This past weekend was MIT’s China Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (CHIEF), a two day blitz of reknown speakers and fantastic panels. The topic of interest was Innovation, and the theme running through the discussions focused on two main issues:
1. Can China innovate. If so, how?
2. How does China fit into the world?
These questions were asked and answered from a host of perspectives, including
Wang Shi Yu Lu. (the dialogues of Wang Shi)
There were also moments of rare philosophy and humanity. Wang Shi, the founder of VanKe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_Vanke), the biggest real estate developer in China, gave a talk in english (he’s only been in the states for 1.5 years!) about his journey and some lessons he’s learned interfacing between East and West cultures.
He said three profound things:
1.”I only spend 1/10th of my time on business. Back in the day when I was running Vanke, I spent 9/10 of the time training for climbing mountains. Now that I am a student at Harvard, I spend 9/10 of the time studying.”
This followed on the heels of another professor who talked about innovation, saying that entrepreneurs these days are a little too pedal-to-the-metal. Its not good form to go all out- one must cultivate a balance between life and work. The truly successful people are not the ones who apply themselves infatigably, but those who have developed and matured in all dimension.
2. Understanding religion is hugely important for grasping cultural backgrounds in the states. I plan to study here at Harvard, and then in Istanbul, and Jerusalem, the epicenters of the world religions. When was the last time you heard a Chairman of a multibillionaire corporation say that?
3. Combine your expertise. He holds the world record for highest paragliding, because he leapt off one of the tall western mountains in China. Some people might call it unfair, but he defends himself: “What I did I don’t think anyone in the next ten years will break. Paragliding is hard to learn, so no mountaineers do it, but mountaineering is equally hard, so no paragliders think about it. To make my record, I had to climb up the mountain with 60 kg of paragliding gear. What I did was an achievement, like any others.”
Bringing Marketplace Problems to the Problem Solvers
Professor Charles Cooney, of Deshpande Institute at MIT, also gave a lecture about the importance of innovation, and the ecosystem that MIT has in place to develop.
But moreover, he stressed a key idea. Humbly, he said “Something that MIT is not really good at if figuring out what exactly the Market needs.” This is the idea that the innovative creations that people generate in research labs are important contributions to basic research, but more often then not they remain theoretical in application. If we wish to truly generate value, we must tie the developments in house closely with the needs and pains of the society, so whatever does develop will be worthwhile and fruitful.
High Altitude Climbing
Both Wang Shi and Charles Cooney showed pictures of their passion during their slideshow- little black dots of human figures huddled close to the snowcaps of the worlds tallest mountains. There has been a recurring theme of mountains in this blog lately, and I don’t think its all coincidence. What is the draw of mountaineering to these immensely successful people? Something poetic, the grueling physical feat of climbing rewarded by the awe-some view from the mountaintop. Stand on the tip, and survey your kingdom.
But Cooney had two interesting things to say:
Risk management- he tries to minimize the amount of risk he undertakes, but understands that risk is about . In his presentation, there were two pictures: one of him, taking a picture of his son climbing on the mountain before him, with a vertical drop of 5000 feet under his feet.
And the second, as he is ascending the mountain himself, his head is bowed and looking at his feet, because he knows that the real goal is not the mountaintop, but getting down the mountain.
What wonderful words, thoughts.