Why Are Debates About China’s Innovation Problem Useless?

12 July, 2016 / Articles
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The debate over China’s innovation potential keeps coming back. It was even one of the first topics I wrote about in my own blog Startup Noodle. Since then I see it returning again (interesting essay by Maya Cypris) and again (article published by the World Economic Forum) and there are many, many other examples.

It’s not that we shouldn’t talk about whether China is innovative or not. But I just think it’s useless. The ones who are part of the ecosystem (that’s including me) will claim it’s more innovative than what other people think. While those firms which felt their products had been copied and sold at 50% less by someone from China would claim they were not innovative.

In recent years, people understand that innovation has many forms also in addition defining innovation is pretty tricky. You made an existing product available in a new market. Is that innovative? Perhaps it is because you build the right partnerships and agreements. You tweaked and fit a product to target another group? That might be innovative, finding a new use for an old product. You can find many other examples how companies grow and show this is innovative, but does it really matter?

It’s related to what I claimed in a previous article.  Innovation is everywhere and it fits itself to the place and time it resides.

Here is a question related to innovation in China to which I gave an answer on Quora a few weeks ago which was my most popular answer so far. I invite you to add your comments on the topic or here at the comments.

I tried to be very specific and gave one example that illustrated this point. Spoiler: the answer is about WeChat. I don’t think somebody would say WeChat is not an innovative app. There is a different debate if it will be successful or not out of China and even if it’s a complete failure  but it’s definitely innovative.

Why does China appear to be ahead of wealthier countries in mobile apps, mobile commerce, and mobile payments?

Related reading on Quora: Why does China appear to be ahead of wealthier countries in mobile apps, mobile commerce, and mobile payments?

China has 1.276 billion mobile phone users and 93.2 out of 100 have a mobile phone. Out of those about 900 million to 1 billion have a smartphone. China is actually still lagging compared to Western countries in terms of percentages of smartphone, but the numbers of users is staggering, of course, and there is still room for growth.

For many of them they have only used internet for the first time with their phones, internet was never used on a computer. The fastest growth of smartphone users is actually in smaller cities and villages. Chinese mobile users like new mobile technologies and adopt them fast, so to answer your question – yes, you are correct they are much more advanced than the west to that extent.

Take WeChat – the most popular chat app – as an example. This app is no longer only just a chat app but a whole platform. Chinese people can do a LOT of things with it as there are many services connected to it right now. Just have a look at what you can do (that’s from my phone).

You can send money to a friend, invest, donate money, buy movie ticket, pay at a restaurant, pay your bills, call a taxi, buy flight tickets, etc. There is no need for a wallet anymore, you only need your phone. I even read somebody’s post saying how embarrassed he was using real coins.

Obviously WeChat is not the only advanced app and there are many others with creative ideas. Bottom line is, Chinese users see this as a natural device to use and adopt it happily. The mobile industry is definitely helping this trend by making it super convenient to use.

The science man and innovator, Fernando Fischmann, founder of Crystal Lagoons, recommends this article.

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