The Little Red Book (Of China Business)

Related entries: Business Issues, General, Strategy

The iconic “little red book” of the Mao era has had a bit of a facelift and has been re-jigged by Sheila Melvin (formerly of the US-China Business Council, and currently a member of the National Committee on US-China Relations*) as a business book – The Little Red Book of China Business.

OK, so there are a lot of business books about China and about management out there already, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before Mao got dragged into the picture. As the Economist puts it:

    “[Mao] thought of himself as, in his own words, an “indefatigable teacher” and the famous “Little Red Book” drawn from his speeches is packed with managerial advice on training, motivation and evaluation of lower-level employees (cadres); innovation (“let a hundred flowers bloom”); competition (“fear no sacrifice”); and, of course, raising the game of the complacent manager (relentless self-criticism).”

Melvin’s book (and, for that matter, Mao) may not be to everyone’s taste (as noted on China Law Blog), but it is an interesting read and contains some gems, including some advice under the following headings:

    • Use the past to analyze the present
    (e.g. foreigners’ “mistakes” – remember Belgrade? – may be perceived as humiliations)

    • Be ready for emotional outpourings
    (e.g. the rise of economic nationalism)

    • Be ready for personalized blame
    (e.g. individual foreigners may get occasional lectures)

    • Be prepared for collateral damage when diplomacy goes awry
    (e.g. have a crisis management plan in place for when another “mistake” happens)

    • Respect PRC Sovereignty – or else
    (e.g. be sure your map has the right places in the right colours – or you will offend)

    • Use history to your advantage
    (e.g. leverage your links, or work to build some)

    • Be on guard for historic references
    (e.g. where the past is used to criticize the present)

    • Historic and cultural sensitivity wins points
    (e.g. take care when using cultural icons in corporate ads)

    • Negative history can be overcome
    (e.g. even British colonial drug dealers can become big in China – legitimately!)

Of course, many of Mao’s initiatives were a disaster and, while one might not want to follow his lead on all things, the Economist helpfully points out at least one possible – tongue-in-cheek – lesson for muddled managers in China…:

    “…if you can’t do anything right, do a lot. The more you have going on, the longer it will take for its disastrous consequences to become clear. And think very big: for all his flaws, Mao was inspiring.”

Worry not – there is still time to do a few things well in 2008!

See news sources:

    Staying at the top
    Mao and the art of management
    Dec 19th 2007
    From The Economist print edition

*Note: Melvin is also a reader of this blog – and kindly donated a review copy of the book.

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