Competing with the Big Guns: Xiaomi Tech

Lei Jun, founder and CEO of Xiaomi Tech, is a bit of an ass. For someone who was known as the “Steve Jobs of China,” he was insensitive about Mr. Job’s death, tweeting: “iDead” and “Now people with iPads can load up that black and white headshot of Jobs to fullscreen and clasp it to their breasts.”

If you haven’t heard of Xiaomi, then you should know the three year old company was just valued at $9 billion and is taking on Samsung and Apple. They are going about it with practically no overhead. Xiaomi are sold completely online with virtually no marketing campaign. In fact, Xiaomi doesn’t exactly flaunt its success. Without retail stores, it also communicates with customers solely through social media and online forums.

When asked about his longterm strategy, Jun says he’s going to sell at around cost make money through the software, which is updated every week. His phone cells for 1999RMB, about $240 USD, about half the price of the iPhone in China. But in China you can buy a knockoff phone in china for 200RMB, this is still pricey, but not compared to the luxury iPhones which have similar hardware.

Apple and Samsung need to keep their eyes on Lei Jun. Xiaomi have already launched their phones in Hong Kong and Taiwan, but according to Tech in Asia, Xiaomi could be looking to launch online sales of their products in North America.

The People of San Francisco

This past February I took a trip out to San Francisco to meet with a friend from Shanghai. My experience with the West Coast was mainly from San Diego and Nationals for field hockey in central Cali. The city was beautiful , but the people were what really stood out. DSC_0085Whether working or going about their daily routine, the people of San Francisco had a rough stubbornness about them. Below is Michael, who is homeless and came up to me asking for money. I told him that I would pay him to pose for me. He spent five minutes fluffing out his sweatshirt and updating his hairdo, but then he flashed this grin.

DSC_0010I love how after all the effort to fix his hair, he plopped a hat over his efforts.  DSC_0018This guy was weaving in and out of the cars towing a shopping car. The cars seemed not to notice him, but rather to act as if he were a traffic pole, weaving impatiently around him. DSC_0013

I was lucky enough to celebrate the Chinese New Year. This fellow was taking his job very seriously, flanked by what looked to be both his parents. 20130224_120056

And finally, these stoic guys. Looking quite sober, they watched over the exhibit hall of the Asian Art Museum.


MIT Study Shows How to Boost Power of Persuasion at Work

ChessThe modern workplace is placing an increasing emphasis on collaboration, with startups and tech firms such as Google and Facebook replacing cubicles with open, collaboration-friendly settings. Every week, 11 million meetings take place in the US; managers report that they spend 3/4 of their workday in meetings. A study by Been Kim and Cynthia Rudin of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s School of Management focused on ‘meeting analysis’ to identify what is achieved over the lifespan of the meeting.

The dataset included 108,947 dialogue acts in total number of 95 meetings from The AMI (Augmented multi-party interaction) project. They asked: “Are there patterns in suggestions that are accepted versus rejected? Can we use this to improve how we present ideas to the team?”

The study found that the most persuasive words include “things,” “start,” “meeting,”“people,” “yeah” and non-persuasive words included “buttons,” “speech,” “LCD,” “recognition.”

The top persuasive word was “yeah,” but it was not only used as an agreement, “yeah” was also used to make suggestions. For example: “Yeah, if you are holding it in your hand you could do that.” So if idea comes across as if it were in line with previous thoughts by others, the suggestion has a higher chance of being accepted. Attribute your idea to other- and you will be more successful in your endeavor.

Nearly as persuasive as “yeah,” “give” is used in three contexts: (i) giving to the topic of the meeting, (ii) giving to the meeting participants, and (iii) to indicate that suggestions are based on previous data or knowledge. For example: i: “so if you want to give the full freedom to the user,” “You give it the full functions in here,” “We can give them smooth keys.” ii. “would give us a little bit of a marketing niche” iii. “given speech recognition I think you should go for the less fancy chip”

The word “start” is among another of the most persuasive words. The authors hypothesized that “start” creates an early alliance in the meeting where agreement of basic suggestions provides an indication that group members want to be productive during the meeting.

So there you have it. Use the word “yeah” to make subtle suggestions; use “give” to aggrandize the topic, the participant, or your recommendation; and use “start” to build an early relationship with the meeting attendees. Then throw in a few more “things,” “starts,” “meetings,”“peoples,” and “yeahs” and you’ll be rocking meetings in no time.

Cusco or Cuzco? Peru

El PeruEnglish: Cusco
Spanish: Cuzco
Quechua: Qusqu or Qosqo

The City All of these spellings refer to the same city, the capital of the ancient Incan Empire. Today, its people still refer to themselves as Incans and are immensely proud of their ancestors. Many believe that the city was planned as an effigy in the shape of a puma, a sacred animal. Since then the capital has adopted Christianity, and Jesus (Christo Blanco) looks over the city. Blanco CristoCross over Cusco

Today, the city sees upwards of two million tourists a year since it is the throughput for Machu Picchu, but the city has its own splendor. There are old Incan sites, including “Sexy Women,” but properly known as Saksaywaman. Even the main square, Plaza de Armas, is drenched in history, including Francisco Pizarro’s proclamation of the conquest of Cusco. Stonework

The colors are vibrant and the stonework is incredible. But watch out for the altitude. The city sits at nearly 11,000 feet and altitude sickness is your new favorite travel demon upon landing in Cusco. Chamomile, lemongrass, mint, and coca tea help the headaches, but don’t plan on any vigorous activity upon arrival. This little lady sold me a beautiful wool belt.  She was so tickled that I wanted to take a picture with her that she posed for four! The locals are about 5′ and all wear neat hats. More to come on their garb and the local dying processes.

DSC_0169Below are local masks, but the alpaca sweaters were the most glorious. Painted Masks


More posts to follow about the marketplace, but the photos came out beautifully.

Limitations of Language

Graphics just makes lectures so much more fun! When I was teaching English in Shanghai, I would use videos just like this for a more comprehensive understanding of higher level topics. Graphics are able to convey much more than a simple textbook definition and even more than the charades I would play with my students.

The key here is the language gap. The author of this video points out that in Sicilian there is  no future tense for verbs. This makes it very difficult to make plans when you can’t communicate about the future. The same idea applies to vocabulary: if you have a poor vocabulary then you are unable to communicate a point clearly, but also you have difficulty translating the world around you for others.

For example, imagine you didn’t know the word “depressed”. You would be unable to diagnose a mental state, you would be confused about what you were feeling, and you would also be unable to communicate why you were behaving unusually. Words like “sad” or “down” just can’t convey the same point. But since you do know the word for depressed, now you can reach out for help with a single word and be understood. Also, you know that what you are feeling is relatively normal and you are one among others since you are borrowing a word imagined by another. The point I am trying to get across is that communication in general is the keystone to reaching a higher understanding of the world around you.

Language and the development of greater human understanding has enabled us to write down our thoughts, to tell the stories of our parents and grandparents, and to keep in touch from afar. I believe the study of languages is necessary to understanding humanity and to moving our species forward. Each word is a step by mankind to label the world he is surrounded by. The creation of new words is just as exciting as space exploration (ok maybe not…) because it means greater cognizance.

Examples from other languages:

  • Mamihlapinatapei is Yagan (indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego) for “the wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start”
  • Tartle is Scottish for  “the act of hestitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name”
  • Torschlusspanik is German  for “gate-closing panic,” but its contextual meaning refers to “the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages”
  • Ya’aburnee is Arabic – Both morbid and beautiful at once, this incantatory word means “You bury me,” a declaration of one’s hope that they’ll die before another person because of how difficult it would be to live without them.

In English, we tend to think of a past, present, and future. However, Chinese has none of these tenses while the six-tense language Kalaw Lagaw Ya of Australia has the remote past, the recent past, the today past, the present, the today/near future and the remote future. The differences between such finer distinctions are the distance on the timeline between the temporal reference points from the present. Imagine organizing your thoughts on this timeframe. Tricky, but maybe a higher order of thinking? Now put this together with a deeper vocabulary and you are able to convey much more, succinctly.

If you haven’t watched the video above- you should!


The Prisoner’s Dilemma in Espionage and in Professional Sports

LocksHey! Let’s review! Anyone who has taken an Economics class should be familiar with the Prisoner’s Dilemma and Game Theory. Yes? Maybe? Hmm…

Well that was how I was feeling this afternoon. In the hmm… mode. My brother was studying for an exam while we were road tripping home and mentioned Prisoner’s Dilemma. Being the older sister, I stepped right up to the bat and said, “Well there are two guys being interrogated by the police. The dilemma is about jail time for the two men and the optimal decision for one, based off knowledge of the other man’s optimal decision.”  A more detailed explanation lies here. Wikipedia is the best, after all….

But the more I thought about this situation, the more it seemed too simple. I want to explore how this really plays out. Economics is full of rules and exceptions so I found a few examples from the real world.

Specimen one, a blog I have been following for a short time tells of using the Prisoner’s Dilemma on Al Qaeda prisoners. The author is Chris Simmons, a counterintelligence officer for the US who is a skilled interrogator, master spy-catcher, and terrorist hunter. His article, “What Al-Qaeda Taught Me About the Frailty of Loyalty,” illustrates how the Dilemma plays out in real time. It is a terrific read, but in summation, essentially he details how he used the humanity and self-interest of the prisoners to disintegrate any political or religious views them may have held. He concludes: “On every occasion, primal self-interest trumped loyalty and collective needs, not it days or weeks, but in just a few short hours.”

Another great example of Game Theory is collegiate and professional athletics. In many cases, people cheated because they thought their rivals and peers were cheating.  Thus, they felt compelled to cheat else be left in the fray at a competitive disadvantage. In the past 12 months alone, USC, Ohio State, and Tennessee made recent headlines for NCAA infractions violations. Prior infractions include the steroids scandal in Major League Baseball, countless offenses in track and field, and the scandal surrounding Lance Armstrong.

The bottom line is that when the incentives to cheat are so great, it’s hard to expect aggressive personalities to play by the rules in recruiting or in monitoring and reporting infractions.Beach OBX

So how do we break the Prisoner’s Dilemma? The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology sociologists Dirk Helbing and Wenjian Yu recently completed a study on cooperation. Helbing specializes in complex simulations of crowd behavior. If cooperative behavior potentially provides the highest rewards, but selfishness is the safest and most sensible course of action, how can cooperation emerge?

Helbing’s answer is  mobility and imitation. When individuals have the freedom to choose their associates and smart enough to imitate their success, cooperation emerges, then flourishes — and it doesn’t take much to start the process.

So although the Prisoner’s Dilemma exists, you are now aware of it’s implications. The action most aligned with self-interest is dependent upon your knowledge of the other contender’s decision. Choose what is the best option for both yourself and your opponent – and cooperate to make the world a better place. In the case of sports, no doping and a fair competition; in an interrogation, communicate with your buddy and conclude on the best course of action. Then again, if you’re being interrogated by the US government, good luck!

East versus West: The Paradox of Beauty

I’m 5’10in and my complexion is true to my near-100% british ancestry. So when I touched down in Shanghai, not only did I stand ten inches taller than the average citizen, I also emitted a beacon of whiteness. In public places, I would have people come up and touch my hand or ask for photos. A few people would even take photos of me on their smartphones while pretending to be occupied elsewhere. FYI- it is pretty obvious when a photo is being taken of you- especially when the flash goes off.

Even at home, I am taller than average, but being in China exacerbated all these differences to the point where I wasn’t just a minority, I was the object of passerby’s attention. I was lucky to have many good Chinese girlfriends who walked me through this process. In asian culture, the whiter the skin, the prettier the girl. If you look at Chinese beauty ads, the model’s skin is retouched to a pearly white sheen. Wandering through department stores in Korea and China led to the same conclusion, all the creams and moisturizers promised whitening solutions.

But that is exactly the opposite of what I find at home. I have friends spending their break between classes to go lay in tanning beds. Sephora in Philadelphia or NYC is full of bronzing and darkening lotions. Just check out Shiseido China’s photos promising “white lucent” and 100% skin protection to US Shiseido’s “tinted moisturizer” photos. Just look at the beach in the summer: most Americans are baring their skin to the sun, while their Chinese-American counterparts use sun umbrellas and over-sized hats. So what gives?

Should you use the chemicals or the sun to darken your skin and be the envy of the West or bleach it whiter as they do in the East?

How about just loving your skin and your complexion! The sun provides a necessary dose of Vitamin D, but also deals out sun cancer. So be careful, protect yourself, and love your body. You are beautiful, no matter the current beauty fads.

And yes- those are tan lines from outdoor swim season.

Really? An Expert in 10,000 Hours

Malcolm Gladwell

It seems everyone is talking about the 10,00 hour rule these days. Let’s dig a little deeper.

One of the best journalists of our time and a favorite author of mine, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the concept of an expert being someone who devotes 10,000 hours of his time to the mastery of a skill. He also illustrates throughout the book that no one achieves success solely based on their intelligence or talent, but rather whether they were born at the right time with the proper support along the way and the proper time investment.

This claim was originally published by Ericsson in “The Making of an Expert” where he begins by differentiating between time spent deliberately practicing and time spent using heuristics or unfocused. Then he sites his own research:

“Our research shows that even the most gifted performers need a minimum of ten years (or 10,000 hours) of intense training before they win international competitions. In some fields the apprenticeship is longer: It now takes most elite musicians 15 to 25 years of steady practice, on average, before they succeed at the international level.”

Ericsson points out that another key to success is the synergy with a coach or mentor. These three ideas (deliberate practice, greater than 10,000 hours spent, and successful coaching) are integral to the creation of an expert. But they did not find that 10,000 hours was the “magic number for greatness” that Gladwell claims.

A more recent study published on this subject was at Michigan State University by Zach Hambrick, associate professor of psychology. He too, focused on musicians and other performers because of the quantitative nature of their work. He found that reanalyzed data from 14 studies of top chess players and musicians. They found that for musicians, only 30% of the variance in their rankings as performers could be accounted for by how much time they spent practicing. And in chess players, practicing was only credited with 34% of their level of player. While one player became a grandmaster in as few as two years; another achieved that level only after 26 years.

Hambrick says his goal in conducting the research was to expose some of the complexities of the interaction between practice and proficiency, and with his latest results, he hopes to fight unrealistic expectations fostered by theories like the “10,000-hour rule.”

I remember nearly a decade of my piano teacher grilling: “practice makes perfect” into my head. Well, there is some contention: today, I am still a terrible pianist. But what we can learn from these three sources is that hard work, focus, and circumstance do seem to be the three pillars to mastery.

Matching Up China and the US



In university, I devoted my studies to Finance and the Chinese language and culture. So when I went to study abroad in China, everyone half-expected it, but I still received poignant remarks about eating chicken feet and being safe with a different government and a different set of rules. What bothered me the most, however, was when people said that China was “taking over the world” or warned me about the restrictiveness of the Chinese government. I had a brilliant time traveling through Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macau, and even Hainan “the Hawai’i of China.” I had a life-changing job, studied at a top international university, met an incredible network of people, and developed a love for the people (and food) of China. I would recommend this study abroad experience to everyone!

I found this infographic on Richard Brubaker’s site. Richard is a man renowned for this experience as a consultant and teacher in the Chinese landscape and I have found his work and blog to be a true thermometer to ideas and movement in China. We have numbers thrust upon us everyday, from every new source imaginable. Sometimes an illustration of the culmination of these ideas puts things in perspective.

The Mojito



It is summer! And that can only mean one thing: mojitos! These guys take a little bit of work and a lot of lime-squeezing, but are certainly worth it. Come one come all! Let the summer nights commence.

Recipe for 2 people- tall glasses!

1cup fresh squeezed lime juice

1cup club soda

1cup Rum! (Mount Gay is the best) 

1cup simple syrup infused with mint  

Sprigs of Mint for muddling and Ice Cubes

To make the simple syrup: boil 1cup of water then add two cups of sugar, bring to a boil again to make sure the sugar is melted. Take off the heat and add mint leaves. Cool in the fridge.

To prepare: squeeze your limes for all their worth, mix in soda, rum, and simple syrup in a pitcher. Prepare the mint sprigs by plucking off the leaves and twisting them between your fingers, then mash them with ice in the bottom of your glasses.


Enjoy! Happy Summer!