The second stop on our Trek was a visit to China. Admittedly, it was only the tiniest slice of the country - we were there just shy of 48 hours. It left me wanting to come back and explore more!
From the viewpoint of the meetings we had, China has a tremendous excitement around innovation and visions of possibility. One such company that embodies this ideal is the drone company, Dajiang Innovation (DJI). As an employee for DJI, the first “assignment” for everyone is to actually build a drone. This seems to represent the possibility (and importance) of critical thinking, understanding of the product / business, and instigates within employees a curiosity and willingness to explore. In an earlier meeting with the Ayala Group in the Philippines, the ideals and framing of long-term planning was challenged. Instead of having a vision or solid plan for the next 10-15+ years, the Ayala Group instead has a 5-year plan and revisits (and amends) it yearly. DJI’s idea of long-term planning is to create a 1-year plan that is revisited every three months. The reason? DJI seems to have a keen understanding that the marketplace is changing at an ever-increasing pace. To continually innovate and progress their company, they realize the need to have maximum flexibility to learn, grow, and progress the company. Additionally, having each employee build a drone inculcates the expectation of creativity. To me, this also leads to the question of professional development - if creativity is welcomed and expected, how is it supported throughout the company? DJI stresses the importance of continual research and development, welcoming ideas or market reports / comparatives and ideas from all employees as a way to help the company advance and stay relevant. Additionally, DJI’s foundation invests in STEAM education - yes, STEM with the Arts! While we didn’t have enough time to fully explore this aspect of the business, having an emphasis on STEAM education again supports the important value of how arts are a central piece within a comprehensive education.
Before leaving China, we also toured the Shenzhen Free Trade Zone, learning about the plans for economic development within the next 5-10 years. As evidenced by the cranes and other equipment on this development zone, those plans are already underway. Within the Shenzhen Free Trade Zone, we also toured the Young innovation and Entrepreneurship Hub - a place for young entrepreneurs to work, connect with funders, and develop products that will impact the world. (We all enjoyed a bit of fun, watching a robot dance the Gangnam Style.) To me, these types of environments are the ultimate experiential learning opportunity - having the time, space, and freedom to creatively develop one’s own ideas. [This environment also reminded me of the NuVu studio (https://cambridge.nuvustudio.com/discover) in Cambridge (MA), founded by an MIT alum.] Innovation hubs are disrupting the “traditional” educational environment. These schools absolutely set the expectation among its learners to think creatively, preparing its “students” to lead economic development through continual innovation and progressing of market ideas. As entrepreneurs and innovators increasingly have broader impacts on our worlds, how can education keep up, especially when our world continues to evolve at a faster and faster pace? In my opinion, it means that we are most-likely behind in how we educate students as future leaders. Creativity must be paramount in all aspects of learning, and experiential learning provides the opportunity to develop skillets as well as broader understandings of the evolving world in which we live and operate.