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Kai-Fu Lee Restores China’s Technology Leadership Essay

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Updated: Apr 15th, 2021


Innovation is an essential part of business success, especially in such an area as IT. Because of the lack of a leader like the late Steve Jobs, the Chinese IT companies and the companies offering IT related products had to resort to the role of minor technology producers. A recent reconsideration of the role of China in the evolution of technology has revealed, though, that the Chinese organizations still deliver innovative products; however, because of the competition with the Western brands of a greater influence, the Chinese IT organizations will have to resort to the reiterative type of innovation, therefore, taking a unique niche in the market.

Iterative Innovation

When speaking of the phenomenon of iterative innovations, Lee Kai-Fu refers to the ability of the state to come up with concepts that are similar to those of the famous American and European companies, particularly, Apple, Inc., and Facebook. It is quite remarkable that the term coined by Kai-Fu hardly factors in as an innovative concept since the developer makes it obvious that he is not going to introduce the Chinese customers to groundbreaking technology. Instead, Kai-Fu is “taking an existing model or idea and tweaking it for the Chinese market” (Hamdan Bin Mohammed University, 2013, p. 3).

While admittedly creative, such an approach does not presuppose that the developer is going to Reinvent people’s perception of a specific technology entirely; according to the existing types of innovation, the given approach can be characterized by improved – or even, possibly, new – components with no major change to the existing system; consequently, the suggestion that Kai-Fu makes borders on an incremental and a modular innovation type (Smith, 2010). From a different perspective, the changes that Kai-Fu provides to the Chinese system of technology development and production can be identified as application innovation (Smith, 2010).

Indeed, according to the existing definition, an application innovator does not invent new forms of technology; quite on the contrary, they use the already existing technological advances in order to design new products and, thus, satisfy the new demand of the customers. In a way, application innovation may be seen as much product as the traditional one, since it allows for making the best of the opportunities provided by the technological breakthrough (Smith, 2010).

Jobs’ Legacy

It goes without saying that Steve Jobs was one of the world’s renowned marketing and technology geniuses of the time. Not only did he manage to come up with the concepts of unique, useful, and immediately popular products, but also knew how, when, and who these products had to be marketed to. The effects that Job’s numerous innovations have had on the evolution of technology in general and IT, in particular, are truly tremendous; however, when it comes to choosing the innovation that would, later on, be called the defining brand of the company, the iPhone brand must be mentioned. After its appearance in 2007, the iPhone launched the craze that would last for years.

The iPhone incorporated every possible function of a cell phone, including voice dialing, Web browsing and the related functions (i.e., Email features, numerous applications, etc.), a camera, a calendar, a touch screen, a video playback, the basic elements of an iPod, and a unique design (About Technology, 2014). Consequently, the contribution of the iPhone to the fifth-wave cycle is quite solid; not only did it facilitate the communication process, but also modified the transactional environment by offering better communication methods and, therefore, improved logistics and information analysis processes.

The specified example aligns with the key argument of the Technology S-Curve theory, which claims that the next wave of technological evolution borrows certain elements from the previous one. Indeed, the iPhone seems to have incorporated innovative technologies with the basic functions of a cell phone. The evolution of iPhones is also a graphic example of the Punctuated Equilibrium Theory. It would be wrong to claim that every model delivered an entirely new concept; instead, some of the models seemed to recycle the success of their predecessors.

Seeing that iPhones have become the trademark of Apple, Inc., it is reasonable to assume that they have created a specific “mindset,” which aligns with the postulates of the Dominant Design Theory. Finally, the device in question represents a case of Absorptive Capacity Theory implementation, since the innovative outputs generated by Apple in the iPhone legacy are the results of absorptive diffusion (Smith, 2010).

Innovation Processes

Coming up with breakthrough suggestions, especially in technology, is not an easy task. Because of the numerous opportunities that technological advances provide, extensive research on emerging opportunities often seems like the exploitation of the same once successful idea. In reality, however, the innovations stemming from the well-trodden concepts often prove to be quite viable and very useful.

China has been known for the aforementioned type of innovations for quite a long. Because of the lack of disruptive innovations, which redefine the current understanding of technology, China is often viewed as a technologically degrading state. This is not true, however; what China lacks is the creative mind, which will be able to come up with the technologies that will break new grounds and change the IT landscape of the world as people know it.

The research and development, therefore, take impressive effort; when it comes to commercialization of the product, however, it is hard to create an honest and at the same time enthralling description of the product that was based on an already existing concept. The innovation status of China, however, can and should be improved. Sufficient improvements can be attained by creating iterative innovations that bear a distinct uniqueness. The latter can be achieved by a variety of methods, including an original design approach, and promoted with the help of a convincing advertisement campaign.

It is worth keeping in mind, though, that the specified approach does not presuppose a complete lack of technological initiative among the Chinese companies. While Lee obviously considers the concept of iterative innovation as a long-term one, the Chinese firms will have to generate original ideas and carry out insightful researches in accordance with the model of the innovation process (Smith, 2010). Otherwise, China will never get rid of its reputation as a “copycat.”

Patents and External Routes to Innovation

As a rule, licenses and spin-offs are mentioned as the key external routes to innovation (Smith, 2010). Spin-offs, which presuppose the creation of a subsidiary company, allow for an additional financial resource for funding the promotion of the innovation, as the VLSI case has shown (Tate, 2002). Licenses, in their turn, will help make the product sell more efficiently, as Xerox’s Ethernet technology triumph displays (Bogers, Bekkers & Granstrand, 2012, p. 41). The government may also contribute to the promotion of innovative technology. For instance, in Dubai, the creation of e-government seems to have spurred the popularity of the local IT products (Al-Khouri, 2011).

Reference List

About Technology. (2014). iPhone features. . Web.

Al-Khouri, A. M. (2011). An innovative approach for e-government transformation. International Journal of Managing Value and Supply Chains, 2(1), 22–43.

Bogers, M., Bekkers, B. & Granstrand, O. (2012). Intellectual property and licensing strategies in open collaborative innovation. In S. de Pablos Heredero & D. Lopez (Eds.), Open innovation at firms and public administrations: technologies for value creation (37–58). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Hamdan Bin Mohammed University. (2013). Case study: Lee Kai-Fu, China’s innovation idol (2–3). Innovation strategies. Dubai, UAE: Hamdan Bin Mohammed University.

Smith, D. (2010). Exploring innovation (2nd ed.). New York City, NY: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Tate, T. J. (2002). VLSI spin-offs and technological innovation. Vacuum, 67, 605–609.

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