While advising and coaching executives, I encourage them to think seriously about whether China is really their ‘cup of tea’ at all. It isn’t for everyone. Neither can I, or anyone else, tell investors and decision-makers whether they are cut out for the task. China’s kaleidoscopic variety of innovation models is scattered all over a recent Harvard Business Review matrix of strategic approaches (see illustration).
Some Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) – in construction, for instance – are stuck in a quasi-militaristic culture of orders and obedience, while others (like telecom) have been meticulously amassing ‘brain power’ and intellectual property for the long haul. Tech giants, white goods and automobile manufacturers increasingly resemble their international Fortune-500 counterparts (Tencent and Alibaba made the list in 2017), while entrepreneurs perpetuate a volatile culture of ventures in drones (DJI), mobile phones (Tecno), electric vehicles (NIO), e-commerce and basically anything else that you can imagine.