Tag Archives: Shanghai 2010

Capability Development

This is just a short post to clear my mind of some converging thoughts. The first background element is the announcement this week that the UK government has slashed its school building program (although the new government is still likely to do more then the old); and finding a place in an Australian University is a difficult as ever.

The second element is a couple of radio features discussing the evolution of mankind in particular the key point some 100,000 years ago when our ancestors developed trade and probably saved themselves from extinction. Followed by the development of agriculture some 10,000 years ago followed by cities that allowed the time for arts and science to flourish.

Arguably, the shift from low density, low interactive populations of hunter gatherers to the relatively high density, high interactive communities of the late Stone Age and Early Bronze Age facilitated the emergence of early civilisations in the Middle East, Indus Valley and Central America some 3 to 4,000 years ago.

The third element is a book on ‘The Lunar Men’ a group of natural philosophers, scientists and business men that largely kick started the industrial revolution in the UK Midlands (Birmingham) in the 18th Century. This group were the last of the European ‘renascence’ which itself was based on the ability to communicate effectively assisted by the development of printing and inter European communication.

All of these leaps in knowledge were based on the ability to interact and communicate in a more effective way than was previously possible. The supporting elements are improvements in trade and commerce and the ability (in latter times) to overcome entrenched opposition to new ideas. A modern example of this phenomenon is Silicone Valley and the massive leap in the way the world interacts caused by the development of the Personal Computer.

Waves of innovation seem to be partially serendipity, you need the right people and the right ideas, but this is helped by the quality, density and flexibility of the communication network between them. Discussion, argument, collaboration and competition in an environment that allows multiple independent threads to develop concurrently seems to be the catalyst for literally changing the world. Based on this construct, my prediction is the next massive wave of innovation is likely to come out of China.

The one statistic that for me sums up where China is going is the 60 million qualified university graduates that enter the workforce each year. Many of China’s Universities are world class and the concept of an annual intake of new graduates entering the workforce that is three times the total population of Australia speaks volumes for the skills, innovative capability and sheer energy being generated in this vast economy.

The region I visited was the Yangtze River Delta. This region has always been a major industrial centre and the emergence of Shanghai as the economic capital of China has simply accelerated its development and expansion. Today, this part of China has double the foreign trade of the entire Indian economy and represents 25% of China’s GDP.

The China I saw actively encourages innovation and technical development, has effective communication and a very large talent pool. All that is needed is a little serendipity and who knows what may be developed. In the same way efficient steam engines created the industrial revolution (Watt and Boulton were both Lunar Men) and the PC created the knowledge revolution anything may be possible (and predicting the outcome in advance is nearly impossible).

There are alternatives – the internet allows everyone to communicate so location is no longer a central issue to collaboration; and the major limitation on the Renascence was the entrenched interests of the Church and secular authorities. However, overall I feel the next major wave of innovation cannot be far away what it looks like and where it starts are open questions but slashing access to quality education and limiting the desire to learn certainly won’t help the UK or Australia be in the forefront.

On a smaller scale, every organisation can help its people innovate by creating the right environment for ideas to emerge.

CIOB Shanghai Meetings

The Chartered Institute of Building for the first time in its 187 year history held its AGM, Board of Trustees and Members Forum meetings outside of the UK. In addition to the working meetings, the two highlights of a busy week were the International Construction Conference focused on sustainability and ‘zero carbon’ construction and a visit to World Expo 2010.

Shanghai Hotel (background) and Conference Venue

The business part of the week was centred in the impressive J.W. Marriott hotel and the adjacent Grand State Theatre. Given some time to reflect on these experiences, I intend writing a couple of posts focusing on some of the ideas and observations from the meetings and conference.

I want to focus this post on an incredible experience from World Expo. Lynda has described the size and intensity of the Expo in her post World Expo Shanghai 2010. And whilst the China Pavilion undoubtedly had the longest queues, another ‘long queue’ pavilion is the remarkable British ‘dandelion’. The design concept is that of a ‘gift’ to the Chinese people surrounded by its wrapping paper.

UK Pavilion

The wonderful fuzzy effect on the outside is created by 60,686 hand crafted acrylic rods, each 7 meters long which allow light into the inside of a 20 meter plywood cube.

Some of the 60,000 rods

Remarkably each rod has between 1 and 10 seeds embedded in the end representing Chinese plant species that are growing in the UK.

Some of the seeds embedded in the rods

The effect outside is fascinating, inside it is simply mind blowing. I have never experienced anything quite like this.

The effect inside

At one level the display is totally useless, at another the juxtaposition of 60,686 individually hand crafted rods focusing on plant seeds to the overall scale of the Expo simply has to be experienced. Judging from the fact over 1 million people a month are queuing for hours for the experience, I feel the UK designers have achieved their objective of raising the UK’s profile at all levels of Chinese society.

At the moment, plans are to demolish the pavilion in October and to distribute the section of each rod holding the seeds to schools and other institutions. I hope this changes and the ‘cube’ can be found a home intact somewhere in the city for future generations to experience.

World Expo Shanghai 2010

I have just finished a week in Shanghai; the main purpose of my trip was to participate in a panel session at the CIOB International Construction Conference. For more on this see Patrick’s post CIOB Shanghai Meetings. However, the highlight of the trip was a day spent at World Expo.

The Expo is simply enormous. The site covers a total area of 5.28 square kilometres spread along both sides of the Huangpu River in downtown Shanghai; it includes gardens, wet lands, paved walkways and 100s of new and renovated buildings.

In the two months since opening the Expo has hosted over 20 million visitors and expects over 75 million before closing in October. On busy days over half a million visitors are on the site. Everywhere you look on the site there are queues but the organisers keep things moving, the officials are polite and helpful and the crowd rubs along without friction, maybe even enjoying the experience. From a stakeholder management perspective, expectations are managed and information is readily available, particularly if you speak Mandarin – international visitors are not likely to exceed 5 million.

The China Pavilion dominates the site and is a wonderful experience. For locals to visit the pavilion, someone has to join the queue outside the gates at 6:00am to so when the gates open at 9:00am they can be near enough to the front of the next queue at the China Pavilion to receive some of the 50,000 tickets issued daily to allow them join another queue for 2 to 3 hours to get inside to see and experience the exhibits.

I was more fortunate, the hosts of the CIOB conference were able to arrange VIP access but I can understand why the Chinese pavilion is worth the wait. Its exhibits really are wonderful. There are over 200 countries and international organisations represented, ranging from Tuvalu to the USA; the World bank to the International Council of Museums, as well as numerous major corporations and most Chinese provinces. Almost every pavilion had its queue! In a long day I only managed to see a small section of the total experience but could start to appreciate the overarching purpose of this great festival.

My visit to the Expo was a once in a lifetime experience. If you can’t make the trip personally, you can be a virtual tourist on line at http://en.expo.cn/. Either way World Expo 2010 is well worth the visit.