Home > Leadership & People, Management, Unstructured thoughts > Managing Chinese talent – what we can learn from Kung Fu Panda

Managing Chinese talent – what we can learn from Kung Fu Panda

The Kung Fu Panda brouhaha can help shed some insight into how the new generation of Chinese think. And the future of the global economy requires we find a way to work with, manage, lead (and vice versa), but it’s quite a challenge….so how?

Richard Bernstein’s article is a nice balanced look at the issue and provides some avenues for inquiry. I think he framed the question correctly:

The main question being asked is: How could Western filmmakers have used Chinese themes to create such a brilliant animated movie with such widespread appeal to the Chinese themselves?

The short simple answer is captured by the Howard Jones’ song I mentioned in a previous posting. It’s mental and one’s artificial but very real worldly environment needs to be understood before it can be “managed”. As we know, it’s amazingly difficult to do things, achieve things in a corporate setting (see Robert Townsend) but how about the things that one’s never seen or imagined before? And this is part of the main issue with respect to succeeding in business change management. How do you move a body of people to a place where they not only do they not know but they resist because it’s like traveling to the end of the world and they know that the world is flat!

The article lists some Chinese pundits pained to acknowledge some lacking aspect of their culture – how could a bunch of Westerners (gasp!) take something uniquely Chinese and create a runaway success about China/Chinese and not themselves? Hmmm, that’s a tough question and somewhat unfair but it is the point of the matter – what can we learn from this to improve? It’s exactly the same thing as doing a 360 feedback for oneself, a well-recognized management and leadership tool.

The truth of the matter is that one doesn’t have the definitive view of himself or herself. Insight into the beauty of an object for example, isn’t gained from one perspective, but from different dimensions. Looking at a beautifully cut diamond and appreciating it requires looking at the 4Cs, how its ring highlights it features, as well as turning the stone around under different lighting conditions. Even then, the beauty of the diamond will look different depending on the environment. A person isn’t unlike the diamond: multi-faceted, complicated, different under various circumstances and environments, as well as requiring significant amount of heat and pressure to change 🙂

So returning back, what to do? Berstein quotes:

Mr. Lu, the commentator in China Daily, had a telling story in this regard, about a project he undertook to produce an animation for the Olympic Games. “I kept on receiving directions and orders from related parties on what the movie should be like,” he recalled. “We were given very specific rules on how to promote it.

“Under such pressure, my co-workers and I really felt stifled,” he continued. In the end, “the planned animation was never produced.”

For those who’ve ever managed Chinese staff, it’s a bit of a chicken or the egg. On the one hand, managers must have staff who take initiative, use creativity, drive for results and deliver quality work product (and innovation if they can get it). In practice, many fall short of this – staff is passive, prone to mere order takers, rarely pushing the envelop, lose focus, confusing busy-work with productivity, learning to go with the flow because it’s prudent survival technique. The quote also highlights another hidden cultural facet – conformity is a cultural norm and a highly desirable trait. Its importance to Chinese culture is as equivalent to that of the American and independence, individual freedoms and liberty. Whereas the US has

Life Free or Die!

Life Free or Die!

the Chinese have the 24 Examples of Filial Piety

坧?? - Xiao Jing

孝經 - Xiao Jing

The process however isn’t pre-ordained. Learning, self-enlightenment are also very strong Chinese cultural values which can give the manager some useful ways to manage – perhaps a “Chinese Management Way” [tm]. While top-down is a tried and true technique, being a disciplinarian/dictator isn’t always going to work – unless that is your true personality which then should match your management style (i.e. “authentic leadership”). Therefore, perhaps taking the learned philosopher/teacher way would be more effective. The catch here is, that presupposes that the manager/leader is learned and enlightened. One can’t really have a young junior manager “leading” the way although many do try*. Yet, corporations have a bit of an aversion to the grey-haired crowd – something to do with old-dogs and tricks… For IT and Project Management, grey-haired folks or those with lots of battle scars to show for it, are my preference. What’s the right mix? What is the right management style (authoritarian or collaboratve)? What is the right personal profile (under 40 or over 40)?

Perhaps the right answer is … depends on the context.

*My view on young managerial talents is that they are necessary and important for success and survival of a business, but that context is required such as: industry, business maturity, functional area, personal maturity, external cultural factors etc.

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  1. June 19, 2013 at 12:44 AM

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