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A quest to understand Chinese’s innovation landscape

complex adaptive system

The Chinese’s innovation landscape is a complex adaptive system, moving at full speed.
This idea doesn’t please delegations that visit us from around the world. They come to Shanghai, hoping to form an opinion on the growing presence of Chinese startup news in their media. While we wish we had a clear and marketable story to share, this is the closest thing I found.

A good definition of complex adaptive models is from Ian Brad Feld, used with Community Building:

“A Simple system is one that has a single path to a single answer. If you want to get to the solution, there is one, and only one way to do it.
A Complicated system is one that has multiple paths to a single answer. To get to the answer, you have different choices you can make. However, there is only one correct solution.
A complex system is one that has multiple paths to multiple answers.
When you toss in the word “adaptive,” you end up with a system that changes based on the choices that you make, and as a result of these choices, the answers change.”

Brad Feld and Ian Hathaway

Think about it for 30 seconds, and then picture this system at the highest speed. This is fascinating.

In many ways, the core attributable reasons are:

  • The most enormous amount of resources (financial, talents, size of the market)
  • Individual desire to prosper
  • A government that restricts and enables, sometimes alternatively

Now, that is missing the full picture. In reality, we would need to add layers of complex cultural, social, and historical reasons.
But whenever I play this in my head, I end up realizing the sheer amount of variables to take into account. Eventually, I am reminded of this wise statement:
“Someone visiting China for a week understands the country perfectly! The person staying in China for a year has an opinion. The person staying in China for ten years knows nothing about it.” 
It expresses how quick it can be to shape certainties about the country. In reality, the more immersed you are, the more blurry it starts to be.

As a way to express this, I would always mention the two following disclaimers to our visitors:

  • You have to come back, six months from now, everything will be different.
  • Whatever I shared, the opposite is most definitely exact as well.

There is one reality to those living in Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, and other cities in China:
The only constant seems to be continual change. 

Photo by Hike Shaw on Unsplash

Author:

Matthieu Bodin is an entrepreneur and community builder. As the International Growth Director at XNode (thexnode.com), he works with startup founders, corporations, and ecosystem players to innovate in China. He is on a mission to identify the relevant model that will help organizations stay ahead of the competition. Previously, Matthieu worked for Techstars as the Regional Manager for Greater China where he supported community leaders to nurture their local tech communities. He has spent 12+ years in Greater China: Beijing, Hong Kong, and now Shanghai. He is on Twitter and Instagram with @maboxiu.

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