By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

The Lectern: New workforce entrant "testing the boundaries" -- in China

I had an interesting dialogue recently with a young Chinese new university graduate who will soon be taking a public sector job in Beijing. He said that it would be interesting to "test the boundaries" of what the system would allow when he begins his new job.

I asked him what he meant by testing the boundaries.

He responded: try something a little bit different, and if the reaction against what you try isn't too harsh, try something a little more different. And keep trying until the pushback gets too strong. Then you realize the boundaries of what is possible.

Listening to him, I was reminded of a discussion I participated in at the National Contract Management Association World Congress last April. Young people being trained at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Acquisition Academy were talking about how they would try to promote innovative ideas in their workplaces without being rejected by the immune systems of these organizations as foreign bodies. The students were very aware of the psychology involved, and, frankly, their approaches didn't sound so different from that of the Chinese student.

I know this is a controversial view, including among readers of this blog, but I am increasingly inclined towards the view that China is not a totally different world from ours -- and that a new generation in China is moving their country closer to a society we in the West can recognize and sympathize with.

Incidentally, this same young person predicted that Chinese blocking of Facebook, YouTube, etc. would stop after the sixtieth anniversary of the Communist takeover on October 1 -- a big event of the kind about which the regime tends to get super-paranoid. Chinese students show their distain for Internet censorship when they refer, as almost all seem to do, to blocking websites as "harmonizing" them -- a play on the official policy of the Chinese government to create a "harmonious society."

PS. I know this blog also has readers in Taiwan, and in a few weeks my annual group of Taiwanese civil servants will arrive at Harvard for an executive education program I chair. Our thoughts go out to friends in Taiwan after the terrible typhoon -- the idea of 80 inches of rain (2 meters) is virtually unimaginable.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Aug 18, 2009 at 12:08 PM


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