Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What China can learn from India - 2. Go Global

Chinese are reluctantly going global. Indians are enthusiastically going around the world. And therein lies a lesson China can learn from India.

This is another counter intuitive lesson than I am proposing. After all Chinese have gone everywhere in the world. There’s a Chinatown in virtually every city. And yet, I say Chinese are reluctant globetrotters. In the past, Chinese migrated and travelled enthusiastically. I think they lost that globalizing spirit during the Cultural Revolution and haven’t still regained it. Today, they’d rather stay at home.

Indians on the other hand are going everywhere. Even the junior most Indian employee will jump at the chance if he is sent to any country in the world to work. Walk into any company anywhere and you are likely to see at least a few Indian nationals working there. This is a huge advantage for India. Many Indian professionals today have some experience of working in a different country. They have learnt what it takes to work globally. They assimilate, more easily, global working practices. They learn how to win globally.

In a class of MBA students, here in China, I asked, how many would like to go for a job or for higher studies in the US. Not a hand went up. If I asked the same question in an Indian business school, not a hand would stay down. There are many more Indians living and working in China than Chinese in India. In the companies that I have worked for, there have been 50 times more Indian expats working in various countries in the world than Chinese expats. In my own company now there are quite a few Indians, like myself, working in China. There’s not a single Chinese working in India.

Why is this so ? Command over English is only a minor reason – today’s Chinese professionals have a comfortable working knowledge of English. There is a deeper reason. Chinese professionals are less comfortable to go and work in a different culture. They are more comfortable working back home, and this is accentuated by a high demand for qualified people in China. The willingness to take a dare and experiment working in a completely different place is simply not as high. Hence my assertion – Chinese are reluctant globetrotters.

In the long run, this will prove to be a competitive disadvantage for China. You cannot lead the world economically, staying at home. The world will come to you, only up to a point. While the world wants to learn from China, Chinese have more to learn from the world.

China – the world is yours to conquer. But you have to go there first.