Derek Sivers
The Developing World - by Fredrik Härén

The Developing World - by Fredrik Härén

ISBN: 9197547077
Date read: 2011-12-28
How strongly I recommend it: 6/10
(See my list of 360+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

This is a wonderfully one-sided book that shows how exciting the big growth of China, India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Africa, Turkey, and Korea are. He's found great examples of people and companies doing really innovative things, but most of all it's a mindset.

my notes

A developed person is just like a developed country: it tends to stop learning new things. When people like this come across a new idea, a new culture or a new product, their response tends to be, ‘I know everything worth knowing and as I don’t know anything about this, then why should I bother with it?’ You see, we humans have a habit of enjoying our success, but this enjoyment tends to make us stop and then we forget to move on.”

Developed people define things as finished.

Just as a young person can remind an old one how fascinating the world can be, so too must we in the developed world let the developing nations remind us of the value of retaining our curiosity.

“Do you think that the younger generation will have an easier life than your generation?” Less than 10% said yes in Sweden, and in Germany only 5% answered positively.

In India, for example, everyone put up their hands when I asked the same question – as they did in South Korea. In Sri Lanka, nearly everyone raised their hands while in China they put up both hands, stood up and started clapping.

A country in which only a tenth of its young believe that their country will improve in the future, is a country without dreams.

The purpose of this book is not to describe an absolute truth, but to get you, the reader, more curious about what is happening in the world, to make you more eager to implement the changes that you find necessary.

By saying that we are developed, we are declaring that we are done developing. By saying that we are done developing, we think that we have reached our goal. When you reach your goal, you slow down.

I had coffee with a young Art Director from Indonesia, who got her education in Singapore and then moved to Shanghai. I spoke with many entrepreneurs about everything from fish farming to MP3 players, and have had the honour of meeting fashion designers, journalists, PR managers, advertisers and many others.

Cmune: a little software company founded by a Frenchman living in Beijing and an Australian in South Korea. In order to develop their software further, they then went out searching for extremely clever 3D developers. They eventually found a young man living in a small Tunisian village via an online community.

Creative revolution is going on in many developing countries right now.

Looking at the world from a different point of view lets you see things that you have never seen before.

The world is gradually getting access to many more creative people.

“We Indians don’t want your boring jobs, like sewing footballs or assembling cell phones. We want your fun jobs: your research jobs, your analytical jobs, your design assignments and your development departments. Thanks to the Internet, we can look at what you’re doing and compare it to what we’re doing, and we’ve suddenly realized that there isn’t such a great difference between you and us after all.”

Just as a hungry person appreciates food more than someone who is full, people who have had limited access to information recognize the value of the Internet more than those who have had a lot of information at their fingertips for a while.

He wants to “be a role model for other young Turkish people and show them that you can come from Turkey and still solve one of the world’s greatest problems.”

The main task of a teacher is not to teach facts, but to encourage students to want to learn. “Teachers don’t get the horse to drink – they make the horse thirsty.”

17 million university students in 2,000 universities. The number of Chinese in higher education is five times higher than it was five years ago.

China’s leaders realize that it is too expensive to import innovations from other countries, so that they are making an effort to develop their own instead. This concerted effort is known as ‘Zi Zhu Chuang Xin’ in Chinese, and can be freely translated as ‘self-owned innovation’.

In 2005, China’s leader Hu Jintao announced to the nation that China was going to be ‘an innovative country’.

Hu Jintao, China’s president, encourages the country to become ‘an innovation-oriented country within the next fifteen years’.

The president encouraged state-owned companies to support innovation more and the country as a whole to become more open to its own culture as well as learning from others. He added that ‘profound social reform’ would be needed in order to transform China into an innovative country.

Hsinchu Science Park in Taiwan. Knowledge and Innovation Community, KIC, located in the north of Shanghai, in the same area as top university Fudan.

75 Creative Industry Parks in Shanghai alone.

You might think that the world’s biggest digital arts festival takes place in London, Paris or New York – but you would be wrong. It is held in Shanghai. The Shanghai eArts Festival

In Singapore, Chris Lee's design company is called The Asylum. Due to the fact that so many complained a few years ago that Singapore was so dull, he felt compelled to change this point of view. Consequently, he has spent a lot of his time on developing the creative atmosphere in Singapore. Once a month, he travels to another Asian metropolis. He stopped saying that he lives in Singapore and, instead, started telling people that he lives in Asia with his base in Singapore.

Ten years ago approximately 90% of Koreans who went to the USA to study stayed on. Nowadays, nearly 90% return home once they finish their studies.

In China, people who have travelled to the West and then come back home, are known as sea turtles because just like turtles, they return to the place of their birth

30-year-old Sheila Tiwan is a good example of an Indonesian sea turtle. She moved to Silicon Valley when she was only seven. She came back to Indonesia two years ago and today she manages her family company Carsurin, one of Indonesia’s largest independent inspection and consulting maritime companies and a Lloyd’s agent in Indonesia. When I asked her why she – a young, ambitious woman in the middle of her career – did not stay put in Silicon Valley, she answered happily, “Because the opportunities are here in Jakarta.” She went on to add that, although it may not be obvious that Jakarta can compete with Silicon Valley, if you stick around Indonesia for a while it is easier to discover the opportunities that exist there. According to her, young career people meet greater challenges; get more responsibility and more interesting work assignments faster if they use their skills in a developing country. In addition, she thought that the pace of life in the USA was too slow and that she was not allowed to try out her wings because she was too young.

“In a developing market, you are thrown into the deep end and have to learn to swim fast. When you move from a chaotic but dynamic developing country to a developed one, your first, spontaneous reaction is, ‘Wow! Everything is so nice and comfortable here.’ After a while, most people get bored and go back home because everything is too structured; too perfect and complete.” This is why Sheila moved back to Indonesia.

Four years ago 40% of the songs in the top charts in the Philippines came from the West: from artists like Britney Spears, Westlife and The Corrs. Two years ago, only 15% came from the West.

The West has a tendency to underestimate the consequences of the growing creativity in developing lands.

It will take countries like China and India a very long time to catch up with developed nations in terms of BNP per capita or whatever measurement you want to use. It would be foolish, though, to stare blindly at percentage differences among countries. By doing so, you are very likely to miss the actual changes that are going on.

In Asia: Factory owners became rich by making products for companies in the West. “They’ve earned their first pot of gold. Now they want to earn their second pot, but this time they want to satisfy their egos.” Their main motivation this time round is not to earn money, but to develop. They want to have their own products, their own trademarks and launch their own enterprises that go on to become known for their strength and uniqueness. They no longer want to be just suppliers. This is why they need product developers, designers, marketing executives and other creative people who can help them make their visions become realities. They have the money and now they want to invest it.

Suddenly, a new market has been created: a market for creative services in China.

“The developed world comforts itself with fantasies about keeping the upper hand within the creative industries while many other jobs move. America still thinks that it is the centre of creativity, but this centre is shifting. The West just hasn’t realized it yet.”

Amena from the innovation company "What If" in Shanghai has this to say, “It’s happening and we’re in the midst of it! You might have to look among the grassroots to see it, but change is there. Everywhere!”

Similarities between the Internet boom of the 1990s and the expansion of creativity going on in developing countries. A lot of people in the developed world are making the same mistakes that many companies did when they were evaluating the Internet. “A lot of people from developed countries come to the developing world wearing their ‘developed country glasses’. They compare what we are doing with the way things are done back home and exclaim, “This sucks!”

To take full advantage of what is going on in the world today, we will have to be a lot better at noticing changes, understanding their implications and implementing them more quickly.

Let go of our prestige and become better at listening to what the people in developing countries have to teach us about the world right now.

When I ask people in developing countries how long it is going to take before we can really see the big changes, I nearly always hear the same reply, “In five to ten years.” Most people say this with frustration as if this were just too long.

“We can really see the changes and this means that we are getting our act together. It’s forcing us to become faster, better, more competitive – and more creative too. Our brains are working overtime. We’re very lucky to be in India right now.”

“You underestimate the Asians and overestimate yourself. Overconfidence is bad.”

Experienced Swedish entrepreneur Jan Staël von Holstein moved with the creative revolution in the West, from New York in the 1960s and 70s, via Italy to London when the revolution reached Europe. Now, at 60, he lives part-time in Shanghai because he wants to follow the creative development in China at close quarters. “The next creative revolution is going to happen in Shanghai or Beijing,” he claims. “In five or ten years’ time, history will repeat itself and in the future we will look back and see that sometime between 2010 and 2020 something new was created in Shanghai. It is impossible to say what it will be. It could be a new art form, an innovative technology or a new philosophy. We do not know what it will be - but it will blow us away.”

South Korea is a country that refuses to let itself become ‘developed’. The country is the world’s tenth largest economy and a member of the OECD, and has an average wage that is 30% higher than that of Sweden, it still does not want to define itself as a developed country.

South Korea has gone from being a poor, underdeveloped country to a rich and successful one in just one generation, he believes that this is why people still have the desire to develop.

They have had mobile TV for years. They can use their cell phones to pay in shops. They are number one in the world when it comes to being connected via broadband and they have developed their economy faster than all the other major economies during the past 30 years.

“Korea sees itself as Japan’s little brother and will never be happy until it has overtaken Japan. At the same time, the Koreans can feel China breathing down their necks – so this has also led to their realization that they can’t stand still. They still view themselves as small shrimp squeezed between the two whales that are China and Japan.” The result? A steadily increasing stream of creativity.

The developed world is stuck in a narrow rut while South Korea continues to question how things have been, are being and should be done.

The Indian fashion business is a good starting point if you want to understand the changes that are happening in developing countries.

One advantage that the inhabitants of developing countries have is that in their world it is easier to have great dreams and to believe that they will become a reality. In a world that believes most things are yet to be done, then the possibilities there feel endless and obtainable.

Paradoxically, the fact that we think we have an advantage in the developing world may turn out to be an advantage for the developing world.

How can it be possible in India but not in, say, Sweden? The answer lies partly in the old infrastructure – or, should I say, in the lack of infrastructure. Very few shops in Sri Lanka have credit card readers and very few Sri Lankans have credit cards - yet many of them have mobile phones – so it was easier for Dialog to change their customers’ behaviour. You could say that, in this case, the lack of infrastructure made it possible to create a new one.

By establishing a certain way of doing things that seems to work, there is a risk that you also set a working method in stone and miss a better way of doing things.

Developing countries do not suffer from the classic ‘not invented here’ mentality because they have not yet invented that much.

The creative revolution going on in South Africa right now. She points to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent a large part of his 27 years in prison. “In a country where a political prisoner who spent nearly 30 years in jail can become president we have created the feeling that nothing is impossible. This feeling has led to a huge burst of energy.” This new-found freedom has boosted the creative confidence of the South Africans. “We went from being incredibly oppressed – just over a decade ago – to suddenly seeing the world open up to us. This has created an incredible feeling of can-do in the country.”

When the political oppression stopped, a period of creative chaos followed, in which the new-found political freedom gave people the feeling of total creative freedom. Many of the ideas that arose at this time were too free in expression to be turned into commercial successes. They are now at the point where creative expression is liberating but controlled enough to be able to turn ideas into something useful.

Combine that heady feeling of freedom about being able to do what you want with the feeling that you want to achieve things just because you can and then pair them up with the knowledge of the demands the international market places on them.

We have lost the ability to take risks as we are just too afraid; paralyzed by a fear of the future, of things going wrong; and by the fear of losing what we already have. In a world that is obsessed by trying to identify and minimize risks, there is an even greater risk that you are making the mistake of focusing on the wrong things. You put a lot of energy and resources into trying to fix things that do not need fixing purely out of the fear of being criticized should something go wrong.

The USA has turned into one of the most extreme examples of how much effort organizations and corporations put into minimizing risks instead of developing innovations.

One of the main problems of too many rules is that people stop thinking.

Chinese management is all about doing – not about planning actions. Arthur explained that managers should encourage employees to establish goals and know where they want to go, but not write long reports about how to get there.

In India, everything is uncertain. Nothing is predictable. We are better at living with insecurity and this is part of our comfort zone, if you like. We embrace risk-taking in all its forms: using a new product, testing new technology, trying out new ways of teaching or starting up a new venture. We have gone from being afraid of taking risks to a nation full of gutsy people willing to dare more.

The last two hundred years in China’s history, when they have not been considered to be one of the major global economies, is referred to by the Chinese as ‘the little dip’. The Chinese know their history, and they know that they have been one of the world’s superpowers for much of it. They are convinced that they will soon be a power to be reckoned with again in the near future. “It’s our turn now.”

People in the developed world are surprisingly indifferent to what is going on in the parts of the world that are not ‘their own’.

She was shocked by how uninterested Swedes were about what was going on in other parts of the world. Swedes are living in our own little bubble. Our lack of interest constantly diminishes us. Here we are in an isolated corner of the world, and we’re going to end up without access to a richer life.

If you live in a developed culture, you think you are right all the time because that is the information the media feeds you with.

Westerners think that the most exciting ideas can only come from their part of the world.

One of the greatest advantages that the people in developing countries have compared to those in developed countries is the fact that they know about ‘our’ part of the world as well as theirs. This leads to a greater understanding of what is going on in the whole of the world, which means that they have access to more ideas that they can combine in new ways. How much does a European or American know about Asia, for example? How many Asian trendsetters can they name? How many designers, leaders or entrepreneurs do they know? How many artists, writers or company managers are they familiar with? And can they even name the leaders of China and India? Can they give me the name of just one living Bollywood star? Usually they can not.

‘They’ – people from developing countries – are more widely exposed to everything from new ideas and thoughts to products and trends than ‘we’ – people from developed countries – are. A greater exposure to all sorts of thoughts, cultures and experiences creates a good breeding-ground for the explosion of new ideas and innovations. They have both their eyes open, whereas we only view the world with one.

“I know that a Frenchman has wine in his fridge, but he doesn’t know what I keep in mine,” she told me. “This means that I can design fridges for the French, but they can’t design one for me.”

“Without longing, we are lost.”

Copy Tigers – very large and strong Copy Cats The ability to emulate a master is regarded as a good thing in many Asian cultures. Trying to imitate a master is a form of appreciation and respect. By copying, you are in effect saying, “Master! You have managed to do something in the best way possible, and by copying you, I hope to become a master myself one day.”

“Many Westerners think that all the Chinese can do is copy and that we in the West are creative. This kind of thinking is dangerous.” We have to learn to copy more – in the sense of looking at what others have done and learning from them. The Chinese travelled around the world searching for the ‘best small town in the world’ and they found Sigtuna in Sweden. Nowadays, 30,000 Chinese live in a newly built copy of Sigtuna on the outskirts of Shanghai. By studying how other countries have created successful communities, the Chinese built up a knowledge bank. They can then extract ideas from this bank and develop them into their own innovative solutions.

“All you talk about is Copyright, instead you have to learn how to copy right.”

China is the world’s largest user of solar-powered water heaters, has the largest growth within wind power, is the world’s biggest producer of hydraulic power and is a global leader in the field of solar panels.

Operators in developing countries have an advantage because their customers do not know what to expect and, therefore, their expectations of such services are not that high.

If you read about that same earthquake in a newspaper, you will never have the same understanding and insight, of course, as someone who was actually on the scene at the time. The same thing applies to the changes that are going on in developing countries right now.

“I never plan,” said Jack Ma, the founder of

If two people compete in a race and one is planning to get up out of bed and put his shoes on while the other is already running, then the person running will come first.

Those who see themselves as upstarts or challengers are the ones who find it easiest to make these changes.

“We are not a big fish in a small lake. We are a slightly larger fish in the big sea.”

The East is speeding up so much faster. Everyone wants to do something new here. Everyone wants to create the next big trend. This creates a lot of energy and this energy is infectious.

“Chinese are interested in knowing more about developed countries like those in Europe or the USA. But have we paid enough attention to Russia? Are we learning all we can from Brazil, Vietnam, Nigeria and Egypt? Can we learn something from them? Of course we can! Have we done so? No, we haven’t!”

“We Koreans are really good at doing things quickly. We might not have the perfect strategy, but we still win because we are much faster.”

Launching a product that is good enough to be launched and sacrificing the time it would have taken to produce a perfect product in order to get it out on the market more quickly.

Creativity consultant and author, Dilip Mukerjea from Singapore, defines a developing person like this: “A developing person feels fear and hesitation, but marches forward anyway. She feels a sense of wonder, and has the courage to fail. This person is never satisfied. She isn’t starving but she is always hungry for more.” Dilip himself could have been the role model for this description. He reads ten books a week, has written many books himself, and travels around Asia giving lectures about creativity.

Michelangelo once said: “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

The Icelandic word heimskur. It is a concept that means idiot. The word supposedly comes from the Viking age. A heimskur was a Viking who had never left his home to embark on journeys to foreign countries and who, therefore, missed out on new ways of thinking about how things could be done. In the eyes of the Icelandic Vikings, you became an idiot by just sitting around at home, believing that you already knew how things could be done in the best way. By staying at home, you end up not daring to try new things

You teach. I learn.   You try to protect what you have got. I am determined to get what is mine.