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EF China concepts of īmanagementī
I was at a school in China. One day there was a powercut (hardly a rare occurance in Chinese cities). This was at around 2pm. Classes were to begin at 7pm. Thus the ′management′ (in the broadest sense of the word) had no less than 5 hours to make a decision.

Lots of our students came from far away straight from work for their lessons and so, if classes were to be postponed, they would - and I would say, should - have to be told as early as possible.

So, a decision had to be made. Shall we cancel lessons now or shall we wait to see if the power returns? Well, time passed as time passes and, before we knew it, it was 5.30pm. Now a decision really does have to be made (at least, if you care in the slightest for your students, I.e., your paying customers). Then it was 6pm and things were getting tight. The decision to be made, as I saw it, was as follows (and this is how I stated it):

1) Either we cancel lessons or we don′t.

Then we have, depending on the decision, various possible outcomes:

A) If we cancel lessons and the power comes does not come back on then we have saved our students a LOT of trouble.

B) If we don′t cancel lessons and the power does not come back AND the students find out this had been the case since 2pm then I think we should NOT expect them to be exactly overly joyed. (Not to speak of the feelings of the teachers.)

C) If we cancel lessons and the power does not return then the decision is vindicated and, arguably more importantly, the students will not have been messed around.

That to me was it; as far as the options went. But the management insisted that there was (at least) one other possible action and outcome. They noted that,

D) If we cancel lessons and then the power comes back we would have cancelled lessons for nothing.

I tried to explain to them some basic tenets of what I thought was standard management techniques. That is, SOMETIMES MANAGERS MUST MAKE DECISIONS (that is why they are called managers) AND THUS MUST TAKE ′RISKS′. The job of the management is to look at all the possible choices and to to take action. Yes, we could cancel lessons and yes the power might well come back on. But we would not have ′cancelled for nothing′. The point is, however, that A DECISION needed to be made.

As you have no doubt guessed, no decision was made (and no decision like this ever will be anywhere in China; it′s simply beyond their comprehension). Instead, everyone just sat around waiting - hoping - that the power would return (though no one to my knowledge attempted to so much as contact the relevant authorities to inquire as to the cause of the powercut and/or to see if power was to return). The power did not return, students were not warned, and as a DIRECT RESULT OF THE CHINESE MANAGEMENT AVOIDING HAVING TO MAKE A DECISION many were very angry and asked questions such as ′Why didn′t you call me if the power has been off for some 5 hours?′ (though maybe not with quite that English).

So, in short, as I see it, rather than making a decision that COULD ′backfire′ they simply made NO decision, eventhough by making no decision they knew themselves that things would, most likely, turn out worse for their not making a decision. That - to me - epitomizes the Chinese attitudes in general and Chinese ′managers′ (and politicians) in particular.

They also have a problem with deferring gratification. If the reward is not immediate then - to the Chinese - it is not a reward (by definition).

Here′s a little experiment you can do with Chinese children (and adults). Show them two plastic cups (the cups don′t have to be plastic, though!). Tell them that, in one, there is 10 Yuan. In the other, however, there is no less than 100 Yuan. Then tell them that they can take either cup BUT if they choose the cup that has 100 Yuan beneath it they can not take it till the same time next week. If they choose the 10 Yuan cup, however, they
can take it now.

Do you want to guess which cup the average Chinese person picks? It′s the 10 Yuan cup because (as I have often been told), ′I can have it NOW but I might not live till next week to collect the 100!′ (or something very, very similar).