2013 / 5月
Teng Sue-feng /tr. by Scott Williams
I got a call the other day, just as I was preparing for a big meeting. The caller was Ms. Lin Huayu, a Taiwan Panorama reader who has been living in Silicon Valley for the last 20-some years.
Lin had read the cover story “A Better Life: Leaving the City,” in our February 2013 US edition, and wanted to share her thoughts. The story reported on young entrepreneurs who were going back to their rural hometowns to take up farming or open small businesses, and in so doing were helping rebuild their communities. She thanked us for bringing this side of Taiwan to the attention of people in other nations, and said that the photos had reminded her of the verdant fields of her hometown Madou in Tainan County. The article also inspired her to organize a November 2013 trip to the Tainan District Agricultural Research and Extension Station and to the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center for friends at Silicon Valley NGOs and in the media, in hopes of fostering cooperation between Taiwan’s agricultural technicians and Silicon Valley’s NGOs.
This was powerful medicine to someone who spends her days knee-deep in words and in the management of matters large and small. It reminded me of my “vision,” of why I got into this work.
Author Tom Wang brought up something similar in his 50 Things I Learned from Starting Companies. Wang was involved with the establishment of Flow, which gave him the opportunity to take a class with Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, at MIT. He writes that his biggest takeaway from that class was the idea that we can perceive events on five levels.
“It was the most valuable framework I’d ever encountered,” says Wang. He explains that the levels form a five-story framework with the “event” itself at the bottom, and moving up through “pattern,” “structure,” “mental model,” and “vision.”
“Events” refers to one-off occurrences independent of cause and effect. A “pattern” is something that happens repeatedly. A “structure” is a systematic reason for a pattern to recur, such as the reason that a product shipment date is repeatedly pushed back. A “mental model” refers to the attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs of people towards events, patterns, and structures in which they are involved. For example, Taiwan Panorama believes that publicizing Taiwan’s positives bolsters public confidence and fosters greater global understanding of our island.
The top level, “vision,” refers to the actions our convictions lead us to take and the results we expect. Starting a business requires a grand vision because you can’t build a passionate, committed team without it.
Taiwan is known for its entrepreneurial spirit, but our younger generations are using that spirit for something more than satisfying their material needs. Instead, most of our current wave of young entrepreneurs are creating new products and services drawn from their own life experience. As a result, they have more passion, and a firm conviction that their businesses can make the world a better place.
This month’s cover story focuses on these young entrepreneurs. Founders of their firms and laid-back masters of their own fates, they have figured out how to integrate their work with their lives. Jamie Lin, founder of appWorks Ventures, hopes to use the Internet to right wrongs and resolve inequities. Wu Pochang, founder of iNDIEVOX, Taiwan’s biggest platform for downloading independent music, believes music can change the world. Peter Yen, founder of design portal Pinkoi, wants to enable designers to focus on creating new things without needing to worry about whether their products will sell. Sky Ho, founder of iPeen, started his business to impress a girl and was lucky enough to have both the business and the relationship work out.
As Lin says, the key to a successful startup isn’t the idea but the people, and whether they have the determination, passion, vision, and ability to execute. My biggest takeaway from their experience has been that these traits work well in fields other than entrepreneurship, that they can be applied to management and personal growth as well.