Don’t fear China, embrace it – problems are the biggest drivers for innovation

“We are being colonized by China”. Steven Van Belleghem said this at the China Edition of our nexxworks café yesterday, where he – as well as Pascal Coppens, Filip Caeldries...

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May 16, 2018

It’s something we heard again and again yesterday: problems are opportunities. The fact that retail is moving so fast in China is because it was so weak to begin with, as Pascal Coppens explained. E-commerce boomed a lot faster than over here because shops were not fulfilling the demand of the consumer. And then the e-commerce giants decided to take over the physical shops as well, in a way that was a lot more innovative than over here: we swoon over the Amazon Go shops, but there are a lot more of these automated shopping locations in China, owned by a lot more different players.

"Europe is lagging behind in (technology) innovation because our standard of living has lulled us into believing that we’re fine."

Yannick Renier of Aertssen – the company which was so kind as to host our café – told us the exact same thing: “we turned our problems into opportunities”. There was too much building rubble, so Aertssen decided to recycle it. The company was losing a lot of money because of traffic congestion, so they turned their attention to the waterways. They transformed an obsolete brownfield into a solar panel parc.

“People always try to convince me that the innovation stories that nexxworks inspires people with are only relevant for B2C”, Steven Van Belleghem commented on the Aertssen way of innovating. “I will certainly use this as one of the cases to prove them wrong. It’s beautiful to see this type of ambition in a B2B sector, and one that even has to the reputation to be one of the slowest”. “If we move fast in an industry that evolves this slowly - construction - we know we’ll always at the top”, is how Yannick Renier put it.

Problems are merely opportunities to innovate. Yesterday I remember telling someone that the reason why Europe is lagging behind in (technology) innovation is, among other things, because our standard of living has lulled us into believing that we’re fine. We don’t’ need to innovate, so we don’t.

But I have thought about it since then, and that’s not exactly true. We do have problems over here. We’re under pressure of becoming irrelevant as a continent. We have a rapidly ageing population. Data manipulation is an issue. Terrorism is an issue. Climate change is an issue. Immigration is an issue. But we should take lessons from the Chinese and not fear these problems. Fear is a very bad driver for behaviour.

I’m with Steven: we should be excited. Because we have the technology, the talent and the means to create solutions for our challenges. Privacy and data manipulation, for instance, are an excellent opportunity to innovate: rather than trying to define boundaries and limit them with laws, we should be looking at positive solutions to protect us from manipulation. Like blockchain, for instance, that makes sure that our data cannot be tampered with. Or instead of trying to compete with the Chinese, we could be looking for collaborations and partnerships with them as Alexander De Bièvre of Mobit explained me a while ago (stay tuned because his interview will be published here soon).

So, let's not make it about fear.

let's make it about excitement. 

Laurence Van Elegem
Laurence Van Elegem
Laurence has more than 10 years of experience in marketing, communications and disruptive innovation. Passionately curious, she is fascinated by the impact of technology and science on the way we work, consume and live our lives.
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May 16, 2018