China App Hacks That Are as Addictive as Good Dumplings

In March 2016, the largest gathering of Buddhist Monks since the Qing Dynasty reigned over 2000 years ago took place in a small mountain town of WuTaiSha, China. With my family having roots in Sri Lankan Buddhism and my wife who was a newly minted “Master Administrator” of one of the many Buddhist temple groups in China, we took the long voyage to participate in this gathering. It was a live 3-day spectacular gathering of people and monks showing their devotion to the Buddhist way of life. As intensive and social as this event was, there also is a very heavy use by Chinese Buddhist Temples to spread their teachings through the online environment. Wechat groups which aggregate hundreds of followers and managed by volunteers help to keep the community vibrant and alive. What is surprising though is that it just maybe the subtle features of Wechat that keep the community alive rather than the actual teachings of Buddhism.

One such innovative feature on Wechat is called “Red Packets” which allows a member of a group to send any amount of money at any time to other members of the group. The brilliant (and habit forming) part of this feature is that people don’t know how much is actually being sent. A typical example is:  Bill sends a red packet of $10 to the group. The people on the group gets notified via the App that someone has sent a packet of money which is an unknown amount. People then have the option to accept and whoever accepts splits the money.   At one point, my wife had asked her Buddhist group to send in some information on how many times they had done something. No response from the group. She then decided to send $1 as a “red packet” to see if people were actually online. Virtually everyone responded and accepted the packet! The power of small monetary awards in China can go a long way!

Another China App that brilliantly tapped into their members motivation was Didi Dache, which is the largest taxi based App service in China. Because of the large demand for Taxi services during peak hours it can be very difficult to get a Taxi in any reasonable amount of time.  In this case, the taxi drivers had all the control and would be able to accept or deny rides at their discretion. Some clever passengers decided to use the “voice chat” feature to not only tell the taxi driver where they were located but to make the messages funny and enticing for the driver to choose them over others. The drivers actually benefitted the most, giving them some humour and power of their otherwise dreary driving day on the congested streets of China. By adding a little bit of mystery to every ride request, the Didi Dache App added some fun to their driving day.

Basketball is gaining a lot of traction in China as a sport. Michael Jordan to this day is still an icon in Chinese culture even after retiring 13 years go.  This is no more evident in the shoes that bear his name and that Nike sells as an exclusive product every couple of months.  These exclusive deals are typically sold out online in seconds.  People would literally by waiting online at the precise moment of the opening of the web page to get on the list. Because of the overwhelming demand, even if you get on the list there is still a random selection process that happens afterward.  The list is constantly being updated which causes consumers to continually monitor the Nike App to get the latest information.   By adding randomness, exclusivity and time pressure the Nike App cleverly retains the attention of those shoe addicts for the duration of the deal!

Thanks to the work of Nir Eyal (author of Hooked) and research at Harvard, habit forming tactics are now an integral part of the design of the best Apps in the world. China Apps have certainly embraced their own unique twist on it.

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Why Zappos Would Fail in China

There are many ways to deal with the punishing air pollution that sometimes falls upon the big cities of China. When outside you can wear a mask and when inside an air cleaner can be used to scrub the pollutants.  When we first shopped for our first air cleaner in Shanghai it was still common practice to choose foreign brands over those that were locally designed and manufactured. A quick comparison of Japanese models and we settled on a Sharp model. A long 2 hours later we were back at home, deboxed the unit and proceeded to get on with the cleaning of our apartment air. Unfortunately that was just to be the start of our woes as a rattling noise emanated from the unit.  My first reaction was “great…another 2 hour commute to return the thing and get another one”. Fortunately this is where my assumptions went wrong. With a quick dial on the mobile phone, my wife called the manufacturer and proceeded to discuss a way to remedy the situation. And this is where I discovered that service and support takes on a very distinct meaning in China compared to the USA.  Within the next day a service person showed up to do the first level fixing and within the next week another 2nd level team had arrived to remove the unit, give us a temporary replacement and take it to their repair shop. Within a day of that the unit was returned and all was well.

This pattern of servicing defective products rather than replacing them was a pattern that I experienced repeated over and over during the next years in China.  Whereas in the USA returns are a commonplace occurrence, this is rarely the case in China. Many factors have led to this unique practice including low labor cost (it is cheaper to pay someone in China to repair something rather than return it).  Structurally there is also financial reporting friction for most manufacturers in tracking returns because of the paper based accounting methods still demanded by Chinese government tax  requirements. Finally because of the frequent fraudulent schemes that are pursued by some consumers, manufacturers are reluctant to give money back after a product is purchased.  What that means for most hard-good companies coming into China is that having a robust service team or partner that can deploy people for repair and servicing is going to be expected by the Chinese consumer. Whereas Zappos would just say “go ahead and return the product no questions asked” with any product problems in the USA, the model would definitely need to be a lot more hands-on and personal in China.

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5 Secrets Of People Management that Confucius Never Talked About

Ever taken a personality test? I have. Many, in fact. The most popular one when I was in school in the 1990s was called the Meyers-Briggs personality test. It is a series of questions which you self answer and then at the end a score is tallied which puts you in a series of personality buckets – introvert/extrovert, Sensing/Intuition etc. As I went through the test at school I realized that I wanted my answers to nudge towards the coolest personality type…extrovert and intuition. My hopes were dashed when it turned out I was in the opposite bucket of what I had hoped for. Although it served the purpose of defining some interesting attributes of personality types it never really became a practical way for me to understand or manage people’s strengths and weaknesses. When you meet a person for the first time, it is hard to ask them to take a personality test so I could get to know them better!

But this problem was actually solved thousands of years ago in China through an ancient practice called Face Reading. Written references to this practice go back 600 BC but the earliest roots can be traced back to 2600 BC. I was first introduced to this practice in 2013 when I stumbled upon a seminar in Shanghai being taught in the subject.  Even now in China this practice is not widely adopted or followed but my experience over the last years has put me in the camp of a firm believer that this is a great way to get a quick idea of how to manage people or understand the best way to communicate with them.

A blog post can do no justice to this topic but the core foundation of the practice is that the shape and features of the face determine personality types. Whaaat??…you might say.  The shape of the face is genetic and determined by genes its got nothing to do with personality! That was my first reaction, but as in anything living…the environment can have a huge influence on the physical form of something.  Communication between people has very little to do with the words or the actual voice but 70% of communication is through body language. Our brain has a massive 30% of it dedicated to visual processing and a large percentage dedicated to decoding facial features and expressions.  So why do we biologically have such an inclination to decode the face to such detail?  The face tells a lot about the emotional and thinking state of a person. The face is in fact a reflection of our internal state.

So when we have consistent emotions with certain personality types these characteristics will inevitably show up as consistent signs on the face. That is the foundation of Chinese Face Reading. One of the fastest ways to get a general idea of the personality of someone is to look at the shape of the face.  In Chinese Face Reading these are broken down into 5 major types:

  1. Metal: Sharp high cheekbones. Personality is professional and seeks perfection. The archetype is the Defender – who value justice, perfection and wholeness but are often the last to accept change.
  2. Earth: Round, squarish face. Nurturing type personality caring about other people. The archetype is the Muse – who want to see others reach their full potential but can often drift into passivity.
  3. Water: low round cheeks. Stubborn and likes options. The archetype would be the Pioneer—curious, innovative, brave and optimistic but does not stick around for long term value building.
  4. Wood: rectangular face and bushy eyebrows. Likes to take command. The archetype is the Captain —  who is confident and tireless to support a goal but can fall victim to issuing orders rather than inspiring.
  5. Fire: Oval egg shaped face. Passionate and likes to do many things. The archetype is the Magician – who is playful and delighting people around them but sometimes the mystery may look like fraud.

The above is a fairly generic description and there are many subtleties in Chinese Face Reading that give various types of insights. Now whether you believe in it or not, these are great tools to understand there are certain personality types and not everyone is the same nor is one better than another. Each has a unique strength and unique weaknesses that can be accepted for what they are. The power of this practice is that you just need to see someone’s face to get a gauge of their personality…no extensive conversation or tests needed. Confucius was born in 550BC just around the time that Face Reading was being written into texts and although he was not known for his teachings for Face Reading this one was a golden secret that he was wise not to teach so widely.

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Google Copies the Chinese Government’s Management Style

In 2008, I had the pleasure of experiencing massive stomach pain one night in Shanghai. Not knowing how the Chinese medical system worked, I was taken to a local hospital in downtown Shanghai. To be honest I did not know what to expect…all that I knew was it was probably going to very different terms of the service and quality that I would receive compared to American hospitals. My low expectations were instantly dashed when I was ushered into an almost completely empty lobby. I was quickly attended to do by a doctor and with some rapid exchange of Chinese I was put on an IV drip and told that I had the stomach flu. It turns out this hospital was especially for foreigners but the level of service and apparent quality was impressive. Fast forward a couple of years and another visit to a hospital showed another side of the very unique nature of the Chinese healthcare system. This time the experience was less than comfortable with 100’s of people crammed into the lobby and different rooms. But this was more than offset by the mere 50 RMB ($8 USD) I had to pay to see the doctor and the efficiency of getting my tests and diagnosis in under 30 minutes.

Although far from being perfect the Chinese Healthcare system has advanced by leaps and bounds in the last 10 years. In 2004 only 23% of the population had any form of reimbursable health care. In 2015 over 95% of the population is now covered. This rapid modernization is just one of many examples of the unique characteristics of the Chinese government which for the last 2000 years has taken many forms from empires to communism to socialism but with one common thread….top down control and management. The central government is obsessed with 5-year, 10-year and longer plans. These plans are meticulously laid out, furiously debated and skillfully executed. The healthcare system was just one of many on the list in the year 2000 and when these objectives are put in place, all forms of government from the top government officials down to the township mayors are measured and rewarded by their support of these objectives.

One of the classic objectives of the Chinese government over the last 30 years has been the industrialization and modernization of the country. Before 2010, you can see the result in the simple metric of industrial output where cities and district government officials are awarded and careers advanced based on GDP growth. In fact, in the city of Jiading they would award companies with different levels of prizes and prestige based on their contribution to the tax base and employment. Anybody that supported these objectives were looked on favorably.  Today though, industrial output is now longer a key driver from the central government. Priorities such as health care and the environment are now being driven from the top and being executed by local government.

Although it may seem odd that the government still has so much control and influence over the economy their management style is actually no different than Google. Google’s OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) and many Fortune 100 company’s other popular styles such as MBO (Management by Objectives) are just flavors of focus that allows a lot of people to get behind some common goals.  Foreign companies that enter the Chinese market would do well to heed these governmental top-down goals because that could make a big difference in the access to resources and good-will that is generated by the Chinese consumer, businesses and government.

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