Can the newsmedia industry learn anything from China?


Back in 2007, the world was booming and most printed newspapers enjoyed a comfortable existence with stable circulations and advertising revenues.

Two years later, we saw the world economies fall apart. Governments anxiously injected money into their economies, investing into new growth industries, retraining traditional industry folk with new skills and new attitudes, hoping to revive optimism and consumer spending. Our own print world also started to crumble, aided by a shift in media consumption and media convergence.

Fast-forward a couple of years and we see that some economies got it right while others are still struggling. I count the print industry in the latter category.

Can we learn anything from the success stories? Take China for example. It seems to have weathered the worst part of the storm. Here’s my view on which lessons we might learn from China's success.

Stay humble — and keep learning

Chinese have an built-in passion for learning, from the parental discipline instilled into the learning process to the lifelong desire to seek to improve one’s own status. There’s also a belief that you can always be better than you are today. What if we all took on the belief that we have so much to learn? What if we had the hunger of a start-up and the discipline of focusing our waking hours on learning, researching and opening our minds to what’s new?

Have a five-year plan and share it

China just entered its 12th Five-Year Plan, and the last one navigated the country through consistent annual growth. Most organisations have a one-, three- and five-year plan. Are they rooted in visionary growth? How do we ensure our five-year plans are not hidden in the lofty auspices of the boardroom, but embraced by all staff?

Be nimble, flexible and urgent

There’s no time to be sticks-in-the-mud. The writing is already on the wall. We have to move with urgency and ignite a big fire of passion into the bellies of those who are on our teams. And if they’re not terribly incandescent, then maybe a little extra kindling is needed in the form of either fresh talent or more empowerment. The key is to get together on a frequent basis to plan the future, choose the most promising ideas and then go for it. And, if the rollercoaster ride doesn’t take us where we want, we’ve got to have enough fire in our bellies to want to switch track and ride again. Adrenalin can make you twice as quick to react and make life-saving decisions.

Expand beyond your current markets

China spent the past couple of decades growing its exports, with the knowledge that its unique skills and strengths were desired by other economies. At the South China Morning Post, we recognised early on that we share a common growth path with China, in that as China grows, the world wants more in-depth reporting on this exciting and growing economy. Growing beyond current borders doesn’t only mean geographical ones however. They may be boundaries of age, gender, or interests. They may be borders in the process or scope of something you’re currently doing pretty well. If those borders were lifted, the opportunities might grow exponentially.

If you can’t invent, improve on someone else’s idea

If there’s a great idea out there, there’s a good chance that China’s entrepreneurs have cottoned on to it and figured out a way to make it cheaper, faster or in some instances, better. Take Alibaba Group’s Taobao, China’s No. 1 e-commerce site, which toppled eBay’s 90% market dominance despite entering a year later. Jack Ma, Alibaba’s CEO famously said: “eBay may be a shark in the ocean, but I am a crocodile in the Yangtze River. If we fight in the ocean, we lose, but if we fight in the river, we win.” Can you make your product offering better for the consumer — whether through localisation, pricing, or swiftness to adapt? Then maybe it’s time to fight in the river.

Embrace technology

OK, stating the obvious here. But what does it really mean? China embraced technology because it had little to lose and much to gain. The point is, technology isn’t going back … it can only go forward. And it has to be ingrained into the whole culture of the work environment. If people are still using old computer or software systems, how can they be expected to think we’re serious about adopting a digital future?

Show your people what’s in it for them

We all know success depends on visionary leadership and a talented workforce. It’s more than that, though. It’s about collective buy-in. There has to be real personal gain, whether financial, social, or otherwise, for the people to want to be part of the change. China’s success fueled itself upon the millions who subscribed to — and benefited from — the dream of a better future.

I’m sure many would enjoy debating about what China gets right and wrong — and the definition of success. The facts remain: China increased its GDP fourfold in 10 years. I, for one, would love to see our bottom line do the same.

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