How do you give snakes feet?

Both yesterday in reading class and today in speaking class we coincidentally learned about a four word Chinese saying (hua1 she2 tian1 zu2) which translates to “drawing feet on a snake.” The story is about a drawing competition, where the competitor who draws the snake the fastest gets a nice bottle of booze. One guy draws the snake really quickly, but seeing the others are still working, decides to add feet to the snake for fun. Another guy finishes his snake drawing, grabs the booze, chugs it, and says in triumph “You didn’t draw a snake. A snake doesn’t have feet!” As I understand it, the idiom means that you shouldn’t do superfluous things — only what’s asked of you.

Then after class, I was talking with my Chinese friend, who is trying to apply to P&G (one of the most popular joint-ventures to work for in China) and wanted advice on applying to foreign companies. I told her what some US companies look for: demonstrated leadership and teamwork, innovation and initiative, creativity and problem solving, professionalism and poise, and the ability to ask the right questions. For instance, a friend of mine started his own networking company, helping small to medium sized firms set up servers and information security and data backups etc. If he sends a technician to a client, the tech will fix the problem the client thinks he has; but if he sends a more well-rounded engineer to the client, the engineer will figure out what problems the client doesn’t realize he has, and fix those too, providing better service to the client and more business for the company.

My friend and many American employers covet such people, who can see what’s not obvious, who go the extra step, who solve unasked questions and see things in a different light.

When talking about China development, the question in my mind is how do you help encourage really smart and capable people here — and there are a lot of them — to break that conformist tradition, and draw feet on snakes?  For instance to stop thinking “what job can I apply for” and instead ask “what opportunity can I create”?

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TIBET photos are now online!!! My travel buddy Gary Liu has put together a selection of photos taken by our travel team (self-named Tibet-tubbies) on his site. Check it out — page 8 has photos from my birthday at Yamdrok Lake, at 4990 meters.

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And if you follow the RMB revaluation debate, the US’s new Treasury Secretary Paulson was able to convince Senators Schumer and Graham to lay off the trade war talk, as “that’s not the right way to negotiate with China.” You can read about it on Bloomberg.

As promised, this one was short!

Cheers, Liz aka An Ke Xin

One thought on “How do you give snakes feet?

  1. intesting … so when i look at india, a lot of the ‘what opportunity can i create?’ gets translated directly into starting one’s own business. while this may sound risky, it’s pretty standard to do this. it is more rare that somebody sets out with a vision of a becoming a leader of any kind or to create something larger than his/her self.

    i imagine the fight survival swallows up this kind of talent in china too. i also imagine, that once somebody makes it into the upper middle class with a good job, their powers of vision have been used up and they settle down. at least, i’ve heard some interviews from a recently rich ($200/month income) chinese dude. he was quite ecstatic to have come so far from the farms, and to renting an apt in the city while building a house for his ‘rents back home.

    india also lets their people go, right? i.e. a lot of the indians that came out here were the ones with the motivation to do things like make sun microsystems, etc etc. i get the impression that encouraging these traits in a country that feels oppressed or at least confined by some set of rules, will be hard.

    i don’t know if you’ve read “the ten faces of innovation” but it’s good. written by a big shot at IDEO it goes through 10 “personalities” one must have to innovate. it then uses real world examples to explain how each of these personalities contributes to the process of innovation. i imagine finding chinese examples of each of the personalities would help people see that applying their own instincts to problems that the chinese citizen/economy/consumer/patient/student/etc faces, would result in cool stuff 🙂

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