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The Purpose of Life:  Ask Walt Disney?

By Shlomo   Maital

 plasticene restaurant

 

  Last month, I taught a one-week course on entrepreneurship and creativity to 43 dynamic Chinese students, mainly undergraduates studying at Shantou University, Shantou (Guangdong).   The course was in English; the students worked on business plans in teams, and made elevator-speech presentations (in English), prepared 2-minute videos, and wrote business plans (in English).   (The photo shows a Play-Do, or plasticene, model of one of the team’s ideas, for a novel restaurant – they stayed up all night to create it!).  

   I just received an email from one of my students.  I pasted it below, without correcting the syntax…   (Shantou University has a phenomenal English Learning Center, that provides each student with a tailored personal program for learning to read write and speak English)….

      I want to ask you a personal question, this question had confuse me for a very long time, the question is that “what do we live for?”, what’s the point of live? create value? make money? love? i not sure. now i just in my 20s age, i always feel there’s no a direction in my life, i’m not sure what is going on in my rest of life. but you have a lot of experience about life, you have make a lot of achievements in your life, so want to ask your answer about the question, i hope you can give me some suggestion.

 Dear readers:  How would YOU answer my wonderful student?

  My own answer was rather woeful – but, here it is.   Congratulations for just asking the question. Most of us ask it, at the end of our lives, when it is nearly too late to actually change anything.  I think the purpose of life is best defined by Walt Disney.  He set the mantra for Disneyland (later, Disney World):  “Make people happy”.   Create value.  Use your brains, your courage, your intellect, and above all, your CREATIVITY – to create value, by widening people’s range of choices, and thus, making them happy, or at least happier.  When you make other people happy (those around you, family, children, spouses, relatives, friends, total strangers),  you will make yourself happy as well.  If you only try to make yourself happy, in the end, you will be very alone.           

 

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What I Learned in China

By Shlomo  Maital  

    Shantou Class Photo 2014

  I try to write a blog almost every day – knowing this keeps me ever alert for new ideas to share.  In this sense, blogs are as much for the benefit of the writer as for the reader. 

   I’ve been in Shantou China, for a week, teaching entrepreneurship to 43 eager young undergraduate business majors at Shantou University.  Shantou is in the northern part of Guangdong Province, north of the provincial capital Guangzhou, close to the coast, and two hours by fast train from Shenzhen, which is opposite Hong Kong, on the mainland.  My university, Technion, has a joint venture with Shantou Univ., to establish GTIIT – Guangdong Technion Israel Institute of Technology, now headed by Technion Nobel Laureate Dan Shechtman.  The initiative arose from a generous grant by Li Ka Shing and his Third Son Foundation;  Li Ka Shing, a Hong Kong billionaire, was born in Shantou and his foundation is active in supporting the city and its university.  His investment company has invested profitably in Israeli startups.  

    Supposedly you cannot teach entrepreneurship to undergraduates because “they are too young and lack experience”.  But Babson College does it highly successfully,  using the method developed by my late friend Ted Grossman, an action learning approach in which teams of students form a real company, make a real product and learn the tools of business through running their company, under the guidance of mentors like Ted (who first launched a successful software company before joining Babson). 

    I use the same method in Shantou.  And in one intensive week, the young students do amazing work; some of their ideas become reality, though not all.   The photograph shows last year’s class.

   Wages in China have risen dramatically, from about $100 a month in 2000 to $650 today  (this is still only one-fourth the average wage in America, and Chinese productivity is in many cases even higher).   But Philippines, for instance, has average wages of only one-sixth that of China.  So China in principle should be losing its manufacturing to low-wage countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, and Philippines.  And indeed it is, with shoes and textiles, low value added products, moving to those countries. 

    But China is keeping its high value-added jobs and enhancing them.  How?  China is the world’s biggest market for production robots, buying 20 per cent of worldwide production.  Labor productivity rose by 11 percent yearly (!) on average during 2007-12  (it barely budged in the West).  China uses its network of highly efficient suppliers to keep factories in China.  China has become the hub of a complex ecosystem, in which Asian countries specialize, make components and ship them to other Asian countries.  Asia now accounts for nearly half of all world manufacturing output, compared with 27 percent (about one quarter) in 1990. 

    Bottom line:  China’s strategy is:   Made in China 2025 (its official name) – boost productivity to keep competitive.  If wages rise by 12 percent year but productivity does too…the cost advantage stays.  But at the same time:  Created in China.  China is working to invent more of the products it makes.  Like Xiaomi, the innovative smartphone company.    And this is where I come in… teaching innovation to the young undergrads at Shantou University,  not even a tiny drop-in-the-bucket in huge China, but – China is all about scale, and good ideas spread with lightning rapidity.  

   I truly love my annual one-week courses in Shantou; the students are fiercely eager to learn and highly creative once their creativity machines are turned on.    These young people are literally eating our (Western nations’) lunch.  If we don’t wake up,  China’s living standards will continue to  grow by 11 or 12 per cent a year, the rate of growth of productivity, and our living standards will simply stagnate (the rate of growth of OUR productivity).   We need to save more, invest more, build better infrastructure, educate our young people better, and become more productive.  This is what I learned in my classroom from  43 eager young Chinese business-major undergraduates. 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
August 2018
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