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Wolf Culture Essay

Forget the “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu (the most read Asian management book ever), the new strategy to learn from the Chinese is the “wolf culture”. This strategy is created by the telecom Huawei’s president Ren Zhengfei and is now promoted widely among Chinese companies. The wolf spirit is aiming to replace the innovation leaders of the West through three qualities: extreme resilience in face of failure, a strong willingness to self-sacrifice, and sharp predatory instincts. Beware you innovation kings of the West; if business is a jungle where the lion is king, a hungry pack of wolves are looking to take the throne.

Innovation is often driven by change of perspective. And our perspective is often a Western perspective. So, while travelling to the Shanghai Expo I tried to read as much about of innovation as I could, from the Chinese perspective. And I stumbled upon especially one interesting opinion written by Zhang Zhengfu in the Shanghai Daily. While China has become the world’s workshop, its innovation capacity is still not on par with it being the second largest economy in the world. But one company seems to stand out from the rest and has become the new darling of the Chinese business scene, the telecom company Huawei. In a country where failure has been punished and making your own rules might lead to prison, the innovation culture has been harsh. But the media-shy founder of Huawei, Ren Zhengfei, has made his own adaption of Western innovation strategies to fit into the Chinese model by promoting the wolf strategy:

“In the battle with lions, wolves has terrifying abilities. With a strong desire to win and no fear of losing, they stick to the goal firmly, making the lions exhausted in every possible way”, Ren is reported to tell his staff. The lions of course being Western companies like Ericsson, NSN and Alcatel Lucent, and the wolves being Huawei themselves. Originally a low-cost manufacturer of components designed by others, Huawei in the 1990s determined to shed its copycat image – which the whole of China is of course faced with – and move up the value chain when competition increased in the low-cost segment. The height of their innovation venture, so far, being the launch of 4G (LTE) for Tele2 in Sweden and Telenor in Norway at the same time – or ahead of, as Huawei wants to portray it – as global leader Ericsson launched its 4G network for Telia in Sweden.

In a China which likes to point out its innovative history with inventions like gunpowder, printing and the compass (remember the opening show of the Beijing Olympics?), it now seems to exist a new role model for innovation in the 21st century. Starting with 20000 Yuan (USD 3000) in 1988, Ren now has a company ranked 397 on the Fortune 500 global list with 17 research institutes around the world and joint innovation centers with global operating giants like Vodafone. It also claims that 46% of its 95000 workers are in R&D-functions and spending in innovation keeps increasing. And just the innovation of the many seems also to be another of Huawei’s additions to Chinese innovation management. In a culture that has a very hierarchical structure, Ren has promoted the work of the team in innovation activities:

“We can only succeed through teamwork, just as lone wolf can never beat a lion”.

So watch out you lions of the West, because the wolves have been scoring some inspirational successes against the lions lately. And the wolves are many. And they are still hungry.


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