During the 2017 Fortune Global Forum, held in Guangzhou, China, last December, the key themes of “openness & innovation, shaping the global economy” were palpable. While attending the FGF, I was struck by the number of sessions and conversations that challenged my frame of reference and world view. Having not returned to China since 2010, the pace of change, innovation and disruption were mind-blowing.

Some of the assumptions I had about low-cost, low skills manufacturing blew out the window when Tim Cook was interviewed: in China, Apple finds advanced manufacturing skills, craftsmanship, and robotics, “a rare combination”. The number 1 attraction is the quality of people and there is no shortage of those skills in China. The popular conception that companies go to China for low labor costs hasn’t been true for years in many industries.

Data was at the heart of almost all interviews and panels, mastering data, integrating data, monetizing data with AI impacting all areas of the economy. As one participant stated, the ABCs of success can be summarized by A:AI, B:Big Data, C:Cloud Computing…

What does that mean for the future of work? While most participants expressed optimism about the opportunity for new jobs and the ability to retrain existing workforces, the question is still up for debate and very different perspectives are expressed by economists and global thought leaders.

It was striking to hear the CEO of TCL Corporation (75,000 employees, 23 research institutes and 21 manufacturing bases) share what he sees are the 3 critical skills needed to succeed in this disruptive environment:

  • Empathy
  • Communication skills
  • Continuous learning

For those of us working mostly in a western context, are we ready to shift our frame of reference about skills to develop and reward?

Are we in the West prepared for what is coming from the East, and China in particular?

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