October 27 of 2018 was supposed to be a historic day for China’s growing aerospace industry. Landspace, a Beijing-based startup, was set to become the first private Chinese firm to launch a rocket into outer space. Then, at 6:40 pm, a fault occurred. Soon after, Landspace declared the mission a failure. A few weeks later, SpaceX completed its 20th successful launch of 2018. It is unfair to draw sweeping conclusions based on the performance of just two companies, but it does serve as a reminder of how far China has to go before it rivals the US as the world’s leading technological power.
To many people in its home market China, Transsion Holdings is a company name they’ve never heard of. But this smartphone maker, based in Shenzhen, taking over 38% market share, is rising to dominate the smartphone market by with its Tecno Mobile, Itel and Infinix. Its success shows what differences can a small company make by truly catering to consumers’ long ignored needs, as said by local tech expert, “Transsion has succeeded because they addressed the problems of the market directly. They make phones with features that are attractive to Africans.”
Cities across China are making huge investments in order to transform themselves into world-class innovation hubs. So far, the Pearl River Delta Greater region, led by Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, is the most promising area. Connected by high-speed railways and land bridges, barriers between Hong Kong and mainland have been removed. With Hong Kong as the financial hub, Shenzhen as the innovation center and Guangzhou as the long-term trade harbor, China’s “Greater Bay Area” is taking shape. Will the regional integration create a new innovation engine that China urgently needs?
“China is not known for greenness, but it is moving in that direction,” says Christian Haessler, Head of Innovation for Covestro in the Asia-Pacific region. An offshoot of the German pharmaceuticals and life sciences giant Bayer, Covestro was spun off in 2015 and today produces advanced raw materials for like the environmental friendly coatings and lightweight materials to be used in electric vehicles. In this interview with CKGSB Knowledge, Haessler explains what Covestro’s business is like in China as a behind-the-scenes firm and how it, with material technology, supports China’s sustainable development.
Drone maker DJI made drones, once a high-end toy for rich niche hobbyists, into a mainstream consumer product. Begun 10 years ago in a college dorm room, the company now controls 70% of the consumer drone market. Xu Huabin, Vice President of the Shenzhen-based tech firm, explains how the company’s product-driven philosophy helped the firm grow from a maker of model planes to become the world’s largest commercial unmanned aircraft manufacturer. He also discusses DJI’s future plans for diversification and industrialization—to go beyond only making drones with cameras to developing drones with industry-tailored features for diverse customers including engineers and farmers.
“Innovation” is difficult, yet the word itself is so overly used that the meaning of it has become hollow. Some people consider being “innovative” as being “lucky.” Yet for Clay Christensen, a business professor at Harvard, innovation is about finding the “jobs that need to be done” in our lives. In this interview with CKGSB Knowledge, he argues that companies should not take the task as akin to gambling. Instead, companies should adopt a more focused, process-oriented approach of finding the “jobs” that customers need to do in their lives, and then create products that make those jobs easier.
China is keen to deploy self-driving cars for the same reasons as everyone else is: Autonomous vehicles may significantly improve traffic and environmental conditions. According to research figures, widespread adoption of automated vehicles could reduce automobiles on city streets by 60%, vehicle emissions by 80% and traffic accidents by 90%. While the West has superior technology, its governments lack the authority to swiftly implement massive infrastructure projects. Some experts believe Beijing’s top-down control capabilities could even give China an edge over the US and Europe in the race to develop self-driving cars.
In recent years, globalization has lifted billions of people out of poverty and created vast wealth, but has also spawned hyper-competitive markets that make a secure niche ever more difficult to find. Everyone from cabbies to multinational businesses find it’s harder and harder to maintain an edge. Meanwhile, in the world’s younger economies, particularly China, companies face another challenge: unlike Westerners who grew up loyal to particular brands, Chinese consumers did not have that; and as markets consolidate, consumers are selecting a few favorites. So how should companies deal with these new trends?
Once upon a time, designers were considered a fairly rarified breed in the corporate world—people with more interesting hair, eyeglasses and talent than the rest of us, but not a key part of the “real” business. Today, however, that’s changing. As more and more companies face the need for constant innovation, design is earning more respect. In fact, these days, many organizations are training their employees to think like designers. Jeanne Liedtka, a professor of strategy and author of three books on design thinking, argues that learning to approach problems the way designers do can be a useful way to spark innovation in almost every company.
Once upon a time, design was a coat of paint on the locomotive of the real economy. Today, value depends less on oil, steel and sweat, and more on how a product looks, runs and, most importantly, makes the consumer feel. In this series, we look first at the factors that have made design a prime economic force; next, at how executives have learned to create value by training the entire company to think like designers; then at ways in which cities are seeking competitive advantage with design; and finally, at how design itself is changing—and what those changes will mean to the way we work and live.