when they open WeChat, although this can bring Tencent a huge income.

But China lacks true “The Right-Brained Organization.” And the shortcoming lies in employee capabilities. Employees in Chinese companies, especially managers, generally have strong “left-brain abilities,” but generally lack “right-brain abilities.” I think there may be two reasons: one is the problem with our education system that we discussed earlier; and the other is due to historical reasons. Our early entry into world stage competition was mainly concentrated in two areas: manufacturing as a world factory; and areas where developed countries started relatively late such as IT industry. The development of these two areas inherently relies on data and other “left-brain abilities.”

Jack Ma once said: “I really don’t like MBA.” He once said at a cross-strait entrepreneurs summit that Alibaba had sent many outstanding employees to study for MBA degrees in the past; but originally very smart employees became “stupid” after completing their studies. A “right-brained leader” often has a strong intuition. His feelings are correct.

Mature businesses need “left-brained leaders,” but unconventional innovative businesses need “right-brained leaders.” When our managers are good at data and logic and other “left-brain abilities,” they will be able to handle sustaining innovation with ease. But when managers who are good at “left-brain abilities” are asked to enter disruptive innovation fields, they will be at a loss. Especially when managers lack “right-brain abilities,” we are not good at using imagination to guide progress or using intuition to make judgments. However, disruptive innovation is in a “Murphy’s world.” Its special feature is that it is inherently anti-logical. In the stage of disruptive innovation, we cannot actually confirm whether we belong to a kind of disruptive innovation or not. And once we can confirm that we are disruptive innovation, we have actually entered the stage of sustaining innovation. Therefore, using left-brain abilities such as data and financial data during disruptive innovation is often ineffective and may even be misleading. We need to learn to use right-brain abilities such as intuition, feelings and empathy; these right-brain abilities can be trained.

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