China Speed

June 28, 2011

Earlier this year, Ketchum made a major move in its global expansion by increasing its investment in our Greater China operations to a majority position. And as one of the first of many steps to fully bring our China colleagues into the Ketchum family, we are now working to bring Ketchum University to China. To this end, I recently had the privilege of visiting our Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong offices to introduce our learning program, gather information from them on what they most need, and deliver Ketchum’s leadership development program to their senior staff.

Three things stood out for me on this trip: the tremendous energy being generated by China’s rapid economic growth, the sense of the dizzying speed of change that its people have, and the strong desire to connect and integrate with the global community.

The energy of China’s economic boom is referred to as “China Rising.” You can feel it in the air, in the energy and purpose of the people on the street, in the traffic congestion, and in the very real presence of many new buildings and construction everywhere you look. I left from JFK Airport in New York and arrived in Beijing 13 hours later. What a contrast to leave JFK’s crowded, dirty, worn-out infrastructure and arrive in Beijing’s Terminal 3, a beautiful, soaring new terminal that feels like a work of art. This experience immediately reframed my idea of what a developed versus a developing country looks like – just the first of many impressions and experiences that would deepen my appreciation for China and the setting in which our colleagues are performing public relations work.


Terminal Three, Beijing International Airport

Our Chinese colleagues helped me understand a related experience they are having. They call it “China Speed.” They expressed the feeling as “The dragon is rising quickly with tremendous energy – you’d better grab on and get on its back or be trampled underneath!” This feeling of China speed, which accompanies its explosive growth, manifests itself in the urgency they feel to learn everything they can as fast as they can – to absorb all knowledge that is available, right now! They feel they do not have the luxury of endless debate or careful long-term consideration of ideas — “Give me the idea now and I’ll give it a go” is more the present need. Perhaps when the dragon pauses to catch its breath in the future, we can have lots of fancy debates on things, but for now, “Give it to me short, sweet and to the point and then get out of the way.” 


Ketchum Shanghai junior staff

These experiences of urgent growth plus speed are accompanied by a genuine desire to connect to the global community. Each colleague I met on this trip, from the newest member to the longest-term employee, expressed the desire to connect more directly, more deeply and more consistently to their colleagues in other Ketchum offices worldwide, and even beyond to connect socially and culturally to the global community. In each of my interactions with our people, I experienced the rising power of China accompanied not by the desire to dominate but rather to engage, to find out what others are thinking and doing, and to express China’s view as well – to educate the rest of the world about who the Chinese are and what China is seeking to become. The rest of the world should meet this with openness, with its own curiosity to understand China. They have a genuine curiosity about the rest of the world. And this bodes well for our learning program – there is nothing better than curiosity to promote learning. 

So, there is a lot to do. We can’t just import our programs; they need customization to the local realities. We also need to build a local faculty. One promising step was our meeting with Steven Dong, head of Tsinghua University’s School of Communication and Journalism, which was held in the Omnicom Building on the Beijing campus. Stephen and his staff are eager to help us build a world-class curriculum for our Ketchum colleagues.


David Wong, Steven Dong, Robert Burnside and Grace Zhou at Tsinghua University, Beijing

In summary, there is much to do, but there is a genuine willingness and readiness in China to engage with what we can bring – just bring it fast!

Partner and Chief Learning Officer at Ketchum. Complexity, uncertainty, ambiguity and velocity are mushrooming in the world. The ability to know oneself and to rapidly make sense of the fire hose of information helps. This equals Learning = World Problem Solution. 🙂