Four hours, 10,000 audience members at Shanghai’s Mercedes-Benz Arena, over 11 million viewings on Youku — this was the third edition of Friend of Time, an annual speech by Luo Zhenyu, founder of online learning app iGet (得到). Luo has pledged to give this speech each New Year’s Eve for 20 years, and this year’s event was #1 in broadcast popularity of all New Year’s Eve television shows this year, most of which featured singing and dancing stars.
Some audience members in attendance had already bought a 20-year pass to Luo’s planned speech series for 40,000 RMB (about $6,170 USD). This year, Zhejiang TV invited four public intellectuals to share insights from their different professional areas on the last day of 2017, and started a new trend for New Year’s Eve programs.
For last year’s speech, Luo Zhenyu talked about five “Black Swans”: low-probability events that are worthy of our increased attention, dubbed Time Battlefield, Service Upgrade, Revolution of Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Tax, and Community Crisis.
One year later, Luo and the chief editor of iGet, Li Xiang, interviewed hundreds of people in preparation to blow the audience’s minds again. The questions that businessmen, startups and ordinary middle-class Chinese are most concerned about today were summarized in six points:
- If we’re not powerful like Alibaba or Tencent, can we still get on the stage?
- If we’re just now joining this business battlefield, is there any new method or strategy that we can use?
- If we don’t keep up with all the changes, are we going to get eliminated?
- Will there be a ceiling to China’s economic growth?
- Is Chinese economic growth sustainable?
- Will there be a good global development environment for China?
Luo called his answers to these questions — based on extensive interviews with domain experts — “brain holes” (脑洞), which indicates ideas and thoughts with a lot of imagination behind them. Here are Luo’s six “brain holes”:
1. Bullet Train
Instead of the traditional train depending on the locomotive, where the only engine is, every car of a bullet train is an engine itself. “All business in China can be done all over again,” since China has the largest-scale market and firsthand practical experience in many different industries.
2. Tropical Rainforest
Species live in the rainforest because of scale and diversity. You can either maintain a small ecology, or connect with different species. When you’re doing business, you can either serve all people and keep increasing user numbers, or just focus on your “super users.”
3. Bitize (Digitalize)
After Jack Ma came up with the concept of “New Retail”, retailers racked their brains to improve the efficiency of their production chains, which have developed so fast that some housewives are even wondering if they still need a fridge at home since shopping has become so convenient. In 2018, if you are a manufacturer, you don’t have to worry about how to digitalize your products — just make the best things you can, and the “bit” world will come to shake your hand.
4. Tug of War
As opposed to business competition in the past, which was like a boxing game, nowadays in the globalized world such competition is more like a tug of war. It doesn’t matter which country it’s in — all that matters is where the higher value is. Then it’s a matter of pulling it over via a developed transportation network. There is no competitive ceiling to worry about as before.
5. The Terminal
Is China no longer the “factory of the world”? Actually, it’s hard to find any other supply chains that are as highly efficient and flexible as those in China. Scale is an ability, and China is going to be the last stop of the transfer of the global manufacturing industry.
6. The Pivot
This is also the name of a book written by China Foreign Affairs University professor Shi Zhan, which was officially released during Luo’s speech. China is connecting the oceans and the continents, the developed countries and developing countries. This strategy is based on China’s geographical location and giant scale. Zero-sum games are not the trend.
“Chinese (style) opportunities” are right behind the above, according to Luo. To seize them, you need to design your own life algorithm — a basic routine that you’ve found to work — then repeat and reinforce it.
Luo Zhenyu cannot give an ultimate, definitive answer on these huge topics — no one can but time. Nevertheless, what he and his app iGet are doing has given his Chinese audience new perspectives with which to view the world, and to think about different possibilities for the future.
Cover image: Sina