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White Water, Hot Tea. Interpreting the rumblings from the Middle Kingdom distance

Blog post   •   Oct 21, 2012 12:15 BST

Andrew Nugée, London.  Prototype assembly stage for imagineear's new project out of Shenzhen, China.  We're into the last few months, the pieces are slotting together.  It's a tense, exciting, time.

I had wanted to code-name our latest Child of Shenzhen 'Sky Fall' but I was told by the legal people that if I did, it might just do so.  So, given the choice, it will just have to be Project Hot Tea.

Building cool stuff is such great fun.  But between belief and delivery there are a bazillion details.  As I said to Eric, imagineear's tech guru, you've got to have a mindset that enjoys solving problems.  First there's the market needs - though sometimes clients have no clue what they need.  So you read the runes and back your hunch.  Then there's design and, nodding our thanks to Mr Jobs, we all take design more seriously than even a couple of years ago.  But there is so much more: mould finish, colour, performance trade-offs ... materials! functionality!  battery life!  screen experience!  And of course cost.  Some of this we can achieve from HQ.  In fact, I am old enough still to be amazed how much we can do by winging CAD-CAM files back and forth to China. But eventually ... you gotta go.

First time I saw Shenzhen, twinned (it seems rather less obvious now!) with Rotherham (pop pushing 120,000) it was a seaside town of about 30,000 people.  Now it's, well, large.  Wikipedia - like google maps - is way out of date and puts SZ's population at 10 million.  On the ground they will tell you greater Shenzhen is nearer 20m.  This is a growth rate of 20% a year, every year, and the economy grows faster of course.  The wealthy parts of communist Shenzhen are quite flash: next to the Maserati showroom downtown is the Lamborghini one.  A latter day case of "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"  I know, I know, New Kingdom, not Middle, but still, seen from Shenzhen, and despite the evident slowdown, this still looks very like China's Century.

In their recent HBR book The $10 Trillion Prize ex-BCG colleagues Michael Silverstein and others made an interesting observation about the Middle Kingdom: "To those living outside China the name of the country is translated as 'Middle Kingdom'.  But the Chinese characters for China convey a very different meaning.  A more accurate translation is of a country that is central to the world, wealthy in resources and capabilities and well protected - spiritually and physically (see below).  This symbolic categorization reflects comments that many of our interviewees made: they view themselves as players on the world stage who are in control of their own destiny.  They have a sense of prosperity, strength and momentum.  They hope for an even better future."

On one side of the paper only, discuss!

Back to product.  Home to huge plants building computers, tablets and phones, Shenzhen ranked #1 among all China's cities in terms of total high-tech industry output by value - over $200bn in 2011.  Apple, Lenovo, Dell, HP all build in Shenzhen.  So we are small fry indeed, but in great company.  We have good partners, competent people and deep and broad tech experience on the ground.  With this, the mindset that enjoys solving problems and a tolerance for Beijing (aka Peking) Duck, you're set.  As James Bond in Sky Fall would surely have wanted to respond:

     "Country"     "England"
     "Agent"         "Direct"
     "Cost"           "Murder"
     "Screen"
     "Screen?"     "Done".

There we have it: a way to go yet, but the Hot Tea is unquestionably, finally, on the boil.

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