China should get rid of the 996–a work schedule of 12 hours a day from 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week (72 hours in total) — and replace it with a new work system where people work smarter, not harder.
There was a time China was a poor country. Its people had to work long hours under the close monitoring and control of management. They had to make cheap labor-intensive products to compete against other countries in the Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
That was a long time ago, when China’s economy was based on imitation, the copying and replicating of products developed elsewhere, in America, Europe, and Japan.
Nowadays, things have changed. China is no longer a poor country. And its economy is undergoing a transition from imitation of foreign products to innovation, the development of its own products developed at home.
China’s ongoing transition from imitation to innovation is evidenced by a couple of reports that confirm China’s closing the global innovation gap with its US, European and Japanese counterparts.
One of them is the Global Innovation Index: Energizing the World with Innovation report, published by Cornell University, INSEAD, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and their Knowledge Partners (Cornell University and Partners report).
The report, which relies on international patent filings and scientific publishing activity to identify innovation clusters in 126 countries, ranks China 17 in 2018, not too far below America, which ranks 6. Since 2016, China has been in the top 25 group and has risen consistently in the rankings.
Then there’s Bloomberg’s 2018 innovation ranking, which ranks China 19, not too far behind the US, which ranks 11.
The transition from an imitation-based to an innovation-based economy is very important for China, as it tries to overcome the challenge of “middle income trap.”
That’s a situation where economic growth slows down as an emerging market economy reaches middle income.
Innovation is also important as China tries to deal with another challenge — The Lewis point, a situation where an emerging market economy runs out of cheap labor.
That point happens when the excess labor stuck in the agricultural sector shrinks, pushing labor costs higher, eroding the country’s competitive advantage in labor intensive industries, tapering economic growth.
As China’s economy is making the transition from a labor-intensive to an innovation-based economy, its people need to work smarter, not harder, to compete in world markets.
That’s why China should get rid of the 9-9-6 system of work and adopt new forms of organization and new norms of work that engage and reward people accordingly.
Once again, the Alibaba’s, the Tencents, and the Baidu’s of China should learn a lesson or two from their American counterparts in motivating the Chinese people and releasing their ingenuity and creativity in developing and marketing technology intensive products.