I have begun to think and write about China more and more lately; there is such an incredible opportunity across the Pacific that seems largely unobserved by a majority of Americans. The Chinese economy and population base is so large and modernizing so rapidly, and has transformed from 3rd world to 1st world in a matter of decades (that same evolution took us hundreds of years here in America). As you can see in this chart from Google, China’s internet adoption has blown past the United States, both in terms of growth rate and sheer number of users. And they’re still at only 20% internet penetration. Mobile phone penetration is actually higher than internet penetration, approaching 60% depending on what study you read – that’s over 500 million mobile phones. This in itself is an interesting dynamic, as it seems that in China the mobile phone (rather than the PC) is the primary method of internet use and communication. As I understand it, this is a result of the relative difficulty and expense of getting a computer and home internet line installed – particularly in rural China, which does not yet have the widespread and developed communications infrastructure that we enjoy in the United States. Coupled with pervasive and cheap mobile phone service and a proliferation of advanced smart phones, the mobile internet has become the single point of connectivity for millions of Chinese. However you measure China’s growth, it doesn’t take an economist or venture capitalist to see that the pace of technological change, adoption, and transformation in China is unlike anything experienced in America or anywhere else.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the American “Wild West” was a place of great opportunity and great adventure – rapid development, gold rushes, land grabs, and a booming population provided an opportunity for enterprising young men and women to strike out on their own and “grow up with the country”, as the famous quote goes. The West took on an almost mythical aura as a place where anything was possible and success was limited only by ambition.
Even after the American West had been developed, the United States has remained the epicenter of the world’s economic growth and a proverbial “land of milk and honey” for immigrants from across the globe. The best and brightest students from countries the world over aspired to one day travel to America to make their fortunes and pursue the “American Dream” – and countless many have done just that. However, while the western world has been the place to be for the past 150 years, I’m beginning to think that the next 150 may see a stark reversal of the compass needle.
As a former investment banker, I have a very, well… unique relationship with my email. For those that aren’t familiar with the life of a banking analyst – email is treated as IM, text messaging, and a pager all rolled into one, with a 24/7 expectation of response. I once had an actual nightmare about that blinking red light on my Blackberry. Accordingly, I developed somewhat of a compulsion about checking email at all hours of the day and night, an affliction I feel is shared by many in corporate America. Many of us keep our Outlook open all day and our Blackberries at hand all night, just waiting to be interrupted by that little “New Mail” popup or blinking red light. Not only is that stressful, I think it’s killing our productivity.
A study by Microsoft showed just how lethal interruptions are to productivity. The researchers taped 29 hours of people working in a typical office, and found that they were interrupted on average four times each hour. Sounds like a day at most offices. Here’s the kicker – 40% of the time, the person did not resume the task they were working on before the interruption. The more complex the task, the less likely the person was to resume working on it after an interruption. That means most of us are getting derailed from our work four times each hour, maybe more if you work in a high email traffic office.
I travelled back to my hometown for Christmas this year and took the time while I was there to enjoy the company of old friends over drinks in familiar pubs. I spent one such night with a former colleague and great friend whom had always provided me with a sounding board and personal “level” during our time together in banking.
As we sat alternating rounds at one of our old haunts, he described to me a renewed outlook he had developed over the past several months of particularly long hours at work. He had come to the realization that in addition to professional success, personal zest for life was an equal contributing factor to one’s happiness. Accordingly, he resolved to inject some life back into his waking hours, and that began with a definition of what living meant.
When he sat down to define the things that make us happy, it became apparent that so many of us think that happiness is defined by “having”. That is to say having a 56″ TV, having a nice car, having an arbitrarily high account balance. What my friend realized is that “having” is a poor substitute for “doing”. Thinking back, I realized he was right. The happiest times in my life have not stemmed from things I had, but from things I did. The state championship my senior year of high school. The spontaneous overnight drive with roommates to Florida for a weekend in college. A wild weekend in New York City with my brother and a close friend. Experiences pay dividends far richer than possessions.
So, rather than medicating with shiny toys, we resolved to spend money “having” remarkable experiences with friends. We sat down to write out 30 things we each wanted to experience while we are still young and relatively unencumbered by family, mortgage, and age. We made plans to accomplish at least three of them in 2010 together. My list is titled “30 by 30″, and these are the things I wrote down.
Recently, Philip Kaplan (aka “Pud”, founder of Adbrite and FuckedCompany.com) was emailed a question by a single mother looking to get her life back on track. Philip answered the question on his blog, and I found his answer particularly fascinating and relevant. The full text of Philip’s answer is replicated below:
Some people know what their passion is. Unfortunately, you do not. But I’m going to help you find it.
Here’s what you do:
Ask yourself, if you could do ANYTHING in the world, what would it be? What’s the ultimate fantasy that you’ll probably never actually achieve, but would be awesome? Rock star? Movie starlet? Teacher? Birthday party clown? Brad Pitt’s wife? That’s the “WHAT.”
Now ask yourself, “WHY?”
For example, my “WHAT” was “be a rock star heavy metal drummer!” Upon further analysis, my “WHY” was “I want to do something creative. I want freedom. I want to affect lots of people.”
As it turns out, there were about a million different more tangible things I could do, that would satisfy my “WHY.” That’s why I became a freelance web programmer: creativity, freedom, and the opportunity to reach the masses.
What’s your “WHAT?” What’s your “WHY?” You’ll be surprised how easy it is to satisfy your WHY, once you’ve figured out what it is.
I found that, as a college student rapidly approaching graduation, Philip’s advice to identify your “why” instead of focusing on your “what” was especially pertinent as I considered my long term career and happiness goals. I also think that his advice is helpful to entrepreneurs casting about for some direction in life. Many are so focused on becoming the next Web 2.0 darling, that I think they may have lost sight of why they embarked on an entrepreneurial career path in the first place.
Do what you love. Follow your why. The rest will fall into place.