Making mistakes is the best way to learn

Making mistakes is the best way to learn
N. Bruce Pickering, vice-president of the Asia Society.

China's "new normal" of slower economic growth is prompting changes in the way the country does things, and innovation has been named as the way ahead by officials and experts from the country's top legislature and national advisory body.

During this year's two sessions of China's National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, President Xi Jinping called for innovation-driven development.

Minister of Environmental Protection Chen Jining pledged innovation to help cut pollution and Premier Li Keqiang said the country's capacity for innovation is insufficient.

N. Bruce Pickering, vice-president of the Asia Society, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to educating the world about Asia, agreed that innovation is critical to China's economic growth and China needs to embrace it with an open mind.

"If China is going to get out of the middle income trap, if it really starts to move out of a manufacturing economy, innovation and technology are going to be important for moving forward," said Pickering.

He has worked extensively on Asia-related projects, including Innovation 2013: From Silicon Valley to China, a forum that brought leading Chinese and US entrepreneurs and policymakers together to discuss the future of innovation in China.

He said China's demographics do not favour an industrial economy in the long run, but a high-tech one. "An aging population is going to require a lot of care and a lot fewer workers are coming into the workforce," he explained.

In terms of promoting innovation, Pickering said, one challenge that China faces is its mindset.

"Can you really have an innovative economy in a country that does not have good rock music?" he said. "Rock bands are all about being apart from society, they are all about telling the rest of the world to take a hike.

"The mindset is the same. It's got to be apart from society, and you've got to have the willingness to try new things and be able to fail," Pickering argued.

"Take Silicon Valley as an example. I would say the single biggest advantage that Silicon Valley has is that people fail all the time. You can go out, try something, blow it, lose money and then come right back and somebody will hire you again," he said.

Pickering said he believed that what's really critical to China's economic growth is the ability to get over a sense of failure.

"Sometimes you fail but you learn a lot from mistakes. So it's important there's no social stigma to mistakes and failure," said Pickering, taking the example of Google Glass. "It failed, but it will come back. Somebody will come up with something better."

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