In the early ’90s, Chinese products were cheap but not durable – if a Chinese pen lasted a few months one would be happy. Quality and finesse was not the Chinese cup of green tea.
On the other hand, German and European products were built to last. Whether a golf set, a pen, or an industrial machine – it was evident all across the spectrum. Chinese somewhere down the line realized this and to be able to conquer the world they started improving their quality yet maintaining the low cost.
Such things are not achieved overnight and this transition was a ‘work in progress’ for decades till it became a norm. China knows that the productivity quotient and discipline of their workforce is high, with low maintenance, giving more bang for the buck. Cheap hardworking labour and quality consciousness pushed the envelope towards global competitiveness. It was time to gradually diversify and this they did in a big way. They got into every sector – from footwear to software. They made diodes to huge telecom switches, advanced 5G technologies, and artificial intelligence offerings. You name it and they had it. China literally stormed the global market.
Watch: Why Is Everything Made In China
The law of perception
Consumers create ‘perception buckets’ for countries in their minds, which are built over a long time. German products have a reputation of built to last. Russian stuff is heavy and unpolished. Americans have that shock and awe; everything is large – from Burgers to Bombs. These perceptions are pretty accurate and very difficult to get rid off by manufactures as well as consumers. But they are subject to change with consistent conscientious effort over a long period of time. National perceptions are difficult to build and equally difficult to break – good, bad, or ugly.
A nation is not a piece of land – land is hardware and people are the Operating System and application software. A huge supercomputer is a bag of Silicon (Sand) and of no use without software. Indians have yet to open an account in manufacturing. Where do we begin? If we want to beat China and become self-sufficient and self-sustaining, there’s still a long way to go. But first, we have to understand them. Chinese are very disciplined and conscientious people – they don’t just have a larger population than us but are more disciplined in every sense of the word.
A nation is not a piece of land – land is hardware and people are the Operating System and application software.
I remember my personal experience with two big Chinese companies, (shall not name them) where I was conducting a training program on Value-based leadership and Emotional Intelligence for senior management. These were two-day workshops and were good learning for me too. Based on my interaction, here are some observations and impressions about Chinese people:
- They are very punctual. For them, fifteen minutes of break is 14 minutes and 30 seconds. 9 am is 5 minutes to 9. We have a strong adversary, remember.
- They are very hardworking and try to make the best of it. Some of them were carrying electronic dictionaries to translate English to Chinese, lest they don’t understand some English word! Indians in their company would vouch for their sincerity too. Chinese are very particular about meal timings. At 1 PM, all of them will disappear for lunch and be back 5 minutes before the break is over.
- They are proud of their culture and take pride in being disciplined, well dressed, and punctual to the tee.
- Confucianism is in their culture. Chinese people believe that ‘the Heavens reward diligent people’ and ‘the result is everything.’ Many famous Chinese tales such as the one about Mr Fool moving two big mountains extols the virtue of hard work with strong determination. Laziness is regarded as a crime. It is almost like a religion that has deeply impacted Chinese in China and overseas. Society expects them to succeed in everything they do.
- Their parents put pressure on them to work hard from childhood.
- The leader and follower relationships are very strong. They are obedient and once told they follow the leader in letter and spirit
- They love “9-9-6” work regimen. From 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week is their work culture. Hard work brings honour and pride to their families. Indian co-workers and the whole world find them uncomfortably hardworking and sincere.
- It is one thing to work long hours it is another to work sincerely for those many hours – and Chinese do work while working and no-nonsense as long as they are working. No smoke or strolling breaks. 100% work, no time pass.
- Their philosophy is ‘Collectivism versus individualism.’ The Chinese make decisions depending on how they will be perceived by the people around them. They think of themselves in a collective manner. However, Americans and westerners put a strong emphasis on personal goals and achievements.
- Even if the Chinese economy has taken a great leap over the last 10 years, it does not make Chinese people work less.
Taking pride in work is almost like a religion in China that is followed with devotion by Chinese overseas too. Society expects them to succeed in everything they do.
What drives the Chinese to work so hard? It is not only the pursuit of better pay, domestic economy but also their mentality and the workplace culture. There’s a famous Chinese saying which states, ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s a black cat or white cat as long as it catches mice’. Therefore, you should bear this in mind when you are in the middle of China’s hard work culture and when dealing with Chinese employees. It’s a great thing to learn too.
Innate flaws in the Indian work culture
We are corrupt and generally not sincere in our work. If we ask a hypothetical Chinese or Western worker to come and bang a table with a hammer 100 times every day and go, they would do it and go. The Indian will do it for 2 days and then try 99 and see if anyone notices, then 98 and will probably keep doing it till he is caught. Then he will trot out on explanations about being tired, unable to count, temporary problems, it was only today, and so on. Former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew has compared two Asian giants – China and India – and attributed Chinese success to a Confucian culture that advocates enduring hardships and individual sacrifice for the benefit of the family.
Watch: Lee Kuan Yew Describing China & India as Growth Giants
Along the same lines, Infosys Co-founder Narayana Murthy in an interview said that Indians need to improve their discipline and punctuality levels in order to compete with countries like China and Vietnam.
These are some of the areas that we are weak in, it has nothing to do with the government but it has something to do with the Indian culture.Narayana Murthy
Expected human capital (EHC) denotes the number of years an individual can work at peak productivity between the ages of 20 and 64. In fact, India ranked 158 among 195 others in terms of “expected human capital,” a study published in the Lancet journal has found. An average Indian’s peak productive period lasts a mere seven years — almost one-third of that of a Chinese worker. Among the countries ranked ahead of India are China (20 years EHC), Russia (19 EHC), and Sri Lanka (13 EHC). Finland topped the list with 28 years. In nutshell One Chinaman is three-time more productive than an Indian at the workplace throughout his life.
India ranked 158 among 195 others in terms of “expected human capital”.A study published in the Lancet journal
A report published by the State Bank of India Research said India’s labour productivity was significantly lower than global peers. “Even in the next decade, i.e. by 2021, it is estimated that India’s output per worker will rise to just $6,414 compared to China’s $16,698. The gap, therefore, needs to be bridged through policy changes,” it said.
By 2021, it is estimated that India’s output per worker will rise to just $6,414 compared to China’s $16,698.
Not only policy but culture; a monumental shift is required. Our PM Narendra Modi should create a separate ministry of “Work culture, Leadership, Values and Discipline”. However, the effort to inculcate these attributes should start right from the school upwards. It will take a couple of decades but we must begin now.