At the South by Southwest conference back in 2010, there was a fascinating panel about doing business in China called “Social Media And China: It’s Not What You Think.” As part of a summary of the session that one blogger shared online, a topic that came up during that discussion was the “5 C's Of Chinese Innovation.”
It was an idea that I saved and have returned to a few times since because it challenges a few fundamental assumptions that entrepreneurs and small business owners in America tend to make. Here are the 5 C's of Chinese Innovation, excerpted from the post referenced above:
1. Copy: We always start with something.
2. Combination: By combining two things (i.e., instant messaging and virtual goods), you can get a great idea.
3. Competition: As soon as there are two strong video sites, for example, they need to compete and differentiate, which leads to innovation.
4. Constraints: Because you can’t do everything, the constraints foster innovation, even knew business models (because online advertising isn’t workable, for example).
5. China: It has to work for China, and the unique settings of the country, which might be different than for example a Japanese consumer.
The American poet and activist Audre Lorde is credited with the famous saying: “There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.” As the first two C's of Chinese innovation combine, the act of coming up with a completely unique and original idea or business plan may be less important than most of us think it is.
Instead, smart innovation can come from copying and combining existing concepts to create a new take on an old idea. This is something that Chinese entrepreneurs have no mental barriers around doing. The most logical way to ensure success is to build on something that is already working.
The popular Facebook game Farmville was based on an earlier Chinese farming game called Five Minutes. The popular Russian search engine Yandex is essentially a clone of Google. None of these mean that you shouldn’t continue to innovate and have your business focus on original ideas. The lesson to takeaway is that sometimes the most successful ideas for your business might originate from something that has already been done before by someone else…and it doesn’t make you less of an entrepreneur to admit it.