Apple’s Steve Jobs was the first American CEO to discover China’s massive brainpower potential when he got the first iPhone produced in six weeks time, by 200,000 workers and 8,700 engineers. China’s massive brainpower is a disrupting force for the world, says Beida business professor Jeffrey Towson, co-author of The One Hour China Book (2017 Edition) on his weblog.
There are two important aspects to this story – which may have become somewhat embellished over time. The first is how incredibly fast, flexible, and smart the Chinese manufacturing ecosystem is. This situation was not about being cheap. It was about speed and flexibility. Figuring out how to redesign iPhone screens took lots of brainpower deployed quickly. In the US, the iPhone screens simply could not have been redesigned in such a short timeframe.
The second is that Apple had 8,700 Chinese industrial engineers overseeing production. That is a lot of engineers. The New York Times reported that Apple had estimated it would take 9 months to find this many engineers in the US. In China, they found them in about 15 days.
This is a story of Chinese brainpower as a game-changer in global business. The ability to mobilize so much talent, so many engineers, and so quickly, is something new in the world.
But we have also heard this kind of story before.
Twenty years ago, the scale of Chinese manufacturing began emerging as a similarly game-changing phenomenon. Suddenly, everything from shoes to bicycles began to become much cheaper than before. Low-cost Chinese manufacturing changed what was possible in industry after industry. “Made in China” became a household phrase.
Businesses around the world have since incorporated the large-scale and low-cost of Chinese manufacturing into their operations. And it wasn’t really optional. Businesses either had to take advantage of the phenomenon or suffer as their competitors did.
The large scale and low cost of Chinese brainpower is another game changer. Suddenly thousands of engineers can be ramped up in a matter of days. And this phenomenon is starting to ripple through industry after industry. What is the impact on the pharmaceutical industry if companies can now access tens of thousands of scientists cheaply? If your competitor is opening a research and development center in China with 10,000 technical specialists, how big of a problem is that for you? Chinese brainpower is starting to impact many industries – often in unexpected ways.”
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