Thursday, October 20, 2005

Problem Solving

Over the course of 2 years doing research on the Silicon Valley of China, I encountered numerous problems that required skill, perseverance, networking, and creativity to solve. The difficulties ranged from mundane?finding a university and professor to sponsor my research?to the cultural?convincing top executives at Beijing UFSoft Software Corporation that I could conduct objective research on their company operations. There were several different skill sets that I drew on to solve these problems. Besides my knowledge of Chinese culture and language, I sized up the situations, networked with relevant people, and persevered in accomplishing my goals to solve these problems.

To conduct research in Chinese companies is no simple feat. The first step was to obtain a Chinese visa for one year at a university in order to gain sponsorship both for the visa process and for future inquires into my research goals. Using leads from my research committee, I contact two Peking University professors. I also renewed a connection with the Peking University Mandarin Center, where I undergone advanced language training two years pervious. I arranged for one of the professors to write a sponsoring letter which I had delivered to the Mandarin Center. In two weeks, using money I had sent with application, an express letter containing my visa documents arrived. Facing the initial problems of visa and sponsorship, I moved quickly and arranged to have necessary documents delivered and a enrollment letter at Peking University prepared in a total time of less than one month. I was on my way to Beijing to study companies in the Silicon Valley of China.

Two of the three companies were relatively small, with less than ten people. In those two cases, access was not a problem since no proprietary technology or influential information was at stake. Despite this fact, two problems arose: one was how I would introduce myself to these companies; two was how I would explain my research so that I could both gain necessary access to managers and workers and guarantee the participants not to violate their rights as human subjects. I relied on an old friend to introduce me to companies that he knew beforehand. This method guaranteed a minimum of trust, which I subsequently used to explain my research project on the successes of China’s Silicon Valley, a patriotic thing for people in China. This cast my research in a positive light, which facilitated access to managers and workers, as well as revealing the nature of my research that protected individual’s rights of whether or not to participate.

Finally, the biggest challenge I faced in my research was how to get access to a large, prestigious company. I spent one month contacting friends, advisors, and government officials I knew to help me. On a hunch, I emailed to head of Beijing UFSoft for an interview. After the interview, over diner, I mentioned that I needed on the ground information about a large company in China. The executive suggested that I work at UFSoft. This was the opportunity I had hoped for but, knowing how China business and culture work, I could not suggest it myself. I allowed the executive to think that it was he who had thought of the idea. My initiative in setting up the interview, calling on friends to guarantee my character, as well as understanding Chinese culture and this executive’s personality lead to a solution and my access to UFSoft for research. I accomplished my goals through initiative, skill, networking and perseverance that are reflected most poignantly in this example.

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