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Friday, 31 December 2010

What's changed in a decade

Found this info-graphic over at io9 and it just struck me as such a simple way to show some of the dramatic changes over the last decade. The most striking for me is the changes in technology and environment. China's power consumption is a great way to measure how far they have come in such a short time and just an indicator of how much the world has changed.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Facebook blocked again...

Whether it's the govt. or the ISP, it's just a sad commentary. First off because it's really just futile. The one place where information flows quite freely is the Internet. So you block one avenue and you can be sure that someone will find a way around it shortly. The only way you could really do this is to just eliminate the Internet completely. Ummm, yeah. Good luck with that one.

The best guess is that the latest move to block Facebook is to support, the government sponsored social networking site. Here's my question, if you're trying to become a part of the global community, why block a way for people to connect with the outside world? And is creating social networking within Vietnam really the best way to encourage any sort of cultural and social growth?

Well, off to Google a way to get back on Facebook. Friend you later!

Why Vietnam will not be the next China…

When I am asked about my experiences and opinions about operating in Vietnam, the most common reaction I receive is that it’s just like China was 10 or even 20 years ago. And yes, there are numerous points of comparison from the speed of development to the opaque business environment, even consumer tastes and trends.

But there is also the matter of simple math. After all, a population of 87.5 million versus a population of 1.3 billion carries such different weight in terms of consumer power, human resources, and sheer mass.

It’s living right in the middle of it all where the differences become most apparent. Vietnam is hardly China 1.0. After all, the paths of these two nations diverged in 938AD and Vietnam’s developmental path has been marked by a significant difference, colonization. And whether that was the French, Japanese, or the Chinese themselves, Vietnam has only had intermittent periods of independence during its thousand-year history (1,072 years to be accurate).

Where China has seen itself evolve from an empire to an economic superpower, Vietnam has discovered a new-found sense of self almost overnight. And Vietnam is still in the midst of finding it’s own identity. And that is the crossroads Vietnam stands at today. From where we were yesterday, where do we want to be tomorrow? And how will we get there?

There doesn’t appear to be the clear direction or momentum that China has had. In 1990, plans were announced to make the Pudong New Area the Financial District of Shanghai. The government declared a New Open Economic Development Zone creating an environment that was welcoming to the foreign investments needed as well as investing in the infrastructure necessary to create a thriving city in and of itself.

Instead Vietnam is marked by seemingly random growth, a take what you can/let’s just get it done mentality, a wariness of investing in the long term, and an evident fearlessness when it comes to long-term consequences. Maybe this is due to the incredibly young population? Maybe this is a remnant of the post-war environment? Regardless it can seem like you are amongst a population caught up in a mad dash for success, filled with a sense of living for today and without a thought for tomorrow.

And while there have been varied opinions of Vietnam as a developing market, companies wavering between unbridled enthusiasm and extreme caution, there is no doubt that this is a mouth-watering opportunity. With a population over 87 million people and rising, it’s still one of the youngest countries in the world and the population is growing by almost a million people each year. The population has proven to be incredibly open to new products and services while clamoring for recognizable brands. Accordingly, retail sales topped $39 billion US dollars in 2009 according to govt. estimates.

So instead of touting Vietnam as the next China, let’s start focusing on what the next Vietnam will be.


Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The future of State Owned Enterprises here in Vietnam?

It's impossible to not be concerned about the recent downgrading of Vietnam's credit rating. Two times in one month! Two times!!! All of this stemming from Vinashin's (the shipbuilder) inability to repay a massive $600 million loan to Credit Suisse. The issue? Vinashin is a State backed enterprise... which means their bad credit will impact the nation's ability to borrow from overseas credit sources.

Does this mean that you'll see greater shift to private enterprise? More foreign investment here in Vietnam to fill the void? There is no shortage of entrepreneurial people here in Vietnam and I have to believe that many of them will jump at the chance to fill any gap that appears.

Bear in mind, there is no indication that Vietnam's economic growth will be slowing down in 2011...

Trend Setters vs. Trend Leaders

Someone asked me why we didn't see more trend setters here in Vietnam and because I never really thought about it, I started looking about for that person who shattered boundaries or introduced new styles and was responsible for changing culture here. And what struck me was that the people who are doing that are simply adopting culture from other places rather than inventing their own. I thought that this is simply the safest way of moving forward while limiting risk.

TBWA's philosophy is "Disruption". Let's understand what the conventions are and break them in order to make a more direct connection between people and an idea. I'm not offering any big surprise when I say that the idea does better in the West than it does here in the East. In Jean-Marie Dru's (our Chairman) first book, he discusses why the idea does so well, particularly in America. The idea of being first, being different, being a pioneer is a core part of the American Dream and the American spirit. We had Rock & Roll, Punk Rock, the revolution... The West embraces counter culture and being anti-establishment. They embrace innovation and standing out.
It's all so opposite to the philosophy and cultures of Asia... but is it? I'm beginning to realize that what we have here are "trend leaders" and not trend setters. It's a subtle, but significant shift. It's about bringing people along and creating social momentum rather than changing expectations dramatically. And in a global age with information coming from every arena, there are going to be few new ideas no matter where you are looking for them. What will be more valuable is the people who recognize a great idea and are adept at disseminating that information to the rest of the population quickly.
Now my mission is to find these Vietnamese trend leaders...