Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Address to the CIAI Quarterly Equity Forum, NYC 7/25/2008

Distinguished panels and guests:

From the presentations by the august panelist today and also reading the headlines, we can see that both China and US economies both face enormous uncertainties:
recession or recovery, correlation or decoupling, peak oil or abundance, inflation or stagnation.

But there is also an interesting contrast between the 2 environments.
Within PRC, there is an optimism, a belief that they can create a better future. Within USA, there is a feeling of being lost at sea, not sure of which way to go and a fear of ‘things getting worse’.

Is it a case of the glass being half full or half empty?
I propose that we are facing REAL uncertainties here pregnant with REAL possibilites.

Consider the story of Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era.
One time he received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself.
“It’s is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

When the civic leaders and reporters are all repeating the same sets of stories, it is very hard to change the pattern, to inject new ideas and stories for consideration. But when there is REAL Uncertainty and no one is sure of the ‘right’ stories, there is an opening, there are possibilities for many ideas to bloom, for real changes in the mid to occur.

I would suggest that we have such an opportunity today.

I have noticed in the US press and civic dialogue about China, there is a bi-polar quality: love of Chinese culture, distain for governance & regulation; partners in fighting terror, rivals in economic affairs; one moment it’s an ideological menace, next it’s a new face of capitalism. There varied and conflicting stories are constantly vying for acceptance.

Those with experiences in both these cultures have a unique role. We have the understanding of history and culture from both side. Those of us in business and finance understands further the gears and levers of global economic and finances which are a critical linkage between the two economies. We have the knowledge and the opportunity to create New Stories. Storeis that help America make sense of the Chinese people and stories that help China make sense of itself and the world.

What kind of stories could these be?

Stories that made a difference.

Consider one example:
Anthropoligist Margaret Mead’s book “Coming of Age in Samoa” was a hit academically and popularly in the 30’s great depression era. The then exotic familial and childrearing practices in Melanisia were both shocking and enticing to her contemporaries. She demonstrated that anthropologists have a privileged position to comment on human affairs because of their intimate knowledge of diverse cultures.

The world was emerging from the end of the colonial era, America was groping its way toward its proper role for a world power, one with active ties and commitments all over the globe. To a significant degree, China is going through the same phase today.

Margert Mead challenged many unexamined believes: including the universal believe that “we” are special and superior to other cultural groups. She convinced most of Americans that we should learn from other societies so that mutual understanding would reduce conflicts. That was a radical thought in that age.

She changed how US people viewed herself in relation to the rest of the world. And her ideas influenced social trends in the ‘60s and continues up to today. In other words, she found a power Story which resonated with her contemporary audiences.

Ross Perot said, “We owe it to the American people to explain to them in plain language, where we are, where we are going, and what we have to do. Then we need to build a consensus to do it.”
This is what our new Stories must do.
We need Stories that will encourage both US and china to build a long term partnership for prosperity, health, and peace.

In spite of the many competing stories, the sense of Uncertainty today gives us an opportunity to shape this change.

Guilermos del Torro said in an interview, “The art of the director is meeting the compromises (in film making) with creativity.” Let me paraphrase him to said:

Our challenge today is Meeting our Uncertainties with creativity.
Creatively crafting new stories that work.

I challenge you to contribute New Stories that make a difference.
Or provide counter stories to erroneous stories in the press.

I look forward to engaging with you creatively in this area.

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