CAO YANG – MY BEST FRIEND IN CHINA
Cao Yang is my best friend in China. The friendship didn’t grow the Dutch-European immediate way. It grew the Chinese way: over time. Seven years ago l started worldwide research on trend-watching and smart innovations. Cao read about it and invited me to his university, Shanghai Institute of Technology. My Dutch university, Fontys, had to pay the travel. They did because for them it had worth to show ‘our’ creative combination of trend-watching and innovation to the Chinese educational landscape.
Cao was interested. He participated in my lessons. He even went with the students and me to the city of Shanghai to trend-watch himself. That promptly stimulated me to propose broader plans for co-operation. Like branch-specific trend-watching, like trend-watching with companies and students together, like adding a Chinese twist to our ‘from-trend-watching-to-innovation’-methodology. Cao thought it all “very interesting”. But a follow-up didn’t materialize. Maybe Cao had just been polite to me. Maybe he only wanted to avoid ‘face’?
After five months Cao invited me over again. Again I enthusiastically brought potential research plans to the table. Again it was “very interesting”. Again nothing happened. Though the food on the dinner table grew plentiful. And I met the boss of the boss.
Then after six rounds everything changed. At visit number seven, greeting me at the airport, Cao lay his hand upon my shoulder and spoke “hello, my friend”. Now time was ripe for serious commitment. Cao made me the first professor in China on Trend-watching & Innovation. Also regarding research projects the Chinese gates opened. Our professional devotion to each other deepened. Couldn’t it all have gone more quickly? No, according to Cao. Melons ripen in their own time. Then they fall into your lap.
In Europa professional bonding goes fast and superficial. I have a good idea. You have a good idea. Let’s start. When things work out, we become friends. When things don’t, we go different ways without much ado or friendship. In China friendship grows step by step. But they endure. This Summer Cao and I exchanged holiday pictures. I sent him a perfectly empty palm beach. Plus some Sri Lankese baby elephants. He sent me a pictures with him and his older mum – because on holidays you don’t leave your parents at home – posing in a shopping mall. The intercultural differences continue. The friendship too.
This column was originally published in Dutch newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad. Read the column in Dutch here.