Daily Archives: March 10, 2013

Lessons from the shanzhai: what Chinese counterfeiters can teach us about innovation

The idea that imitators can teach anyone anything about innovation seems at first to be absurd. Surely, the one is the opposite of the other? Not according to Lyn Jeffery, a student of what she calls the Chinese “informal economy.” Today I am learning all about how the imitators have turned innovators at a small session at SXSW.

As Research Director of Institute of the Future in California, Jeffery has undertaken some fascinating research into the “shanzhai” – which, literally translated, means “mountain fortress” and, in Chinese culture, has Robin Hood style overtones. It now refers specifically to the 15% or so of the Chinese manufacturing sector that is dedicated to the production of fake, branded goods. This loosely networked body of disparate small businesses employs 16m Chinese (as opposed to the 11m employed in the entire US manufacturing industry). Read more on Lessons from the shanzhai: what Chinese counterfeiters can teach us about innovation…

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