(The next installment of the Chinese version of this column, presented as always in its original Mandarin and English.)
I’m writing this as I fly across the Atlantic to the USA after a hectic set of conversations and meetings at the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference.
I have lived on and off in America for over 20 years and one of the things that has always fascinated me about America is how it manages to be both diverse and unified at the same time - 50 states, each with their own unique geographies, climates, accents, economies and mindsets, but at the same time, still joined by a common purpose, shared beliefs and values. While nobody could argue that the USA faces unique challenges due to its diversity and scale, I have always found that the interdependence of the parts and the unity as a whole admirable.
It was my first time at Boao, and listening to speech after speech, one thought swam through my mind the entire time I was there: that perhaps, it is time for another USA to emerge - The United States of Asia. Let me explain.
The concept of interdependence is age-old when it comes to the nature. Interdependence in the natural world means that each species relies on others as part of its natural ecosystem, that by supporting one another each creates value for themselves and the others. Essentially, interdependence is a system where, by celebrating their differences and each realizing that their unique contribution creates mutual value, every species contributes to the good of the whole.
I’m lucky in that my work takes me all over the world and to different cultures and places – I grew up in Singapore which in many ways feels like home to me, but I have also spent a good deal of my life in both Europe and America, so I feel pretty well-equipped to make this statement: countries need to learn how to become more interdependent, like our animal friends.
In the last few weeks, I have worked on projects in four completely different Asian cultures, all of which taught me something and made me realize how those learnings could be so beneficial spread across the region.
First Japan, where we witnessed the resilience and dignity that emerged from the Japanese people in the wake of last year’s 3.11 earthquake, tsunami and subsequent economic problems, teaching us about the value of a collective sense of purpose and how each individual’s contribution can really matter. Then Singapore, where we see a society, where a well-designed and thoughtful infrastructure underpins and supports its citizenship, now looking to balance that infrastructure with an equally vibrant creative economy. Then India, where the natural resourcefulness and entrepreneurial bravery of the Indian mindset is creating new businesses at remarkable speed and with tremendous potential. Then finally to China, where I sat on a panel at Boao to discuss the manufacturing industry’s pressing need and imperative to shift itself from manufacturing meaningless products to creating meaningful and valuable products that meet the needs of the Chinese citizen.
That’s just four countries, and I can only imagine what Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and others have to offer, teach and contribute to the Asian ecosystem.
In our work at IDEO, we are often asked to help disparate parts of an organization work together around solving a common problem. We find that design is a great unifier; that by putting the user in the center of the process, we make sure that everyone is aligned around creating value for them, and that each individual’s contribution can be seen as driving towards the same end goal. As our work increases in its scale and complexity, we are finding that the stakeholders we are managing are often large, complex organizations in themselves. We find that giving business units a common problem to work together towards solving is an effective and constructive way to break down boundaries and show them that they can, in essence, go from being independent entities to becoming interdependent, each contributing their own expertise to the ecosystem.
In this same vein, I’d love to see The United States of Asia start to work together towards a common purpose – the happiness, wellbeing and prosperity of the Asian citizen. Each country has unique learning and insights, I have no doubt that each is working towards this goal, but often individually. I’m sure that by sharing the load and by realizing that each has its own unique piece to play in the system that each and all can benefit. Perhaps design can play the role of helping bring everyone together and work towards a common purpose and a more harmonious future.
To interdependence. To unity.
此次是我头一回参加博鳌论坛，听着一场又一场的演讲，我脑海中时不时闪过这样一个念头：也许，另一个“USA”崛起的时刻已经到来——“亚洲联邦”（the United States of Asia)。且听我解释。