People in Asia need to learn about the rest of the world, yes, but probably even more important, we as non-asians need to learn about the different countries in Asia as well.
Just read an article over at Tech In Asia on how Asian founders need to gain experience from abroad markets to succeed. I would say that the key message is caught in the last part of the article:
There are plenty of startups that have founders who did not study abroad, but foreign exposure undeniably gives local startups an extra edge that their unexposed counterparts do not. Foreign-educated founders have a window into another world. They see what their country could be, they see what is behind, and what is ahead.
I think the post and the general perception in Asia is a bit to humble. Asia is where the future is. So I would really like things to be the other way around as well.
I am a Swede and in general we are well educated and travel a lot. Also since we are located pretty far up and isolated in the north we tend to seek a lot of influence from the rest of the world. So I think we are well above many other countries in terms of adopting and learning about other cultures. I write this not to put Swedes on a pedestal but rather to emphasise the fact that even though I thought I knew quite a lot about this huge Asian market, I realised that I actually did not know much at all.
Just think about it, we tend to talk about Asia as one market, cmon! India alone is like 5-7 different countries and markets. The “asia” statement is almost as stupid as when US companies talks about Europe as it was one country or at least one market. There are few similarities between Indonesia and Singapore, few similarities between Japan and Vietnam and few similarities between China and India.
Non-asians need to go to Asia to learn as well
Even during my short time living in Singapore (since Aug 2013) I have seen quite a few non asian companies shut down due to the fact that they did not understand the market and tried to enforce their way of doing it. Western companies have a tendency to look down on the maturity on the asian market and unfortunately many markets in Asia seems (as with the Tech In Asia post) to see themselves as a lesser market.
Shift in focus, Asia rules
What is expected to be the biggest tech IPO ever, Alibaba, is estimated for August, a Chinese eCommerce company not known by many outside the financial industry, a Chinese eCommerce site. Path is getting bashed for “being big in Indonesia”, but few actually know that Indonesia has the highest rate of mobile vs desktop users in the world and that they are one of the worlds most growing emerging markets as well as a massive 250M inhabitants. To be an early big player in Indonesia is probably pure gold. Markets like India, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, China etc are huge. 50% of the worlds population lives in this region of the world.
We, as non-asians, also need to go to this market to understand and get to know the different cultures both on a person level and on a business level. There are so much things we need to learn to even have a chance of being successful in one or many asian countries.
Non-asians need to understand the complexity and asians need to gain self asteam and realise that the market they live in is in it self currently the most interesting on earth. Just a fun fact is that Alibaba alone has bigger transactions then the entire US eCommerce market combined.
Education in other countries
The post writes a lot about people from Asia benefits from getting an education in other, non-asian, countries. That is probably very correct, but it also goes the other way. Non-asians would benefit a lot of spending time in parts of Asia prior to starting their business, if Asian countries are included in target markets (as they should be).
One great example that I personally have stumbled upon is the NUS / KTH student exchange program. National Uniersity of Singapore and the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, have an exchange program were students spend 12 months in the other country doing internships at one or several businesses. I have personally met several of those students and all of them have impressed me with the added knowledge both from a pure understanding point of view but also as individuals. How they actually have gained personal experience in both cultures. As an example Swedes have a strength in solving problem and working in teams as well as thinking outside the box. Singaporeans are very knowledgable and hard working, very strong business focus. When you combine these two you get persons how are hard working, knowledgeable and problem solving maniacs that as an add on take their own initiatives and work great in teams. This is purely on personal experience, so no statistically proven data. I hope to be able to work with many from this program over time.
A world without strangers
This headline is actually from a T-shirt that I bought in Hong Kong a couple of years ago and I think it symbolises the world we are supposed to live in today, both as respect for other people in the world as well as from a business perspective.