Life is like a box of matches

When Taiwanese students are still lying in their beds, students in Mainland China are studying English beside campus ponds. How can young people in Taiwan compete and win against global youth in the future?

In this age of globalization, corporate competitors are not limited to those within a single nation. Take ourselves as an example: Taiwanese companies should at least be concerned about the competition from Singapore and Mainland China.

Huge differences in university education across the strait

You need talent and skills if you want to compete. What kind of youth can stand out in global competition?  I think they must have the ambition to strive for excellence. If young people have no dreams, no goals, how will their lives be meaningful? How will the society make progress?

For example, why do Taiwanese students still lie in bed at 9:00 A.M.? Why can't they get up early to go to class? Students at Beijing University are studying English at 6:00 A.M. What is their motivation? They strive for "Excellence". No matter what your goal is, the most basic requirement is to have an "ideal" to pursue.

Second is innovativeness. Taiwan does not have abundant natural resources or vast land, so we can only depend on intelligence and creativity. And in this an age of accelerated competition, if we are not innovative and are only followers, we cannot compete with others. The competition in the future will not feature elimination rounds so much as qualifying and championship rounds. What I worry about is whether our university students really have a strong thirst for knowledge.  When I'm teaching a class and ask if there are any questions, it's always "No questions", then students hand in reports they got from the Internet. But if you take a look at the situation in Mainland China - the homework turned in and thesis reports issued - you will find a lot of new concepts.  This is the great cross-strait difference in university education.

Finally, the youth must be willing to spend time and suffer hardships for their dreams and make efforts for their future. We do not ask young people to work and study all day long, but when they do work and study, they should devote themselves to it "body and soul"; then the desire to do things right and studying hard will naturally follow.

I would like to emphasize the concept of being "real". We need to be real, go "back to the basics" in everything we do. We need to foster solid workmanship and abandon the culture of flattery and outward appearances. We have to do things straightforwardly like former Premier Sun Yun-suan (Taiwan's outstanding former Premier in the 80's) and his generation did.

Of course, I believe that most young people in Taiwan are diligent and amiable. Just the other day, I visited a newly opened restaurant, and the young waiters worked hard, from breakfast to dinner, with an excellent service attitude. They form such a strong contrast compared to some children who know only how to enjoy themselves and are not willing to make any effort.

We cannot judge young people nowadays using concepts from 20 or 30 years ago. Moreover, responsibility for the fate of a nation or organization rests with its top leaders, and we in positions of leadership have to create an environment encourages innovation, one that foster a culture of diversity and makes young people frank, serious, able to take on challenges and daring to question authority. In this regard, I was very impressed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's speech on Singapore's National Day. I happened to hear it when I was attending a meeting in Singapore last year. The speech was free flowing in content and was delivered in an innovative style. It sounded like a class lecture that would attract a lot of university students to attend, totally unlike what we would imagine a presidential address to be.

Life is like a box of matches: Some people use it sparingly; others treat it like it was fireworks, using it all up in a flash.

We continue to need discipline and legal system concepts, but besides that, we need to execute and make things happen. To take a corporate example, I think the most critical reason of Foxconn's success is "execution". (Foxconn is the biggest manufacturer in Taiwan and one of PwC's audit clients) Foxconn's businesses are not all that high-tech oriented; Foxconn's competitive advantage comes from its discipline when it comes to getting things done; from its ability to "do the right thing right".

With innovativeness and pragmatism, you can go far. How does a corporation make its people innovative?  By having all staff involved in research and development from the highest levels to the grassroots, like Johnny Shih and the engineers of Asus have done. (Asus is one of Taiwan's most successful computer manufacturers) Why is Taiwan's fruit ranked among the world's best? It is because its successful farmers truly seek innovative solutions and improve varieties. Innovation and pragmatism are not contradictory ideas; rather, they complement each other.

Why do you seldom see excellent Taiwanese entrepreneurs under 40? It is because innovativeness is not combined with pragmatism. I often say that life is like a box of matches: Some people use it sparingly, when they are in a tunnel or in danger; others use it like it all up in flash like it was fireworks. Look at Japan and Germany: They have such strong foundations in education and training, so they can continually come up with innovations and inventions. It is the same for individuals and corporations as it is for nations: Only practical innovation leads to success.


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