The blog seems to have caught on in China, and I’ve been commissioned to write a special version for China Business News, addressing some of the themes that I see here. So here is the latest story, presented in both its original Mandarin and English, that is running right now. Huge thanks to my colleague Elyssa He for translating.
So finally, it’s the famed Year of the Dragon. Believing as I do that all things happen for a reason, I though it might be exciting to explore if this unique astrological moment has any bearing on our collective destiny at this particular moment in time.
Examining dragons, I came across the following definition: “Occupying the 5th position in the Chinese Zodiac, the Dragon is the mightiest of the signs. Dragons symbolize such character traits as dominance and ambition. Dragons prefer to live by their own rules and if left on their own, are usually successful. They’re driven, unafraid of challenges, and willing to take risks. They’re passionate in all they do and they do things in grand fashion. Dragons prefer leading to being led. Jobs that allow them to express their creativity are good choices. Some good careers include: inventor, manager, computer analyst, lawyer, engineer, architect, broker, and sales person.”
Reading this, I suddenly realized why dragons feel so familiar to me. Not only am I clearly surrounded by them, working as I do in a dynamic, creative environment, but these attributes also apply to many of our clients, who tend to be bold, curious and risk-taking, as well as the people out in the world that inspire us: people that are passionate, fearless and driven. For the other signs (I am a rabbit, in case you were wondering), keeping up with and supporting the Dragon is a very important thing to do. Wikipedia states: “The Rabbit possesses great powers of compassion and perception and can understand the truth of the Dragon’s heart better than could most other signs,” which probably explains why I spend so much of my time calming the dragons around me –our team of global designers -down and making sure they are being focused and productive.
Entrepreneurs are, to me, the dragons of the modern business world. Entrepreneurs without a doubt prefer leading to being led. Entrepreneurs follow their own rhythm, make (and often break) their own rules, and define what success means to them on their own terms. One of my Chinese business heroes, Jack Ma, is not surprisingly, a dragon. Small in stature, humble in tone of voice but firm in his opinions and viewpoints, he has built an empire that is the envy of many around the world, a business with strong beliefs and passionate values, successful both economically and emotionally. Refusing to settle for the status quo, if something does not work or meet the needs of the consumers he values so dearly, he creates his own, often superior version. Having repeatedly challenged China’s lagging state-owned banks for not being flexible enough in the space of internet transaction, in 2004 he developed his own online payment system, Alipay, to help consumers easily buy products on his sites and across the Web. In 2009, he developed a service called Ali-loan, a lending partnership with banks to help small businesses access more loans. “If banks don’t change, we will change banks,” he said at his internal employee conference. In 2011, Mr Ma acted rapidly and fundamentally to investigate the accusations of fake Taobao storefronts to stamp out any tendency towards a pursuit of short-term financial gain at any cost. He fired those directly involved, and in a principled move, he also removed Alibaba’s CEO and COO even though the two executives were not personally implicated in the scam. In the same year, he controversially transferred all of Alipay’s shares into domestic ownership in line with Chinese government regulation in spite of severe criticism for dishonouring the spirit of contract with Yahoo. Thinking like a dragon, creating a dragon business, behaving like a dragon.
This is an important moment for the dragons inside all of us to come to the forefront of business, as the collective desire for new ideas, new ways of working and new ways to communicate those ideas becomes ever more important. Chinese business in 2012 needs to become more entrepreneurial as well as significant, fearless as well as responsible, grand as well as original. In other words, become more dragon-like; use this astrological moment in time to create a new future for yourselves - embrace risk, failure and learning, challenge traditional ways of working and behaving, create new products, services and ways to engage your consumers. We are lucky in that our clients in China (MNC’s, local and international) are definitely looking for this and collectively going on the journey of learning, discovering, creating and implementing new ideas together is equally exciting and challenging.
Whatever sign they are - a snake, a monkey or a rooster - it is important to us that our clients bring out their inner dragon – their boldest, bravest and most entrepreneurial side – and help that drive their passion, ambition and ultimately their business. Dragons don’t abide by the rules but create their own; here at IDEO we live by the phrase “Don’t ask for permission. Ask for forgiveness,” which drives our own entrepreneurial culture forward. I am not for a second suggesting that everyone comes into work and breaks rules without care of consequence, but this is clearly astrologically designated as a year for bold moves and bravery. Jack Ma is leading the way, my hope is that many others follow.
With that notion in mind, I am therefore unofficially rechristening the year not just as The Year of The Dragon, but also as the year of the dragon inside us all, The Year of The Entrepreneur.