Why Chinese Kids Are Smart But Not Creative

Ever wonder why Chinese kids are so good at math? DNA? Are they born smart or is it just practise? We moved to China in 2009 and were warned about how tough the schooling would be. Chinese parents, anxious to help, dropped a few hints. At farewell dinners the conversation would eventually turn to education: how hard the Chinese kids worked and/or how easy it was for western kids. I knew they were clever; what I didn’t grasp was the level of effort involved.

Ever wondered why Chinese kids are so good at math? DNA? Are they born smart or is it just practice? We moved to China in 2009 and were warned about how tough the schooling would be. Chinese parents, anxious to help, dropped a few hints. At farewell dinners the conversation would eventually turn to education: how hard the Chinese kids worked and/or how easy it was for western kids. I knew they were clever; what I didn’t grasp was the level of effort involved.

Why Chinese Kids Are Smart

When our son came home from school on the first day, I knew what they meant. After a year here it’s clear this he is learning more than in Ireland, but there is a downside. He’s losing creative skills that don’t come with maths.
A week in the life of a Chinese student
Here is a snapshot of his weekly schedule. Unlike in Ireland, it’s a 7 day week here. Read on and you’ll get the idea.

  • School starts at 7.45. We’re up at 5.30.
  • School finishes at 4.45 but…
  • Real school finishes at 6.45. We’ve signed up for extra classes in robotics and Er-Hu, a two-stringed musical instrument.
  • School week is Mon-Fri and also Sat and sometimes Sunday.

Homework takes us until 9-10 pm. Of course, for him it’s harder as he’s playing catchup with the other Chinese kids but, speaking to their parents, they also work until 9, 10 etc. Remember, these are 9 year old kids, no teenagers.

  • Homework is often re-started (ie really finished) between 7-7.30 am.
  • Homework is double on the weekends. In Ireland, the weekend is down-time, not here.
  • Homework is also given on vacations.
  • Summer hols you have books to read etc.

All of this creates a focussed education system. There isn’t much time ‘down time’.
But here’s the interesting thing. Most of the kids seem happy. I don’t mean ‘happy clappy’ but content. It’s the norm and there is a strong sense of ‘we’re all in this together’. This is partly nationalist pride and also the reality of living in a developing economy with little financial support for those that don’t make the grade. Admittedly, it’s not perfect and there are many areas to consider.

But why are they so smart?

Malcolm Gladwell estimated that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. When you consider the hours they put into their studies, especially Maths, then it’s no wonder they’re so smart in this area.
They’re exposed to more learning opportunities time-wise. It’s a number’s game.
But here’s the downside.
The commitment to these topics means that other areas take a back seat.

  • Creativity – learning by rote is fine but it doesn’t encourage real critical thinking. Here the emphasis is placed on learning, for example, tables & poems, but not much time is spent learning ‘how to’ write poems, i.e. creative & communication skills.
  • Opinions – respecting the elders’ opinion is to be admired (kids here never talk back to the teacher – it just doesn’t happen) but there is little/no room for discussion when sometimes an exchange of opinions would benefit both parties.
  • Communications – the unfortunate element of the one-child policy is that it’s created a generation of kids that are content in their own company. But, in the business world, such a reserved disposition may not serve you so well.

Singapore is now looking at ways to introduce creativity into the education system. The kids are super smart but don’t have that spark. This leads to a problem when you need to fix unorthodox solutions to fast-changing social problems.
So, while 7 year old western kids may not know the Table of Elements, their down time may reap rewards in the long term. More balance would be idea.
How do you see this?
Do western kids spend too little time in school? Should they focus more on Math? Are subjects like poetry a waste of time? If you were in charge, what would you change?

Top Ten Countries for Entrepreneurs: USA in 3rd?

Who do you think are the top ten countries for Entrepreneurs? Where do you think the US is this year? Well, when George Bush said that the French didn’t have a word for Entrepreneurs, the well-heeled in the Europe snickered. But, George may have the last laugh as many European countries performed poorly in a report on Global Entrepreneurship.

Money
Creative Commons License photo credit: Sh4rp_i
When George Bush said that the French didn’t have a word for Entrepreneurs, the well-heeled in the Europe snickered. But, George may have the last laugh as many European countries performed poorly in a report on Global Entrepreneurship.

Top Ten Countries for Starting a Business

According to the report, the best places to get your country off the ground are:

  1. Denmark
  2. Canada
  3. United States
  4. Sweden
  5. New Zealand
  6. Ireland
  7. Switzerland
  8. Norway
  9. Iceland
  10. Netherlands

This will raise some eye-brows as countries such as Iceland totally collapsed last year, Ireland is heading down the tubes it seems, and countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland are not the powerhouses of European economy.
You can download the complete report here.

Why is the US in 3rd?

Mark Henricks, writing on BNET, remarks that, ‘The United States ranks third overall behind those two countries on the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index. On one of the GEDI’s sub-indexes, this one ranking entrepreneurial activity, the U.S. came in eighth. It did rank first in one sub-index measuring entrepreneurial aspirations. Based on that, you might say that America is the land of wannabe entrepreneurship.’
The report cautions that, ‘his paper should serve more as an eye-opener than as a cause for alarm. The United States maintains its place among the leading entrepreneurial economies. Its performance is still superior in most respects to the averages for innovation-driven and efficiency-driven economies. Its strengths in the skill of its workers, the size of its markets, the institutional support for its people, and the aspirations of the American population are strong and robust.’

Fallen Stars

Australia is 11th. While most western countries got hammered by the recession, my business friends down under seemed fairly immune.
UK comes in 14th place despite a new pro-business government.
Germany, despite its influence across Europe both politically and economically, falls behind into 16th.
Israel comes in 21st, one of the few countries in the Middle East to score high.

Business in Asia

Korea performs well at 20th, though Singapore is higher in 15th.
China is well down in 40th place reflecting the difficulty for small businesses to get off the ground. Hong Kong, with its long ties to the west, is slightly higher in 23rd.
Does it add up?
I’m not sure these figures make sense. Or, to look at it another way, the assessment criteria may favor smaller countries over larger ones.
Think how difficult it is to turn a small boat around (Ireland) compared to a 500 ton tanker (USA). The starting positions are quiet different.
Also, as someone who divides his time between Ireland and China, the figures are slightly perplexing.
Banks in Ireland have been torn to shreds in the press for not lending. Despite massive bailouts.
Whereas Chinese businesspeople I work with seem to have little difficulty getting access to funding.
Note: India, another Asian powerhouse, comes in at 53rd.
Maybe I’ve missed something.

Perceived Strengths & Evolving Weaknesses

The authors of the report believe that ‘as we come to the end of the first decade of the new millennium is a more pragmatic reality check on some of our perceived strengths and evolving strategies to correct for past shortcomings.’
From where you’re standing, what advantages are there for those starting a business? What needs to be done to accelerate the process?
Please share your thoughts below.

55 Hour Train Trips To Tibet With Kids: How to Survive

We traveled from Beijing to Xian to Tibet during the summer with our son. It took three days to get there on a very packed train and another eight to get to the Holy Lake. Over some very bumpy roads. Luckily, we’ve traveled in China for many years so know what to expect. Here are some do’s and don’ts if you plan to travel in Asia, especially if you’re bringing kids.

We traveled from Beijing to Xian to Tibet during the summer with our son. It took three days to get there on a very packed train and another eight to get to the Holy Lake. Over some very bumpy roads. Luckily, we’ve traveled in China for many years so know what to expect. Here are some do’s and don’ts if you plan to travel in Asia, especially if you’re bringing kids.

If you plan to travel in China with Kids

China is not the US. Or France. Or England. Or wherever…
If you keep comparing it to where you’re from, your trip will be ruined. Like most of Asia and Africa, you have to accept things on their own terms. Otherwise, stay home.
So, when things get rough, instead of saying, ‘this would never happen at home because…’ and going on a rant….
Think, ‘well, isn’t this interesting. I wonder why?’
A different mindset opens many doors.  Ok, that’s the fluffy stuff out of the way 🙂
Now, how do you travel around China with Kids?

Before you leave

  • Ask the kids – Ask your son or daughter want they’d like to bring on the trip. If you’re traveling in Asia, you can get computer games very easy. Get some new ones and keep them for those difficult moments when the kids have had enough.
  • Books – Beijing has one really good bookstore in WangFuJing street. Go to the third floor (not the ground floor) and get a bunch of books. Get some for yourself as well.
  • Medicine – maybe the most important thing. If you’re traveling to Tibet, get tablets to help against the altitude sickness. You need to start taking these the week before you leave. Again, you can get these in most places in Beijing, though there is a great medicine shop halfway up WangFuJing street on the left. And Yes they speak English.
  • Clothes – if can get very cold in Tibet so bring a good warm jacket and one heavy jumper. Don’t worry too much as you can also buy clothes there at a reasonable price.
  • Food – the food on the train is… bring your own. Bring tinned foods, fruit, instant coffee, snacks and so goodies for the kids. There is a restaurant on the train but it’s hell to get to. Really, you have to wade through hundreds of students to get there. And the food is not great, though the fried eggs and toast were a nice treat.
  • Tissue Paper – whenever you travel in China, bring your own tissues. Most toilets don\t supply these and… well, bring them.
  • Power Adapter – bring a ‘swiss army’ power adapter so you can charge your phone in Tibet. You can also charge it on the train as they let you use the power supplies for free.
  • Train Tickets – get these in advance or through an operator. You don’t want to queue for tickets at the last moment. Get them in advance, check that the carriage numbers are correct. If you’re traveling as a family, make sure all seats are together.
  • Tour Guide – Contact a tour guide to show you around. These are not expensive and will save you time (and money) while showing you around Lhasa. I know a very reliable tour guide in Tibet. Let me know if you want her contact details. Don’t go cheap. It’s the only time in your life you’ll visit there, so pony up and get a guide.

On the Train to Tibet

You can get the train from different starting points but we went from, I think, Beijing West Station. A word of warning. This place is one of the busiest in China. It’s bedlam. So, take a deep gulp and be prepared.
The station is well-run but crazy busy.
Things to watch out for:

  • Toilets – These are very crowded, smoky and wet. As the floors are always getting cleaned, the floor gets really horrid. Also, the toilets are basically holes in the ground, so don’t lose your balance and fall in.
  • Toilets Part 2 – They often get blocked so use common sense. If you keep drinking coffee, you’ll suffer when they’re locked, broken or out of service. Tip: they lock the toilets before entering stations.
  • Be Early – Get a seat near the entrance to the trains to you can beat the crowds. It’s worth the effort, believe me.
  • Food – stock up on last minute supplies, like coffee, noodles, and other foods that are easy to carry.
  • Laptops – you need to get these scanned as you enter Beijing Train Station, so don’t bury it somewhere. On the train, keep an eye on it at all times. Don’t go tempting people!
  • Travel Sickness – if you feel unwell from the bumpy train, sip water slowly and avoid coffee etc.  It can get very stuffy on the train. If you’re traveling in the summer, bring a small electric fan that you can plug into the mains.
  • Altitude Sickness – on the train, keep taking your medicine. It really works against the altitude. Also, they change the air pressure over the two days so your body slowly gets used to the change.
  • Bunk Beds – most of these are three high, so I went on top. This has the smallest space so don’t bang your head. If also gets very stuffy up here so don’t overdress. Most families ‘share’ the lower bunk during the day and, as you’re a foreigner, you can expect people to drop over to say hello
  • Farmers – They’re very curious and often will come over just to watch. If you have kids that are blonde or red-headed, expect lots of farmers to take a peek. These things are very rare in China where (almost) everyone has black hair and brown eyes.
  • Cards – of all the things we brought, the deck of cards was the best. It is easy to carry, passed the time AND was something we could play with other Chinese travelers.

This is a wonderful way for your kids to interact with others, especially if there are other kids on the train. Kids seem to communicate very easily with each other and cards was one way they did this.
Ok, that’s it for now. Please take a look at the video as I may have overlooked some points. I took about thirty videos in Tibet. Let me know if you want me to put up some more.
And if you have any tips for traveling with kids, especially on long distances, please share them below.

Kobe Bryant & Top 10 Black Entrepreneurs

Inc.com identified its Top Ten Black Entrepreneurs today. Read it. Black Entrepreneurs don’t get covered in the mainstream press very often. When they do it’s often condescending and twee. ‘Didn’t he do well!’ Which brings us to Kobe Bryant.

Kobe Bryant
Creative Commons License photo credit: cliff1066™
Inc.com identified its Top Ten Black Entrepreneurs today. Read it. Black Entrepreneurs don’t get covered in the mainstream press very often. When they do it’s often condescending and twee. ‘Didn’t he do well!’ Which brings us to Kobe Bryant.
Kobe Bryant visited Shanghai when I was there. He was mobbed. But what was unusual about his visit, compared to say Michael Phelps for example, was that on paper he wouldn’t be such as star. In China, colored folks have a hard time and that’s an understatement.
So, why was Bryant embraced so warmly?

Going the Extra Yard

I mentioned Michael Phelps. He’s been to China many times after his Olympic success. But, he seems to endure rather than appreciate it. His interviews are tedious at best.
You can also see his watching the clock. ‘How much longer?’
He was very curt in an interview with CCTV (Chinese National TV) and they haven’t forgotten it, I feel.
No-one misses him when he’s gone.
Kobe goes the extra yard.
He tries to speak a little Chinese. He tries, says a few words, and enjoys the ribbing he gets from the kids. But, he’s trying. You can tell he likes the place. And he’s a smart guy.
He’s planting seeds.

Be a Farmer, Learn to Harvest

His career won’t last forever. When it trails off, he’ll still be welcome in Japan, Hong Kong, and China. Lots of options for a smart, young businessman.
You can learn a lot from guys like Kobe. He’s had his knockers since day one. I remember his first season as a pro. They were running him down even then.
‘He’s no Michael Jordan, you know!’
They’re right, of course. Because he later defined his own path on his own terms.
That’s why I’d encourage you to read this week’s edition of Inc. It profiles 10 black entrepreneurs. I don’t know all their stories. But, I’m sure they had to overcome hurdles most of us don’t.
You can draw inspiration from these success stories. Maybe you won’t get to run a $100 million company like some of theses folks do. That not always the goal.
The pleasure is in the journey as well as the destination.
You can read how they got there here

What’s your story?
What’s the one thing in your life that has held you back? What did you do that turned this discuss-advantage into strength?

Are Virtual Assistants 21st Century Slaves?

I blame Tim Ferris.
Today I will exploit six single mothers in three different counties. And tomorrow I’ll do the same. I use Virtual Assistants. And in some people’s eyes, this has become a modern day slavery trade driven by the demon Internet.
Tim, who as an Irish Hurling Champion can’t be all bad, wrote the best-seller Four Hour Work Week, which is the definitive guide for outsourcing your life. Here’s how it works.

I blame Tim Ferris.
Today I will exploit six single mothers in three different counties. And tomorrow I’ll do the same. I use Virtual Assistants. And in some people’s eyes, this has become a modern day slavery trade driven by the demon Internet.
Tim, who as an Irish Hurling Champion can’t be all bad, wrote the best-seller Four Hour Work Week, which is the definitive guide for outsourcing your life. Here’s how it works.
Continue reading “Are Virtual Assistants 21st Century Slaves?”

How To Find A 'Second' Reason To Do Something Important

When should I start my business? When will I have all the information I need to begin? Answer? Never. You have to start with what you have. In this video, I share a very smart observation that Rajesh Setty made about getting started in business. You don’t always need to have 4 legs to make a table; sometimes 3 will do. Confused? Watch the video.

When should I start my business? When will I have all the information I need to begin? Answer? Never. You have to start with what you have. In this video, I share a very smart observation that Rajesh Setty made about getting started in business. You don’t always need to have 4 legs to make a table; sometimes 3 will do. Confused? Watch the video.

Getting Things Done Now: How To Find A Second Reason To Do Anything Important

Getting Things Done: How To Find A Second Reason To Do Anything Important

Rajesh Setty gets it. To find a second reason to do anything important:
1. Remove the legs (reasons) for NOT pursuing your dreams. The more legs (reasons) you remove, easier it is to break the resistance (topple the table) to pursue the dream.
2. Start finding legs (reasons) for pursuing your passion. The more legs (reasons) you find, the stronger the conviction (table) to pursue the dream.
Taking up his point, my religious teacher once said to us, ‘it’s not the hand you’ve been dealt that matters, but how you play your hand.’
It’s your attitude towards setbacks, circumstances, friction and conflicts that matters. Approach these in the right way and you can see how to overcome these obstacles and get closer to your true goals.
Taking up his point, my religious teacher once said to us, ‘it’s not the hand you’ve been dealt that matters, but how you play your hand.’
It’s your attitude towards setbacks, circumstances, friction and conflicts that matters. Approach these in the right way and you can see how to overcome these obstacles and get closer to your true goals.
What do you think?
How do you work past your obstacles? What reasons do you use? What justifications do you see in your own thinking? Please share below.

Writing Business Documents for Chinese and Japanese Readers

chinese user guidesmall Carsten Mende explains how loan words are used in China and Japan. These are English words that are commonly used in everyday Chinese, (i.e. loaned) but may not translate correctly if taken literally. He looks at how the ‘Chinese and Japanese languages incorporate English terms and how they are used’ and gives suggestions on what to avoid when translating documentation into these languages.

Continue reading “Writing Business Documents for Chinese and Japanese Readers”

The Dunning-Kruger Effect & How To Fail Slowly

Have you noticed this obsession with speed? Everyone is doing things, real fast. Even failure has to be fast. Fail fast is the new mantra. Christopher S. Penn takes up this point, ‘Ever done this? You see a traffic jam ahead, get off at the next exit, and spend 30 extra minutes on side and back roads to go around the jam… which in reality is only a 10 minute traffic jam? This is the dabbler. This is the person who fails too fast.’ Do you fail too fast?

Christopher S. Penn’s Awaken Your SuperheroHave you noticed this obsession with speed? Everyone is doing things, real fast. Even failure has to be fast. Fail fast is the new mantra. Christopher S. Penn takes up this point, ‘Ever done this? You see a traffic jam ahead, get off at the next exit, and spend 30 extra minutes on side and back roads to go around the jam… which in reality is only a 10 minute traffic jam? This is the dabbler. This is the person who fails too fast.’ Do you fail too fast? Continue reading “The Dunning-Kruger Effect & How To Fail Slowly”

7 Tips for Business Trips to Shanghai

Planning on doing business in China? Doing business in China is not the same as wherever you’re from. If you keep comparing China to your country, however wonderful it is, you won’t enjoy China very much. Take it on its own terms.

Tips for Doing Business in ChinaPlanning on doing business in China? Doing business in China is not the same as wherever you’re from. If you keep comparing China to your country, however wonderful it is, you won’t enjoy China very much. Take it on its own terms. Here are some tips for doing business in Shanghai. Continue reading “7 Tips for Business Trips to Shanghai”

What are the three things you love the most about being a technical writer?

ivanwalsh-thumb1Maybe a little background on how I got into this field would put things into perspective. I started as a programmer many years ago and found that, while I liked coding, I often ended up as the intermediate between the software team and the client. I’ve always had fairly strong verbal skills and, being Irish, have a natural predisposition to chat to people anyway. These communications skills helped in the transition to tech writing, which brings me to our first point.

Live Technical Writing Series – Meet Ivan Walsh