cross-border program for millennials

Podcast transcript #67: A cross-border program for millennials, bringing entrepreneurs from China and Australia together to create startups

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Find here the China Paradigm 67. You could not miss any details of this amazing cross-border program for millennials. Also, you will get a better knowledge of China Australia relationship after listening to this episode.

Full transcript below:

Matthieu David: Hello everyone, I’m Matthieu David, the founder of daxue consulting, a China market research company & it’s podcast China Paradigm.

Today I’m with Andrea Myles from Sydney – the CEO & Co-Founder of China – Australian Millennial Project. This is the project, and you’re going to tell us more about it, which is a cross-border program for millennials between 18 – 35. And I’ll wait for your own understanding of – What Millennial is because I feel a different definition of it to support them in understanding China’s Australia relationship & start a project. As far as I understood, it could be a business, it could be also something related to business, but to start something between the two countries.

You have a long story now with China. You’ve begun to be interested in China at the end of your study & you even went to China or you studied Chinese in 2007 & 2011. You have been involved in a different organization including Australia – China business council & you have been the CEO of this organization in 2013 & you have been following the Australian delegation for the G20 at that time. And please add up anything if you think I’m forgetting anything about what you did in China. So, thanks for being with us today, could you tell us about your current business? The size of your business? & anything I would’ve forgotten.

Andrea Myles: Sure, okay, so my name is Andrea Myles & I’m the CEO of the China – Australia cross-border program for Millennials & this project basically brings together 100 Millennials – equally half from China – half from Australia & over the course of 100 days, they build collaborative start-ups together. Now what that means is that we divide people into teams, each team is mixed with two people from China & two people from Australia. It’s really designed to identify what are the collaborative ways we can blend these markets together & blend the different mindsets around the innovation together to come up with start-ups that are really unique in the market.

So, the reason why this project exists is – in 2014 I was the CEO of the Australia – China business council, which is sort of the peak bilateral body bridging business through China Australia relationship. And I noticed that there was a lot of talk around resources, services for example; which you know the China Australia relationship is very famous for – but not a lot when it came to innovation & I really couldn’t see enough young people coming up through the ranks with an understanding of China Australia relationship in order to populate this huge opportunity that exists between China obviously as Australia’s largest trading partner. But also, Australia is China’s seventh-largest trading partner.

So, I just thought I can complain about this or I can actually just create something that remedies it & so we created this enormous project that every year graduates 100 people. We’ve got 300 graduates now. We’ve got a huge number of start-ups that have come out of that. But most importantly we’ve got a single community of people who know & trust each other because they’ve been through this quite extreme process of building a business together. The program actually takes place in two countries. So, for everybody that gets accepted into the program, we take them to China & we take them to Australia over the course of this 100-day program. So, no matter what every single person in the program has seen each other in two different parts of the world & either been the fish-out-of-water or played the host. So, it’s a really unique way I think of creating relationships through the vehicle of creating start-ups.

Matthieu David: It’s 50-50, so 50 Chinese & 50 Australian? Or can it be differently split up?

Andrea Myles: No, it’s designed to be 50% Chinese nationals & 50% Australian nationals. Now, of course, there’s always about a 10% wiggle room. So, for example, Matthieu, if you were living in China but as a French national, we would include you in the program that’s absolutely fine, because you have a relationship with China. And obviously, Australia is a hugely multicultural country so we have a lot of people who might be here on permanent residency visa’s but not Australian nationals. But because they’re here in Australia & they have an interest in China that they’re also able to come in. So, it’s usually 50-50 plus 10% wiggle room for the people who find themselves living in international.

Matthieu David: 100 days – the cross-border program for millennials lasts for 100 days. It could be a strong commitment for someone joining. What kind of millennials are joining? Are they still studying? Do they take 100 days off to be a part of the program? Can they do the program at the same time? Can you elaborate a bit more about your program?

Andrea Myles: As we know millennials are time-poor & grabbing their attention is really difficult. So, the cross-border program for millennials is online & part-time for 90 days & the first five days are full time & take place in China & the last five days are full time & take place in Australia. So, it’s only really 4 to 7 hours per week in that middle bracket or 90 days that people need to commit. I mean that still is really a strong commitment. Some participants take even more time of course. But the minimum is 4 to 7 hours per week in a part-time online sense & you can do that from anywhere in the world.

So yeah, the fact that you have two opportunities to see each other face-to-face, I think it is a real kind of secret sauce of the program because it’s not just once-off. You know that after you spend five days for example in Beijing that in 95 days’ time, you’re going to see each other again & you have to perform. So, the culmination of the program is the start-ups – up there on stage having been created & they pitch their new start-up back to the businesses who have actually given us a challenge question right at the beginning of the program.

So, you know we partner with Alibaba & West Farmers which is an enormous Australian company – the number one highest employer in Australia. And they give us a business challenge question that they need people who understand both markets to attack. So, by the time 100 days comes around you’re sitting there in front of the executives of these companies showing them what you’ve got. So, it is a strong commitment but it’s not as much as having to take 100 days off, for example. Nobody could really do that. I certainly couldn’t when I was aged between 18 & 35, that’s for sure.

Matthieu David: Yeah, I see. What about the online part? Actually, when I read your document in my mind, it was much more about the offline part. Could you describe a bit more about what kind of material? What kind of teaching? What part is online? What do you bring online? Because that’s actually a big part of the program.

Andrea Myles: Yeah it is. So, when you’re accepted into the cross-border program for millennials, we basically put you into the MOOC – online learning tool. As you get delivered your business challenge question & then you’ve got modular sort of samples of learning that you can go through week by week with your team. So, we spend the first 50 days teaching innovation & we do that through teaching design thinking. So, we do a full cycle of design thinking so you can take a quick challenge question & break it down & figure out what would be a good idea in terms of a solution to that. But as we know, there are plenty of good ideas in the world, the difference is if you can make them commercial if you can actually turn it into a business & so that’s what we spend the second 50 days of a program on.

So, then we teach lean start-up. So how are you going to take a good idea & turn it into a commercial enterprise so that you identify the funding sources & you identify your customers? So, it’s that full process from idea through to commercialization. So that’s sort of the modules that the people are going through week by week.

Now overarching the entire cross-border program for millennials is an intercultural leadership module. So, if you got teams that have come together for the first time, they might not necessarily have experience working with people from – or who are different from them. This module actually teaches you how to create high performing teams when there is a ton of diversity within that team & to utilize that diversity to get the most innovative outcomes & to maximize your chances of winning the process.

Matthieu David: I see. How does the online part work more precisely? I’m sitting in front of my computer or my iPad & I’m going to listen, or to read or am I going to interact with all the people in the program? Could you describe more about it?

Andrea Myles: Yeah, absolutely, the entire thing is about the collaboration. So, when you come into the program everybody applies as an individual but then you’ve put into a team basically & so a team of four people. So you choose which subject areas you want to work on, for example, the way that we determine what people will work on is – we take a look on what’s in Australian national interest then what’s in China’s five year plan & the overlap of that is the future opportunity trajectory for a young person. We also overlay that the overlap with the UN sustainable development goals. So, we’re looking for social enterprises and looking for start-ups that are utilizing the power of business to solve problems that really matter. We’re not just looking for a new widget for babysitting. I mean – it already bores me. We’re looking for things that can really make difference, that tackle problem that is too large for one country to solve by themselves.

So, if you join the program then you sit there, the first thing we’ll fly you to China. So, you meet your teammates at the beginning. We go around the innovation ecosystem & all of whether Beijing or depending on which are host city is. Then everybody departs and goes back to their usual lives & you collaborate online – going through these modules together through establishing weekly meetings with your team & by actually going through the process of digesting the learning material. So, it can be videos & we try to make everything bilingual although we do require a minimum English standard to be in the program.

So, you go through the process together, we sort of step you through – this is how you might determine what the problem is. It’s the stage of design thinking. Then overlaid through that you also have a mentor. The mentor is often an alumnus from our program now which is quite great for somebody from business as well. So, you can actually start to bounce around your ideas when it comes to tackling this challenge. So, you’ve got this sort of learning methodology there for you. You’ve also got a network who can help you as well & then you’ve also got your team. So, you’re trying to figure out who’s got which superpower in your team & who can tackle which aspect of these questions to the best outcome.

So, online learning is very hard, don’t let anybody fool you. Most of the MOOC’s that around lies uncompleted. It’s really tricky. So, we’ve tried to create this critical mass pressure – where people have a responsibility to themselves, a responsibility to their team as well, but also responsibility because they’re part of this program & unless you’re performing in the program then you won’t advance, to be able to pitch at the end. So, we’re trying to sort of tackle a few different learning styles. Some people like to learn experientially, some people learn great online. But all of it is sort of really honing your skillset, which is a very 21st-century skill set. We need to be able to work remotely these days; we need to be able to collaborate with people who are very different from us & still perform. So, this experience in camp is a little bit like a sandpit where you can try out all of these different aspects & you’re not failing in front of your boss. If you try something that doesn’t work, you’re just showing your experimenting within this quiet experimental program.

Matthieu David: It is very interesting that you match Australian interest in necessities or economic situations with the five-year plan that’s very challenging. That’s already an example of how you have to adapt to the culture & to be intercultural. Because you wouldn’t think to fit with the five-year program of US president with the rest of the world, isn’t it? But it’s very interesting that you have thought about & developed this matching & then the higher level of matching which is the UN plan for sustainability. Talking about the people who are joining your program – who are most of them? Are they still students, are they working? are they looking for some students to open their minds & to find a new boost in their career – a new change in their life? What is it?

Andrea Myles: Yeah, well if I think about my own story in order to get where I’m getting China experience – I first went to China in 2002 & since then I’ve done a couple of master’s degrees in Chinese, in China. That’s a lot of effort & not everyone is going to be as crazy as I’m to be able to do that. So, when I wanted to open up the China Australia relationship too much more people, I basically figured out we have to find a way where you don’t have to make that much effort just to be able to participate in this.

So, in terms of the typical participant bearing in mind – 50% come from China & 50% come from Australia, so there’s a bit of difference. Also, it’s 50% female & 50% male, because that’s what the world looks like as well. The typical participant is not a student, they’re aged 29, they’re young professionals,  generally they have a university degree but it’s not a requirement to be in the program & basically they have to be able to show to us that they’ve put something out into the world that has been useful to somebody else & they need to be able to tell us about it. So that can be a piece of research, that can be a start-up of their own or a side hustle, it can be a great project that they worked on in their corporate life. Or they could be a musician who never went to a university, but they perform on the weekend & they’re able to show that they’re doing things in a different way & that they can really bring some different thinking into these teams.

We’re not looking for the usual suspects, we’re not looking for the people who’ve got all the scholarships, all the awards – although some of our participants have that it’s not the only criteria at all. We’re looking for diversity of thinking & how we can consider putting that together. So, at 29-year-old who has a hunger and an open mind & an interest in collaboration & has actually been able to fulfill that – has been able to produce something that’s really important.

Matthieu David: How do they know you? Where do you advertise? Where do you communicate? How do you reach out to them? Especially for Chinese?

Andrea Myles: Sure, so it’s actually not too different from the Chinese or the Australian side. So, we go into co-working spaces, innovation hubs, accelerator or incubator programs they’re really good for picking out that sort of entrepreneurial mindset. But we also go into the young professional associations as well – young engineers Australia, young lawyer’s Association of Hong Kong, these different sorts of pools of talent have been really great for us. Also, universities of course about 10-15% of the program are still studying.

So, I think it’s really important in the millennial group which is really about aged 18 to age 40 these days – it’s almost like two generations or two different sets of behaviors in there. So, it’s really important that we have people who are 19 – 20 years old, who behave quite differently to someone who’s 39 – 40 years old. So, universities are great, we get staff from universities, students from universities & also PHDs, and people in post-graduate – they might be a subject-matter expert but they’re really looking for an entrepreneurial skillset so that they can commercialize the research they’ve been working on. So, it’s not too different actually in Australia & China in terms of finding those different pockets.

Matthieu David: That’s very interesting to see that the population is actually similar in Australia & China in ways that they are working, co-working space, they’re part of an organization, of a youth organization.

Andrea Myles: This is the secret sauce right. Everybody talks about how different China & ‘insert’ country in the rest of the world is. But if you focus down onto some demographics – you can find some incredible commonalities between people. So that’s why we decided to make this – a cross-border program for millennials. Because we were taking people in a similar stage of life who tend to have a global mindset, tend to be digitally native, tend to be more open-minded than close-minded & tend to be socially responsible. So, whether you’re in China or in Australia there are thousands of people that you can find in that particular generation who are in that sort of thinking.

I get a little bit frustrated sometimes when we seem to focus on the little bit of difference between China & for example, Australia. Forgetting that 99% of us are identical – we’re human beings living on the planet at the same time, we breathe the same oxygen. In terms of thinking about collaboration, having that sort of mindset at the beginning means that you can establish shared values. We care about the environment; we care about not making mistakes – not repeating mistakes these sorts of things. So, it’s not actually that difficult, everyone will say that China is like another planet, but at the end of the day – we want tomorrow to be better than today. We want kids to be healthy. There’s a lot of work & a lot of shared value is the most succinct way that I can put it.

Matthieu David: I see that you have your own definition of Millennial. I feel the definition is not that straight – you said that between 18 to 40. It reminds me, my class of history, whether the 20th century is starting in 1914 because, actually, you enter a new century. I feel to be Millennial is to be in a mindset, it’s a different mindset – the education gap more than actually a precise age. Could you tell us what for you is the Millennial?

Andrea Myles: That is a really good point & it’s the reason why moving forward, even though we’ve been called the China – Australia cross-border programs for millennial project or camp, we actually won’t necessarily be keeping that strict, because you’re right, it is actually about mindset. So, anyone born between 1980 & the year 2000 that’s basically the most common definition of Millennial that we find it very handy. But of course, you can find people born in that time who think like that they were born in 1960 or have the view of the world that is like the world was in 1980 rather than how the world is now.

So, I think it’s really important that we’re a little bit flexible in terms of our definition. so, the Millennial mindset you can characterize it as I said before – digitally native, globally-connected, socially responsible & generally it’s actually a little bit of more conservative in some ways than Gen X. Because you have to think that Millennials really came of age, graduating universities right at the time of the global financial crisis. And so, having that understanding of how it is that we fit into the world, how it is that we’re going to have an impact in the world. It’s not just about a spending spree, it’s not just about endless optimism. It’s about making some really calculated efforts so that we have a secure future. But we do that without ruining the futures of our generations to come.

Matthieu David: You emphasize intercultural skills at the same time you say that actually the differences between China & the west, frankly speaking – are not that different. So, my question is: What is the program that has to be learned? What do you have to master in order to be at ease with Chinese when you’re an Australian or when you’re Chinese to be with an Australian? What actually should not be a concern or it’s a fake concern, it’s not a big issue?

Andrea Myles: Sure, that’s a great question. So, the number one thing that I think Australians tend to pick up in the program is the ability to listen more than they talk, one really common trait – it’s certainly common in Australians, but I would say it’s probably common in a lot of westerners – is that we confuse confidence with competence & if you go into the meeting you’re really expected to speak, contribute & sound like you’re on your A-game and so as long as you get that sentence out sounding like an alpha person then you’ve done well.

Whereas in China it’d be recognized for what it is, which is hot air. In the Australian context if you have teams which are meeting online & you have two Australian & two Chinese – commonly  what will happen is Australians will talk too much, they will sort of monopolize the oxygen in the room, the Chinese participants will tend to listen a lot more & then make the contribution at the end. However, in the Australian context, we often think out loud so the thinking is being done as it’s being said & the decisions are being made as they’re being said. So, if you contribute at the end the chance has been missed if the way the meeting is being run has been a western dominant way.

So, we learn that very quickly in the first iteration of the program in 2015 & then we subsequently created some videos & modules that we release in about week three when there’s the first deliverable of the program saying – hey! you might be noticing this, this & this taking place in your team. Do you notice that some team members are louder than others – because it’s not universal of course, I’m not saying that all Australian are like this or all Chinese are like that? It’s obviously much more complicated. But typically, Australian are rewarded for talking & Chinese are rewarded for great contributions.

So, it’s quite common that when there’s – it’s not conflict, but when there are issues that arise, you can peel that back and say well, maybe for the Australians we often say – just see what happens when you don’t speak as much & see what sort of leadership comes out in your team, Bearing in mind that the Australians are participating this program in their first language & the Chinese are participating in their second language by far and away. So, there are some things which are specific, specifically cultural. Some things are common to just native-speaking v/s non-native speaking team type relationship. Some things are typical to just remote collaborations. So yeah, often it’s about the Westerners speaking a little bit too much but I think the secret sauce is to just listen. If you spend more time listening than you do talking, I think that’s just a rule of thumb in China in general, you learn a lot more than you do if you listen to your own voice.

Matthieu David: Then what would be a fake difference. Actually, a lot of people talk about between China & Australia, China is a westerner speaking, but, actually, it’s a false stereotype of Chinese people, you don’t find in the groups when they mix or you don’t find since you have been in contact with China.

Andrea Myles: Well I guess, there’s sort of a false stereotype of Chinese people about Chinese being rote learners, being passive learners & just sort of sitting there & not contributing. I think there’s a lot more to that than just Chinese people can’t innovate – which is an incorrect stereotype around or that Chinese people are quiet. You know My God! When I was an international student in China, the contributions in class were very colorful. But if you create a circumstance where one group is very comfortable & one group is less comfortable, of course, the less comfortable group is going to be quieter.

So, it’s really about sort of tipping the balance of that & finding ways where you can set the groundwork and say everybody in this program is equal & everybody in this program has something fundamental to contribute. If that balance is out of whack, then the program suffers, the individuals don’t get as much out of it. So, it’s really about setting that agenda saying that every single contribution counts here, every single person is important here. There’s not one mainstream.

Matthieu David: I can’t hear you – can you?

Andrea Myles: Sorry, I’ve got you back.

Matthieu David: I think, on your LinkedIn profile what Sofya found on you is that – you’re working on improving China’s literacy in Australian high schools. How do you work on improving China’s literacy with Australian high schools? Is it focusing on history like hard knowledge – history, facts, conflictions philosophy, literature & so on? Or it is about behavior, how you behave with children? Could you tell me a bit more about what you do with people who are between 15 to 18?

Andrea Myles: Yeah, sure, so that was a program that I ran called ‘Engaging in China’ project. I’m not involved in it now actually so this is something from the past. But what we did was create a program whereby young people who were getting China experiences. Going to China, learning Chinese, all the amazing things that happen when you do that & bringing those young people as mentors into the classrooms for the 15-18-year old students to really see.

Because what we noticed was that the students weren’t necessarily being inspired by their teachers, I mean – they were to a certain extent but when their eyes really lit up was when they could see themselves in the picture. And often teachers are at least 20 years – 25 years older than you. So, what really made the difference & really kind of got the imagination going was helping those students to identify with peer mentors. So, we would bring the small team of mentors in the classrooms to talk about what it’s like when you take your Chinese learning like your Mandarin learning & take that over into getting China experiences & you’re starting to solve problems in real-time in China, you’re buying food, you’re taking a camel tour in Inner Mongolia and you’re doing all these incredible things.

It just sorts of adds a lot of colors to the classroom, which at the end of the day Chinese learning can be pretty dry & a lot of textbooks – Do I really need to know like all the names of all the animals? – ‘No’. I want to know how to actually interact with my mates, crack a joke & solve the problem that’s your stuff. Those sorts of stories were really, really pivotal & what we found was that students getting that – having that penny drop, tended to not drop out of their classes. Because in Australia we have more people studying Latin for the final high school exam than Mandarin.

Matthieu David: Really, interesting.

Andrea Myles: Yeah, it’s crazy!

Matthieu David: So that books we have at the University in Chinese & in China to study Chinese, have been adapted to actually what we want to talk about like – talking about dormitory, talking about very simple things.

Andrea Myles: Sure, like at the post office, At the airport.

Matthieu David: Yeah, I think it’s very useful. I have a question which is a bit decorated to what we just talk about – I’ve seen that you have a lot of awards: you’ve been named Australian women of influence, you’ve been alumni of the year, you’ve been top 25 FinTech influencers by finder & you are sitting at board of several universities. how did you get that? I think people who will see all those awards & all those board memberships they often ask themselves How can I get that? What do you get from it as well, as a board member? How does it work?

Andrea Myles: Yeah again, another really good question. So often – and I never realized this when I was at university, but I noticed other people would get one scholarship & then that was a proof point that got them a lot of other awards, scholarships & so on. So, getting that first one is really, really important. I always thought – if you have a look at my LinkedIn – I’ve got three degrees, I’ve studied two other short courses – I’ve done a lot of studies, none of it recently, or within the past 5 years. Because that was about the time that I started to not believe in meritocracy anymore because at one point I certainly believed – if I just get enough skills I’ll rise to the top. When I realized it’s actually three things that help you rise to the top.

So, skills are one of them; but it’s also your network; it is also your confidence. So, for any person listening I would say, map yourself in terms of out of 10. How well you’re performing in relation to your peers, in terms of skills, network & confidence. At one point I had all the skills in the world but very few networks, so I worked on that. I’ve worked on that very hard actually and I’m an introvert by nature so it’s more challenging than usual. And my confidence is always been pretty good I would say. But in terms of actually doing things, practicing things, getting experiences that do tend to boost your confidence, even more, to be able to own your own expertise.

 So, it’s actually three things that will help you rise to the top, you can have all the skills in the world but if you don’t apply for awards, you don’t get awards, it’s as simple as that. A degree is not – I mean they call it an award of course but it’s something that you get for your skills. An award is what you get for your efforts, your experiences. So as soon as I started to do things I started to apply for awards. I wasn’t nominated for the most influential women award, I nominated myself. Cause I wanted to win that award. Absolutely, you can’t just sit back & wait for it to happen, it doesn’t happen for anyone like that. it’s kind of a little bit of my background of where I’m coming out from this – I worked so hard for those degrees & those skills because I come from a really small town, in a really poor area from a family with no money.

I’ve always thought if I’m going to get anywhere, I’ve got to be able to do this myself. And at first, I thought it was just the education. Education is transformational – no question, but you also have to go & meet people, because some people have parents who are judges, some people have parents who are entrepreneurs. I don’t come from a community like that so I had to build it around myself and one of the easiest ways to create a network is to do something fantastic & build your own network out of that, rather than trying to tap into somebody’s else. So, the group of a cross-border program for millennials – that’s 300 people that I know personally – who I would vouch for, who would vouch for me. I created a network around myself rather than trying to hijack somebody else’s.

So, number one – apply for stuff, absolutely, but before that do your own thing. I sort of realized I guess a little bit earlier than some, that the game of life it wasn’t built for the people like me to win actually, & I could work my hardest and I’m still not going to win that particular game. Because I don’t respect the rules anyway & those rules weren’t built for me to win, I could get maybe halfway but if I create a game where everybody can win including people like me, then you create your network, you create some success & that has been way more rewarding. It builds my sanity; it builds my confidence & it gets attention because it’s not the usual way that people have done things. But I think it’s the way of the future, to create ways where we can all win.

Matthieu David: Aren’t we touching here a difference in terms of education between Chinese & Westerners? Where Chinese would follow a woman’s path most of the time about education. Which is to go to Gaokao & try to be well ranked and so on, as you said – successful education. Whereas, in the west, we would’ve many examples of people who broke the rule – Steve Jobs being one & so on, as actually an ideal of what to be, and the opposite in China the ideal would be to be a custodian and to succeed by studying. Do you feel this difference?

Andrea Myles: Yeah, I do. But I think the main determinant is social pressure. There’s a ton of people in China that would point to Jack Ma being one of them. He didn’t go through and do post-graduate study & get all the awards. He felt that sort of itchy feeling that something had to change, he went &changed it. He wasn’t the greatest student or whatever but he had some sort of urgency about himself that something could be done. Yes, he is a unique person but there’s also something quite universal about him as well which is why he’s such a beloved role model to people.

So, of course, it is different in China & Australia – I mean even having a degree in Australia these days is seen as a base level. Before it used to be high school or even year ten. But now it’s almost like you have to have one degree just as the basic entry piece. However, the thing that eclipses all of that – is results. So yes, I have studied & that having a skill set has absolutely helped it. But I can tell you I learned more just living in China and getting China experience than I did from reading a book on China. Of course, you learn more from the science experiment in front of you than just reading about the science experiment. I think what is really interesting in getting China’s experience these days is that the scale and momentum of the economy right now. It is far easier to get things happening in China than that 20 years ago.

So, I feel that if you have a little bit of success behind you like you’ve got your Gaokao & you’ve gone to a university in China right now getting the right sorts of people around you. You can create something because of the external economic conditions, but also because of the funding that is around for the young Chinese people to actually create their own entrepreneurial enterprise. That doesn’t mean your mom & dad will agree with you, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be pressure there – it’s very, very real. But things are changing these days. When I first started going to China the job for choice for 29-year-old – everyone would want to get a job in the government. Now that’s not so true, people want to get a job in Tencent or in Alibaba or Baidu’s. Those benchmarks are absolutely shifting.

Matthieu David: We’re close to the end. We still have eight questions, so the eight questions you can answer as fast as you can & if you want to take a bit more time you can as well. We have 6 – 8 minutes to go for eight questions. What books inspired you the most in what you’ve achieved so far?

Andrea Myles: Okay, books which have inspired me the most – I’ve read a really great book recently called ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari, that’s a really good book. It’s not so much being China specialist, I want to read books in getting China experience. I want to read books from completely different industries & help integrate those into my daily China business practice. So, the non-fiction book ‘Sapiens’ is really about the evolution of humankind & how those sorts of external pressures have created these human beings that we’re today. Understanding that can fundamentally affect how you’ll do business. Originally, I was a trained neuroscientist & then in 2002, I went to China & happily absolutely fell in love with the place & found it so much more fascinating than tissue slides. So, I’ve always tried to find the ways that I can still incorporate – that scientific knowledge into what it is that I do today. So yeah, my number one book would be ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari.

Matthieu David: What do you read to stay up-to-date on china? What are your sources?

Andrea Myles: I was thinking about this & it’s a little bit of silly answer but it’s WeChat. It’s my friends to be actually in the flow of what is going on in China. I think there is no better source than watching what is happening on WeChat – the conversations that are taking place, the character & the nature of what’s possible on WeChat as a platform & as the content itself. I think it’s absolutely fascinating. Of course, I’m always reading reports on China, I’m a china generalist so I’m interested in a wide array of industries & the way that those are evolving. So, I do read the daxue consulting reports – I love them, I absolutely digest them. I’m actually into China Paradigm podcasts which is why I was very excited to do this one. This is a great resource – and the trick is to play the one double-speed, that way you can get twice as much content.

Matthieu David: About WeChat, just to elaborate a bit on this part – When I interview people & ask them what are the sources about China. They say LinkedIn – WeChat is a busy social media – which is something I wouldn’t imagine like 10-15 years ago people would use social media as one of the main sources of information. When you say WeChat, does it refers to more groups, is it moments or is it when you talk one to one to people?

Andrea Myles: It’s actually the combination of the three. I wouldn’t say that you can only do one of those. If you’re only chatting with your friends you just get a small lens. But the groups are fantastic, I can’t remember the last time I went into a LinkedIn group. But the WeChat groups are really rich & again I’m a member of a wide array of those – so there are China Australia relationship ones, there are ones that are just focused on Chinese innovation, just focused on particular industries. But it’s really cool to see those & obviously being able to read English & Mandarin or Chinese it’s invaluable, & to be able to get China experience and understand that sort of trends before they become well-known here in Australia. And moments – yeah, I do because I follow thought leaders on there, but I’m also just kind of seeing what my friends are up to, what it is that’s catching their imagination.

Matthieu David: What book on China would you recommend to read?

Andrea Myles: I would recommend ‘China’s Disruptors’ by Edward Tse – that’s a really good one – like if you’re sort of looking for something kind of entry-level to understand the disruption coming out of China, innovation coming out of China sort of business model innovation that is really characterizing this phase of innovation in China. That’s a really good one & Ed is a great guy as well; I always like his writing.

Matthieu David: I think you do a lot of different things. I think you think productivity, you think to be efficient. What productivity practice tool do you like the most? Do you have the software you use? Do you have a habit, something to be productive?

Andres Myles: Okay, I’m going to have two answers. So, one – is airline mode like flight mode, I just turn my phone off, like having all of those distractions and those notifications – so flight mode & not disturbing will increase your productivity absolutely. I think it’s more about practices than tools, everyone looks for the tools because their practices suck. But no tool is going to be able to overcome crappy practices. So, I check my e-mail twice a day & then I just respond & do what’s needed at that point. If I’m sitting down & I’m doing a piece of writing on something, everything is off, it’s out of my reach & I sit there & I do it.

If something pop-ups into my head which I need to look up I just write a note – like handwritten & I can check that in 30 seconds at the time when I go back online. But if I had my phone right there & I was checking it at the time I’m going to check that then I’m going to see a notification, then I’m going to just answer a quick e-mail, then I’m going to go down looking up whatever it was I want, before I know it – I’ve lost an hour. So, finding those efficiencies in your practice itself, that’s the way to do it. And yeah, get off the internet as much as possible.

Matthieu David: If you had some extra time, what idea would you like to work on?

Andrea Myles: What I would love to do? – so my hometown is a place called ‘Blue Mountains’ in New South Wales. And basically, if you grow up there, you grow up in this little ribbon township that is surrounded by world heritage pockets. It’s really amazing. What I would do is I’d probably just set up a little house up there & help the local businesses be able to tap into the Chinese tourist market. I had to move out of there because it was just simply too small for my brain, Oh My God! There weren’t any jobs up there, I didn’t want to work in a service station for the rest of my life. But every year there’s a 7% growth in the number of Chinese tourists that go to the Blue Mountains because it’s so beautiful. So yeah, I would set up a little consulting industry there & help the local business to be able to serve this really interesting customer. That’s coming through that wants to fall in love with the Blue Mountains too. Because not many people in the Blue Mountains have a Chinese skillset, it’s a little bit more difficult. So yeah, I would probably chill out a little.

Matthieu David: What is the most surprising experience you have had so far in getting China experience?

Andrea Myles: Okay, the most surprising experience for me is how at home I feel in China. Obviously, I’m a white person & I grew up in Australia. So, becoming aware of my own ethnicity is not something that happened to me until I went to China – until I went overseas for the first time. Having an Anglo ethnicity here is seen as being invisible, of course, it’s not – it’s very much an ethnicity, with a whole range of culture but it’s so ubiquitous here to not be well-identified. So, what I know is that I feel more comfortable in China than I do in some executive spaces here in Australia. Because they’re still not comfortable with women, they’re still not comfortable with a young woman being a CEO. At least in getting China experience, when I’m different – well, of course, I’m different, no problem & we just take it from there. Yeah, so the most surprising thing is how at home I actually feel in that particular space.

Matthieu David: Even though you would be considered and still be different, but you feel still at home.

Andrea Myles: Yeah, I do, I guess feeling like a bit of outsider my whole life. I actually more enjoy feeling like an outsider than I do an insider. Feeling like an insider is a bit uncomfortable for me for some reason. So, if I’m an outsider in China – Beautiful, No problem. But in Australia where I’m meant to be an insider & yet we still have problems with sexism and discrimination & so on, it really troubles me that I should feel at home in a leadership boardroom in Australia & yet I’m unusual & that’s something that we’re working hard to change.

Matthieu David: What have you done in the past that very few people know about & you’d like to share?

Andrea Myles: Oh, okay, so how did I get to China in the first place. I studied neuroscience as I said then I realized that I didn’t want to be a neuroscientist. I needed to save up money because I knew I wanted to go overseas to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. The way I saved money was by becoming an artist model, that means for three years I would walk into a beautiful art studio & posed naked for all the artists in there & that’s what I did for three years.

So, like I said I don’t mind being an outsider, but what it allowed me to do from the age of 22 to 23 was to just sit silently with my own mind for hours at a time. And I think that was a very healthy thing to be able to do at the time, so I really know myself, because of just having to sit with myself. But I also understood what it’s like to take a path less traveled & to really challenge yourself. So yeah, not too many people know that – that’s actually how I got China experience in the first place but I think I incorporate the lessons that I learned from those three years every day.  

Matthieu David: It may be a bit repetitive to what we talked about but maybe there’s something else coming up with this question. What is the most interesting thing for you in China? Is it feeling actually at home & different at the same time? Is it something interesting that attracted you in the first place in China?

Andrea Myles: Yeah, it is a tricky question. It is sort of asking what interests you about China, is sort of like saying what interests you about science. No, it’s too big – like it’s just too big to be able to pinpoint one thing. But what I find interesting about being interested in China right now is that we are – like everybody alive on the planet right now – we’re witnessing this moment where China will return to being the nation with the largest GDP. And up to about 300 years ago & then 5000 years previous to that, China had the largest GDP. So, it’s on our watch that we’re seeing this tipping point taking place & if you mirror or overlay China’s rise & the rise of digital at the same time. That’s really what characterizes our lens from 2000 to 2050, this is a really interesting time to be alive. So, for me, I wouldn’t be doing anything other than focusing on China and focusing on innovation right now. Because there are no bigger stories around.

Matthieu David: Thanks a lot for your time. I hope you enjoyed. It’s nearly – it’s already actually one hour. So, thanks for your time.

Andrea Myles: Yeah, No problem. Great chat.

Matthieu David: I hope everyone enjoyed it.


China paradigm is a China business podcast sponsored by Daxue Consulting where we interview successful entrepreneurs about their businesses in China. You can access all available episodes from the China paradigm Youtube page.

Do not hesitate to reach out our project managers at dx@daxue-consulting.com to get all answers to your questions

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