Posts tagged ‘education’


Travel diary (or, a diary that travels)

11.04.2016

A photo posted by Jack Yan (@jack.yan) on

A photo posted by Jack Yan (@jack.yan) on


 

What a fun project! In September, a class in a QuĂ©bec school set its pupils a travel diary project. The idea: see how well travelled each pupil’s diary gets by passing it to a friend, then to their friend, and so on. The aim is educational: they want to learn about different cultures. The person who receives it nearest April 15 has to send it back to the origin. That was me: the diary arrived in my office on Friday. I’ve since written a four-page letter to the schoolgirl about my life in Wellington, my hobbies, and my family, in reply to her opening piece.
   It has been over 25 years since I wrote in an exercise book. Prior to me, it went to the Netherlands, France, and Hong Kong. I hope she has the most well travelled journal in her class.
   And yes, I chucked it on a courier. It would suck if it travelled all this way and got lost on the last leg. It left for QuĂ©bec this afternoon.

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Posted in culture, France, New Zealand, Wellington | No Comments »


A tribute to Massimo Vignelli

29.05.2014

The below ran in Lucire today, though it is equally suited to the readers of this blog.


RIT

Massimo Vignelli, who passed away on May 27, was a hero of mine. When receiving the news shortly before it hit the media in a big way, from our mutual friend Stanley Moss, this title’s travel editor and CEO of the Medinge Group, I posted immediately on Facebook: ‘It is a sad duty to note the passing of Massimo Vignelli, one of my heroes in graphic design. When I was starting out in the business, Massimo was one of the greats: a proponent of modernism and simple, sharp typography. His influence is apparent in a lot of the work done by our brand consultancy and in our magazines, even in my 2013 mayoral campaign graphics. A lot of his work from half a century ago has stood the test of time. There was only one degree of separation between us, and I regret that we never connected during his lifetime. The passing of a legend.’
   This Facebook status only scratches the surface of my admiration for Vignelli. There have been more comprehensive obits already (Fast Company Design rightly called him ‘one of the greatest 20th century designers’), detailing his work notably for the New York subway map, and—curiously to me—glossing over the effect he had on corporate design, especially in the US.
   Vignelli, and his wife Lella, a designer in her own right and a qualified architect, set up the Vignelli Office of Design and Architecture in Milano in 1960, which had clients including Pirelli and Olivetti. In 1965, they moved to New York and Vignelli co-founded Unimark International (with Ralph Eckerstrom, James Fogelman, Wally Gutches, Larry Klein, and Bob Noorda), where he was design director. It was the world’s largest design and marketing firm till its closure in 1977.
   The 1960s were a great time for Vignelli and his corporate identities. He worked on American Airlines, Ford, Knoll, and J. C. Penney, and the work was strictly modernist, often employing Helvetica as the typeface family. Vignelli was known to have stuck with six families for most his work—Bodoni was another, a type family based around geometry that, on the surface, tied in to his modernist, logical approach. However, there were underlying reasons, including his belief that Helvetica had an ideal ratio between upper- and lowercase letters, with short ascenders and descenders, lending itself to what he considered classic proportions. The 1989 WTC Our Bodoni, created under Vignelli’s direction by Tom Carnase and commissioned by Bert di Pamphilis, adheres to the same proportions.
   Although my own typeface design background means that I could not adhere to six, there is something to be said for employing a logical approach to design. American corporate design went through a “cleaning up” in the 1960s, with a brighter, bolder sensibility. Detractors might accuse it of being stark, the Helveticization of American design making things too standard. Yet through the 1970s the influence remained, and to my young eyes that decade, this was how professional design should look, contrary to the low-budget work plaguing newspapers and books that I saw as I arrived in the occident.
   When the Vignellis left Unimark to set up Vignelli Associates in 1971 (and later Vignelli Designs in 1978), their stamp remained. The MTA launched Vignelli’s subway map the following year, and like the London Underground map by Harry Beck in 1931, it ignored what was above ground in favour of a logical diagram with the stops. Beck was a technical draftsman and the approach must have found favour with Vignelli, just as it did with those creating maps for the Paris MĂ©tropolitain and the Berlin U-bahn.
   New Yorkers didn’t take to the Vignelli map as well as Londoners and Parisians, and it was replaced in 1979 with one that was more geographically accurate to what was above ground.
   In 1973, Vignelli worked on the identity for Bloomingdale’s, and his work endures: the Big Brown Bag is his work, and it continues to be used by the chain today. Cinzano, Lancia and others continue with Vignelli’s designs.
   Ironically, despite a rejection of fashion in favour of timelessness, some of the work is identified with the 1960s and 1970s, notably thanks to the original cut of Helvetica, which has only recently been revived (a more modern cut is commonplace), and which is slightly less popular today. Others, benefiting from more modern layout programs and photography, look current to 2010s eyes, such as Vignelli Associates’ work for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
   The approach taken by Lucire in its print editions has a sense of modernism that has a direct Vignelli influence, including the use of related typeface families since we went to retail print editions in 2004. Our logotype itself, dating from 1997, has the sort of simplicity that I believe Vignelli would have approved of.
   Vignelli was, fortunately, fĂȘted during his lifetime. He received the Compasso d’Oro from ADI twice (1964 and 1998), the AIGA Gold Medal (1983), the Presidential Design Award (1985), the Honorary Royal Designer for Industry Award from the Royal Society of Arts (1996), the National Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cooper–Hewitt National Museum of Design (2003), among many. He holds honorary doctorates from seven institutions, including the Rochester Institute of Technology (2002). Rochester has a Vignelli Center for Design Studies, whose website adheres to his design principles and where educational programmes espouse his modernist approach. It also houses the Vignellis’ professional archive.
   He is survived by his wife, Lella, who continues to work as CEO of Vignelli Associates and president of Vignelli Designs; their son, Luca, their daughter, Valentina Vignelli Zimmer, and three grandchildren.

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Posted in branding, business, design, marketing, typography, USA | No Comments »


In education, everyone deserves a chance

09.02.2014

I am a huge fan of Sir Ken Robinson, the educational expert. This video has been around for a few years, but it’s well worth another watch.

   Everyone has the potential within them—so we need ways of encouraging this for every life, rather than suppress them in favour of just the three Rs.
   I was blessed to have done well at primary and secondary school, and in my business degree at university, though for the first couple of years at law school, you might say I was a middling student, getting between B-pluses and C-pluses. It was only at 300 level that things began to click.
   I think back to the kids at the so-called bottom of the class at primary. I won’t name my fellow student but there was one who buried his head in his Mission: Impossible annual who I say had a better imagination than most of us. Unfortunately, he wasn’t as strong on the academic stuff. And you think: if only.
   Or, for that matter, Karl Urban, the actor, who really was that talented as a kid, but not in the top three to which our school awarded prizes.
   A small proportion of those who don’t get recognized academically might wind up as internationally fĂȘted actors, with a lot of sheer hard work. But a whole lot get let down at the beginning, even at a really good school, and told they needed to shape up.
   I visit my primary and secondary schools regularly and keep up with their progress, and I am happy to say things are much, much better than in the 1970s and 1980s. There is more recognition of the different styles of learning, and the different strengths of each student. I see more group work and collaboration between students, as well as more extracurricular activities than we ever had. I hope that we don’t have the trend of medicating students as Sir Ken mentions in his talk, and it is very interesting to note that the prescriptions for ADD increase as one moves eastward across the United States (see 3′38″).

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The Rongotai years

05.02.2014

This came up today at Victoria University where an old client of ours asked about my 2013 campaign. I remembered there was something about education that I wanted to address at the time.
   One of the stranger emails during 2013 came from a former classmate of mine at Rongotai College. A brilliant guy at his sporting code, and from memory, a fair dinkum bloke. Unfortunately, he gave a fake return address, so I was unable to get my email to him (even though I wrote one of those ‘Hey, great to hear from you after all these years’ replies). He’s not on Facebook, either.
   His message went along the lines of why I never mention Rongotai College in my biographies, and criticized me of snobbery and being ashamed of the place.
   Those who know me know that I have little time for snobbery.
   It was odd since in my publicity during both elections, Rongotai College is mentioned—no more and no less than the two private schools I attended. You only had to go as far as the third line in the bullet points in my bio to find Rongotai there. That was the case with all my 2010 brochures and in my 2013 Vote.co.nz profile. (My 2013 fliers had less room and my schooling—anywhere—was omitted.) And it regularly came up in speeches, especially at my fund-raisers, which were held at Soi, co-owned by an old boy.
   I admit that sometimes I say, in conversation, that I was ‘Dux at St Mark’s and Proxime Accessit at Scots,’ simply because ‘School Certificate at Rongotai’ doesn’t say a heck of a lot about me. It’s normal just to talk about where you finished each stage of your education.
   For the same reason, I skip my Bachelor of Commerce degree since I did honours and then a Master of Commerce and Administration. I also skip Man Kee Kindergarten in Kowloon, Hong Kong, where I won the tidiness award at age three.
   I’m sure I wouldn’t find his fifth form sporting achievements on his CV.
   I assume he didn’t check the footer to this website, under ‘Connected organizations’, since he didn’t make it to the third line in my bio. There, I only mention St Mark’s and Scots—for the simple reason that these are schools I still work with: I serve on the alumni associations of both. My hands are full now with two upcoming centenaries, but: Rongotai College has simply never asked me.
   I’m wondering whether the writer himself has a bit of a chip on his shoulder about the place. Might he have reason to believe it was inferior if the other two were “Ă©lite”?
   Rongotai College did, let’s face it, have some issues in those days.
   On the plus side, the sporting record is decent. The fact that opera singer Ben Makisi came out of there during that time is another proud moment.
   Rongotai College showed me the importance of being my own man, and understanding peer pressure, to which it is unnecessary to succumb. I never did.
   The first guys to help me out in business were my mates at Rongotai, such as Matthew Breen and Andrew Bridge—and Andrew and I have stayed in touch.
   Rongotai College also showed that for every racist dickwad there was a rugby-playing Samoan or Tongan student capable of metering out justice.
   However, and I hate to say this, it also demonstrated leadership dysfunction in those days. There were serious senior management problems that filtered down to the rest of the place, which I witnessed, though some teachers thankfully remained steadfast.
   During that era, Rongotai was less than nurturing despite the best efforts of some of its teachers, such as Will Meehan (who helped shape my writing style in my fifth form when I began thinking about working in media, and endured my extra practice in my exercise books) and Dave Reynolds.
   So when I was offered a half-scholarship on the strength of my School Certificate marks, I took it.
   However, the Ă©litist tag, for either St Mark’s or Scots, is inaccurate.
   While I enjoyed St Mark’s and Scots more than my time at Rongotai, it’s daft to call either Ă©lite. There were many parents, who did not come from money, who worked hard to send us there. At any of the private schools I attended, none of my contemporaries felt they were above the others. I did, interestingly, encounter this behaviour at Rongotai, where being in the A-stream went to a few lads’ heads.
   My time at Scots was better for me, since there was a culture where each student should seek out his own path and excel at the things they loved the most. That’s not a function of money, it’s a function of leadership and education. There was also greater camaraderie,.
   Headmaster Keith Laws may have his critics—he hinted as much at the leavers’ assembly to me—but these aspects of Scots remained firm. Perhaps it was cultural, or perhaps he engendered them. Regardless, I thank him for his decision—the buck stopped at the head’s office—for granting me that scholarship.
   Finally, if I was trying to bury my Rongotai connection, I certainly wouldn’t have been seeking out a lot of the lads on social networks over the years. Or attended the funeral of the father of one of the old boys in 2013.
   So, for the record, no, I’m not ashamed of my past.

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Volkswagen is a case for critical thinking, not blind following

16.12.2012

Here’s an article from Autoblog that combines several of the themes I enjoy writing about: cars, leadership, management and education.
   I’ve already hinted at this on my Facebook fan page, where I seem to post some of the pithy things these days. I sometimes try to avoid blogging about the same thing—a lot of what you see here are ideas that haven’t changed, especially a lot of the posts about social responsibility and branding.
   I don’t want to dissuade anyone from getting higher education but one has to remember: education, especially tertiary education, is meant to open your mind to other possibilities and to get you thinking about them critically. It’s why I enjoyed papers at law school like public law and jurisprudence: both had lecturers (Prof Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Assoc Prof Ian Macduff) who enjoyed a well reasoned argument, even when it didn’t agree with their own thinking. It’s also why I didn’t appreciate banking law, or several other papers, where you had to agree 100 per cent with the lecturer, and to hell with independent thinking.
   The MBA, then, can be a blessing and a curse. A blessing for those who treat it as it should be: a skill set, providing a framework, from which to analyse things. A curse for those who believe that certain case studies must be followed religiously, failing to take into account the conditions of their own organizations. Which brings us neatly to the Volkswagen case.
   It may be a bit of a simplification to say that MBA thinking killed GM, and Volkswagen has eschewed that to become one of the world’s greatest car manufacturers, but it’s not too far from the truth. If you read period American books on management—or even one of my favourites, Lee Iacocca’s autobiography—there is this idea of what ‘efficiency’ is, usually with a lot of outsourcing, finding cheaper and cheaper bases of manufacture, with another eye on how to raise the share price for the quarter. Not the best way to run a firm, especially when visions need to be set for years, decades or quarter-centuries. I’ve written about that aspect before.
   But the way John McElroy puts it in his article, ‘efficiency’ means an absence of overlap and vertical integration, yet with them, Volkswagen AG is the world’s largest car company ‘if you measure it by revenue and profits. Its revenue of $200 billion is greater than every other OEM. Last year’s operating profit of $14 billion is the kind of performance you expect from Big Oil companies, not automakers.’ Yet:

   Any efficiency expert would tell you that VW is too vertically integrated, has too much overlap and duplication, and has way too many brands. VW, meanwhile, keeps growing bigger, stronger and more profitable 

   Efficiency experts will tell you that on an employee-per-vehicle basis, Volkswagen looks hopelessly inefficient. Financial analysts will tell you that the company woefully trails its competitors on a revenue-per-employee basis. But VW will tell you that it makes more money than any other automaker—by far.

In fact, McElroy goes on to say that Volkswagen looks a lot like the General Motors of Alfred P. Sloan—before the MBAs got hold of it.
   The idea of ‘efficiency’ is often a misnomer. Most of British industry was dismantled with the mantra of efficiency, essentially giving it up to globalist, technocratic forces, helped along by the Slater Walkers and the governments of the time. Those decades, too, were driven by “experts”—and what resulted was neither efficient nor productive. The decline of British Leyland is perhaps one of the most telling examples of period thinking applied disastrously to the British motor industry, its skilled workers now happily picked up by the Japanese, Germans and Indians.
   By all means, if real savings can be had and long-term goals achieved, then efficiency is a wonderful thing. There are areas where technology should aid productivity. But watch out for that word efficiency. It doesn’t always mean what the experts say it means—and if revenue and profit decline as a result of it, and corporate culture is harmed, then you may be better off heeding the lessons that Volkswagen’s management has. Use that MBA as a framework, not as a playbook.

PS.: I took the same stance when arguing over how to save General Motors, as published as a reader letter in CondĂ© Nast Portfolio magazine when it was still running. Naturally, GM followed the downsizing, brand-stripping route because it’s more efficient. Time will tell.

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Posted in business, cars, culture, leadership, media, politics, USA | 6 Comments »


Optimism marks out the Indian decade

17.01.2012

Jack Yan at SIMCUG
Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication

I’ve had a wonderful time in Pune and Mumbai, two cities to which I had wanted to go for some years. Like some New Agers say: be careful what you put out into the universe. It can come true.
   My main reason for going was to address the Knowledge Globalization Conference at FLAME in Pune. FLAME’s campus is remarkable: 1,000 acres, near a fancy golf course, and completely teetotal (which actually suits a social-only drinker like me). The scenery in the valley is stunning, and the sound of the water trickling down the mountain during the winter was particularly relaxing.
   But as with any place one visits, it’s never the scenery that makes it: it’s the people. And in Pune I found a sense of optimism from all people from all walks of life, one which I hadn’t seen for quite some time.
   I also ran into Deo Sharma from Sweden, whom I first met in 2002 in KĂžbenhavn. When there are coincidences like that, you know you’re on to a good thing.
   Equally inspirational was addressing the Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication. This talk, arranged through my friend Nishit Kumar—who learned I got a bigger buzz sharing knowledge than sitting on a beach relaxing—was attended by 600 students at different year levels. When you see a school like that, and students prepared to ask tough questions (both in person and later on Twitter), you feel encouraged that Pune has an incredible future ahead.
   And before I advance to my next point, Mumbai was just as fantastic, and I need to acknowledge my old friend Parmesh Shahani, who let me stay with him in a home that beats some of the art galleries I have seen.
   Everywhere you go in Pune, you see schools. A lot of tertiary institutions. Like so many Asian families, Indians place education highly. I had two parents who never seemed to go out on the town because we weren’t made of money, and everything they had went to my private schooling. I can well comprehend this mentality.
   Which, of course, begs the question: why isn’t our country doing more in this sector with India?
   I realize things are gradually changing as we incorporate more air routes directly to India and the government begins focusing on our fellow Commonwealth nation, but, as with capitalizing on the wave of Hong Kong emigration in the 1990s, I fear we might be too slow. Again.
   This is nothing new. I’ve been saying it since the mid-2000s, on this blog and elsewhere. Privately I’ve probably been uttering it for even longer, before we nominated Infosys of Bangalore as one of our Brands with a Conscience at the Medinge Group.
   And yet in the quest to get a free-trade deal with Beijing, we brushed aside India, a country with whom we have a shared heritage, a lingua franca, and a lot of games of cricket.
   When I first went to India in 2008, one Indore businessman asked me: why on earth did New Zealand pursue the Chinese deal ahead of the Indian deal?
   â€˜Follow the money,’ I swiftly answered, a response to which I got a round of applause.
   I know the numbers may well have been in China’s favour, but sometimes, there is something to be said for understanding what is behind those numbers. And there is also something to be said for looking at old friendships and valuing them.
   We can’t turn the clock back, nor might we want to, but it seems greater tie-ups with Indian education could be a great way to expose the next generation to more cultural sharing.
   While in Pune, there was news of two Indian student murders in Manchester, which won’t have done the British national image a great deal of good. Australia already suffers from a tarnished image of racism toward Indian students, one which the Gillard government is hurriedly addressing with advertising campaigns featuring Indian Australians. It strikes me that there is an opportunity here in New Zealand, now that I have apologized for Paul Henry. Only kidding. I don’t think that I had much influence doing so unofficially, but I felt I had to get it off my chest, and I did apologize.
   I was frank about it. I was frank about Henry, and I don’t mean Benny Hawkins off Crossroads. I was frank about the Indian immigrant who had to change his Christian name to something sounding more occidental before he got job interviews—prior to that he did not get a single response. But, I also noted, none of this would be out in the open in the mainstream media if New Zealanders, deep down, were not caring, decent people. The incidents would have been covered up.
   Despite what we might think, most folks didn’t realize that we had a decent high-tech industry, that we are the home of Weta, and that Tintin, The Lord of the Rings and King Kong were local efforts. Although Players had only been out for three days by that point—and not to particularly good reviews, either—few realized a third of it was filmed in New Zealand.
   They still think of sheep.
   But there is a generation which, despite a huge domestic market and the optimism in their own country, wants an overseas experience, and the occident is still regarded as the place to do it in.
   When they heard there was the possibility of high-tech jobs in a beautiful land, ears pricked up.
   I realize the OECD stats say we’re average when it comes to innovation, but I know it’s there, under the radar, growing. People like Prof Sir Paul Callaghan reckon it’s the realistic way forward for our nation. Interestingly, this message sounds an awful lot like the one I communicated during my 2010 mayoral campaign.
   And if we are to grow it, then maybe working with our Indian brothers and sisters is the exactly the direction we need to follow.

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Posted in branding, business, China, culture, India, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, Wellington | 2 Comments »


I had perfect scores but no “tiger parents”

15.05.2011

Now I see 60 Minutes New Zealand is on the act: how there’s supposedly something “different” about ‘Asians’. (God, I hate that term—I am neither Japanese, Sri Lankan or Kazakh. Prior to Winston Peters being on the scene, I thought I was Chinese, or a Chinese New Zealander.) The report surmised that it’s all about the pressure we got as kids from our parents.
   I wonder if there’s a Chinese edition of the programme investigating why Caucasians are physically stronger than we are, if we’re to buy in to a stereotype.
   I don’t dispute that the report had merit, and that there was some statistical basis for it. It made people think, and, as with Wesley Yang’s article in New York, it prompts a response. Creating dialogue is a good thing. It would be nicer to see a follow-up along Wesley’s lines, on how many ‘Asians’ wind up in leadership positions.
   But as I watched the programme, I kept wondering if somehow, the household I grew up in was anomalous, or whether TV3’s sample of three is representative enough of all ‘Asians’.
   One mother paused for a long time before she said that it was her pushing her daughter. But was the question loaded? Could we have asked a mother from any other race in this country, whose daughter is excelling at school, to see what her answer would be? I’m willing to bet that there is an above-average level of parental involvement in most academically gifted children.
   I had a pretty decent academic career. Like the kids on 60 Minutes, I came over as a child. English is my second language. I was Dux at St Mark’s Church School and Proxime Accessit at Scots College. I had the highest grades in my honours year for my BCA (Hons.) at Victoria University. (I didn’t do quite as well at law school, other than my intellectual property and jurisprudence papers, which gives you a hint of where my interests lay.) Getting 100 over a range of subjects is not unknown to me.
   But this whole idea about tiger parenting, of parents pushing their children to excel, just seems foreign. Didn’t happen to me. (I was encouraged to have literacy and numeracy skills from a young age, but the reason for that is explained elsewhere. And it certainly wasn’t extreme as 60 Minutes wishes to make out—it was enough to nudge things in the right direction in the place I lived in.)
   Everything I got in to, I got in to through dialogue. I didn’t learn the piano till I was 16. I picked up playing by ear in a couple of lessons. But I could have begun learning at five, because we moved into a flat whose previous tenant left her piano behind. My parents were willing to negotiate with our former neighbour to purchase it. I said I wasn’t interested. I was never forced into it. The movers came and Dad put his stereo and I put my toy cars where the piano used to be.
   Similarly, I was never forced to attend Sunday school, the only place in which one could learn Chinese literacy in those days. It was suggested to me, on more than one occasion, but I declined. I wound up learning French.
   I could draw in three dimensions when I was four years old because my father saw I had a love of doodling, and began drawing things at different angles. I copied him and the rest was left to me to develop. (I’m still reasonably good though the cars I draw tend to be stuck in the Life on Mars–Ashes to Ashes era.) My parents respected my interests and allowed them to flourish.
   Despite coming first constantly, and despite an offer from St Mark’s to put me up a grade, my parents said, ‘We’d still be proud of you and we’d still love you even if you came second.’ I never did while there.
   You know, I simply chose to score 100s because I reckoned I could. And took up stuff when I was good and ready. I like to think I turned out all right.
   Having Confucian values is one thing, which the report hinted at, but that’s nothing to do with having pushy parents.
   So for all those ‘Kiwi’ parents (the term was used on telly in a way that made me think: so, were my parents not Kiwis? Am I not a Kiwi? Why were we excluded?) watching the story and wondering if a hyper-competitive environment is right for their kids, stop that thinking now.
   You now have a story with a sample of three, and the testament of one other. My recollection is that nurturing and conversation worked. Kids have an amazing ability to reason and work things out for themselves. And that’s how I got my good grades at school.

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Posted in China, culture, interests, New Zealand, TV | 4 Comments »


What’s wrong with our values now?

11.05.2011

Alistair Kwun always finds great articles on personal identity. The latest is from Wesley Yang in New York, discussing the Asian-American experience, and why, despite having such good grades at school, are there so few Asian-American leaders in the US? (Incidentally, this is a strange term: what do Americans call non-oriental Asians?)
   I applaud Wesley in writing this piece, because it’s an issue that needs a voice. Whenever you write an article that covers an entire race, it’s always going to be tough. The debate he’s generated is very valuable, and it’s through that that we can improve ourselves and our systems.
   You almost need to base part of it on stereotypes, no matter which race you talk about. And Wesley highlights that there may well be racism in the US against Asian-Americans (just as there would be in China against Caucasian Chinese if someone did an article from that perspective):

If between 15 and 20 percent of every Ivy League class is Asian, and if the Ivy Leagues are incubators for the country’s leaders, it would stand to reason that Asians would make up some corresponding portion of the leadership class.
   And yet the numbers tell a different story. According to a recent study, Asian-­Americans represent roughly 5 percent of the population but only 0.3 percent of corporate officers, less than 1 percent of corporate board members, and around 2 percent of college presidents. There are nine Asian-American CEOs in the Fortune 500. In specific fields where Asian-Americans are heavily represented, there is a similar asymmetry. A third of all software engineers in Silicon Valley are Asian, and yet they make up only 6 percent of board members and about 10 percent of corporate officers of the Bay Area’s 25 largest companies. At the National Institutes of Health, where 21.5 percent of tenure-track scientists are Asians, only 4.7 percent of the lab or branch directors are, according to a study conducted in 2005.

   But here’s what I don’t get. The idea that because we retain our values, we’re worth less as leaders. That somehow, having decent values means we lack some kind of ability to take risks.
   Wesley doesn’t generalize. In fact, he points out numerous examples of Asian-Americans who did take risks. And, when I think about it, among my peers, our propensity to take risks isn’t far off any other group’s.
   Here are the two paragraphs that struck a nerve:

Chu has a pleasant face, but it would not be wrong to characterize his demeanor as reserved. He speaks in a quiet, unemphatic voice. He doesn’t move his features much. He attributes these traits to the atmosphere in his household. “When you grow up in a Chinese home,” he says, “you don’t talk. You shut up and listen to what your parents tell you to do.”

And the attempt to connect that with the following idea:

Aspiring Asian leaders had to become aware of “the relationship between values, behaviors, and perceptions.” He offered the example of Asians who don’t speak up at meetings. “So let’s say I go to meetings with you and I notice you never say anything. And I ask myself, ‘Hmm, I wonder why you’re not saying anything. Maybe it’s because you don’t know what we’re talking about. That would be a good reason for not saying anything. Or maybe it’s because you’re not even interested in the subject matter. Or maybe you think the conversation is beneath you.’ So here I’m thinking, because you never say anything at meetings, that you’re either dumb, you don’t care, or you’re arrogant. When maybe it’s because you were taught when you were growing up that when the boss is talking, what are you supposed to be doing? Listening.”

   So being considered, taking in everyone’s viewpoints, and not being brash about something is a bad thing?
   In a decent, multicultural society, one would hope that we can appreciate different norms based on how someone is raised. And it’s not just between two races. Even in a single race, you can have someone whose parents taught them to be quiet and another whose parents encouraged lively debate. Is one person worth less than the other? Is one less suited for leadership? I don’t think so: so many other things need to be looked at.
   Surely the “weapon” for any race is the ability to have perspective and to be proud of all your cultural norms? While Wesley’s examples are about a few Asian-Americans who want the recognition they deserve, those of us who are proud of our culture and have done all right because of it—and being smart enough to bridge our traditions with the host nation—might think the following, as one of Alistair’s friends did:

My issue with articles like this is that they seem to encourage disdain for our heritage. I am trying to raise my daughters to have pride in their ethnicity.

   My view was this, initially, and I’m still quite happy with this comment on Al’s wall. Naturally, I could not extend it to our other oriental cousins because it’s a statement founded on personal experience, but I’m sure some would agree with this. I added the italics for emphasis here:

I would have thought that because we are “different”, it would make us more suited to challenging “the Man”. We can question them because we come from a culture that affords us perspective—and it’s not just us Chinese, but anyone with any ethnic background. (I was even chatting about this to a white Irish–American New Zealander recently.)
   But is there a ‘traditional’ pathway? If there is, I don’t know of it, and was never told it. Maybe I won some genetic lottery and had parents who were smart enough to realize that having values is not an impediment, if you can make them work to your advantage. I also had parents who took risks—the risk of going to a new country, the risk of starting their own businesses—and where my mother, when she was working for someone, refused promotion because she didn’t want the extra responsibilities.
   But isn’t risk-taking something instilled in all Chinese Ă©migrĂ©s? In the US and here, it was those who headed to the 金汱. Those were the pioneers and they had a hard time. Those of us with grandparents who fought the Japanese. Those of us who came out with our parents. If we respected their histories, we should realize—and maybe this is me talking in hindsight—that we have our own mark to make like our forebears, and that means having our own adventure.

   I don’t believe there’s something about our culture that holds us back from speaking our minds, being subservient or taking risks. We invented enough stuff to show that we have decent lateral thinking among our ranks. What about Honda? It’s a motorcycle and car company now making jet planes—how many companies started doing bikes and now makes planes? I have always thought the “meekness” that Wesley writes of is, in itself, a stereotype: if you buy into it, then you’ve just hurt yourself by conforming to someone’s false idea of what it means to be Chinese.
   Goodness knows the number of times I’ve heard (though, interestingly, not last year) ‘I thought Asians weren’t interested in politics.’ Well, obviously, we are, and we’ve had more of them for a lot longer than a lot of other cultures. (Try telling Peter Chin or Meng Foon of their supposed disinterest over the years.)
   The mark of an open-minded society is one which values people equally, realizing that everyone has a different way of doing things.
   The mark of maturity is having perspective, which has come about through contact, dialogue, travel or endeavour.
   If the failure of an Asian-American to speak out prevents them from being promoted, then maybe we need to look hard at that organization.
   Because I honestly don’t think blame should be levelled at the person for being the way they are.
   What it does show is that there are systems that are inherently racist. When it comes to denying Asian-Americans their rightful place, it’s apparently now our fault once again for being who we are.
   I’m hoping to high heaven that the stats in New Zealand aren’t as dire as the ones Wesley cited, though we sure are under-represented politically. I don’t blame the voters, and I don’t blame the potential candidates. But it should make us wonder about the fairness of the system and the institutions behind it.

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Posted in business, culture, leadership, New Zealand, politics, USA, Wellington | 2 Comments »


Do schools kill creativity?

07.03.2010

Stefan Engeseth pasted this to his blog over the weekend, and it’s one of the best TED talks. As Stefan has investigated child behaviour himself, I can see the relevance. But even for the rest of us, it’s a thoroughly entertaining talk by Sir Ken Robinson in 2006 that has some wonderful touchpoints—and humour. It’s very apt when Sir Ken discusses the foundations of the educational system in the Industrial Revolution, and how we still make judgements based on its values.

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Posted in culture, leadership, USA | 3 Comments »