Monthly Archives: November 2013

Dancing on the banks of the Pearl River

The AMPGS China module was held in May at Guangzhou. The sessions are held at the Lignan college campus of the Sun Yat Sen University- a campus in which teaching in English is a long tradition dating back to 1924. The elegant green campus is on the bank of the Pearl river and after intensive class sessions on each day it feels good to go for a stroll along the well maintained promenade on the banks of the Pearl river. The water of the great river is clear and looks unpolluted even though it is close to the end of its journey to the sea.


Immediately after one steps out of the campus gates,   the air is filled with music- with soft, drawn out melodious tones of popular Chinese songs. Quite a few of the beloved Hindi movie melodies of the fifties are close if not drawn from Chinese tunes. I am not an expert in music matters, however.

What struck me was the large number of people- men, women of all ages who sway and dance to the songs. These groups of dancers don’t appear to be professionals in dancing.blog2.2They could just be regular people, office employees, shop keepers, students, even retired men and women and so on for whom this is the evening relaxation. I have not seen anything like this in India or elsewhere during my travels

However, make no mistakes about the work habits of the Pearl river bank citizenry. The Pearl River Delta (PRD) is the fastest growing region of the fastest growing economy of the World. The PRD economic zone contains nine cities including Guangzhou and Shenzen with Hong Kong closeby. Historically China’s economic transformation was initiated in Shenzen in 1980. The region accounts for almost 30% of China’s exports. The two banks of the river have different industry profiles. East bank focuses on electronics and IT products while the west bank is known for household appliance products. Apple products like iPhones and iPads are assembled in Shenzen in the largest electronics assembly plants in the World. In fact it would be difficult to imagine any other place in the world where factories with more than more than 100,000 people work consistently with high degree of discipline and productivity with very few problems.

In fact China has a large number of success stories – extraordinary feats of engineering execution.blog2.3 The largest high speed bullet train network is the most recent. Guangzhou is the third biggest city in China, behind Shanghai and Beijing. But its central business district is more impressive than many cities in the West. The infrastructure in China makes much of USA or Europe seem old and rickety. This brings up a question: Are there characteristics or cultural aspects of Chinese people which enable and facilitate high performance organizations ?

One aspect which much of management teaching in MBA schools generally misses out on is the importance of the cultural and historical background of organizations. It is tacitly assumed that business school learning in terms of strategies and best practices can work out wherever it is well implemented. Nothing can be more misleading. I would not elaborate on culture theories here. In terms of dimensions of culture, China rates very high in collective orientation. People like to define themselves largely in terms of their social groups. This means they work together harmoniously in groups better than people in many other cultures. What the dance groups show is that this extends to off hours also. People do not want to stay at home and watch TV or play individual centered competitive games. They are happier joining groups swaying to gentle melodies. The dance on the banks Pearl river perhaps helps understand a bit more as to why the Pearl river delta has developed into the World’s largest manufacturing cluster. That is only a thought. Send me your comments or even better, join me on the next visit to the lovely banks of the Pearl river to discuss and understand the nature of high performance organizations.

Jogging in California

UCLA AMPGS module at UCLA was completed last week.  It feels good to walk in the UCLA campus.  It is surely one of the loveliest campuses in the World. One hears about the great breakthroughs in science and technology which happened here- TCP/IP which gave rise to the internet or detection of AIDs and so on.   UCLA faculty, students and alumni have won 13 Nobel prizes and 250 Olympic medals.

It is a good place to ask the question “What characterizes creative and innovative environments?” This is a billion dollar question which every organization in the world worth its salt is exploring,  I  will  not attempt an  answer here.  I will pen my own thoughts a bit later. Let me refer to a wonderful article I have come across on the topic.  Late Prof Sumantra Ghoshal wrote about the “smell of the place” sometime back. Ghoshal talks about a walk in spring in the forest of Fontainebleau close to Insead business school where he taught. Even if you started out for a leisurely walk, the air feels so pure, cool and energizing that you feel like jogging.  The contrasting experience is when Ghoshal goes over to Kolkata in summer. The hot and humid feeling saps energies and vitality. Organizational environments Ghoshal says have  a similar influence.

Some environments are empowering. They encourage the best in everyone. While others can be demotivating. Organizational environments in which employees are stressed by constraints and  control and are constantly reminded of contractual obligations are demotivating. On the other hand, organizations which encourage stretch and self discipline, trust their staff and support them bring out the best.  If you compare UCLA with most of Universities in India, you cannot but agree with Prof Ghoshal.

There are of course constraining and controlling organizations in the US. Are there energizing environments in hot and humid India?  Also this is good advice for high tech organizations that  need learning abilities to survive and innovation to grow. Does this hold for traditional highly structured organizations like airlines and railways?  Can Governments provide enlivening workplaces?  I would be glad to hear from you.

(For a good summary of Prof Sumantra Ghoshal’s  work please see  There are videos of  Prof Ghoshal ‘s   brief talk on this topic at the World Economic Forum on YouTube)

Getting back to AMPGS sessions, we had outstanding UCLA faculty teach for several days, which made for an intensive learning experience as always. (list of themes appears elsewhere on the AMPGS website).  We also had a very interesting visit to a design center -RKS designs Inc where the well-known product designer  Mr. Ravi Sawhney himself gave us a presentation on concepts of  strategic design, his product design philosophy and methods.  Ravi Sawhney’s early work on touch screen interfaces has been  described in the book “Predictable Magic” by Deepa Prahlad and published by Wharton Business School Press.

The class then dispersed to their own destinations in US or elsewhere. I flew north to the Silicon Valley for an immersive experience of a different kind.