Little Rice: Smartphones, Xiaomi, and the Chinese Dream
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"A perfect primer for anyone looking to do business in China."
"I will read anything Clay writes, but when he's writing about the intersection of Chinese manufacturing and the Western Internet, man, is that ever in my zone."
--Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
"Shirky accomplishes more in 128 pages than most books would in 1,000. LITTLE RICE is a company profile, industry narrative, country history lesson, political dissection (sometimes bordering on polemic), a review of the current state of globalization, and discussion of its future."
"Although the author’s technical competence is evident throughout this interesting book, his ideas are expressed in simple, clear language that should appeal to anyone with an interest in China, and not just those with a special interest in technology." Lanxin Xiang, Survival: Global Politics and Strategy
"A compact, accessible, and intelligently delivered update on China's evolving economic and political front via one particularly accomplished electronics venture."
"Shirky investigates the rise of the Xiaomi start-up culture...Recommended for those who enjoy reading about how mobile technology works and particularly in exploring its impact on global business."
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I didn't know anything about this topic yesterday and now, after finishing the book, I have a number of openings, both an overview of what China is like and resources to find out more. Thanks Clay!
The book is published by Columbia Global Reports which aims, "to combine the immediacy of narrative power of journalism with the intellectual ambition and acuity of scholarship." The book succeeds in one out of four, it harnesses impressive narrative power to communicate a lot of important information in a more or less coherent story. That's much more pleasant to read than dry analysis, and much easier to understand and retain.
It's not as good on immediacy, most of the direct reporting is from 2011 to 2013, and is good story telling to illustrate points in the more serious accounts, but all the important stuff is from the general business press, not direct experience, not primary sources. The lack of primary sources also disqualify it as scholarship, but in any event, it's neither ambitious nor acute. It's a description of the Chinese technology business at a point in time, with a lot of context, but there are no conclusions or insights.
Even if your specific interest is in the history of Xiaomi, there are a number of more focused English-language accounts (such as China's Disruptors ). But if you want the wide-angle view, Little Rice does a better job. It's not really an either/or choice, Little Rise is a quick, fun read that provides a brief immersion into some important global trends viewed from Shanghai and Hong Kong (I don't say "viewed from China" as there are other Chinese perspectives).
One minor quibble is the book starts with a map of the world, with China relegated to the right margin, in a projection that makes it look one-fourth the size of Greenland instead of more than four times as big. A book hoping to shift a Western reader's viewpoint in a Sinocentric direction could make a better start with an equal-area projection that puts China in the center.
Cellphone nerds and astute business watchers already know of Xiaomi (meaning “Little Rice” in Mandarin, hence the book’s title) and opinion varies as to how innovative, daring and futuristic the company is. Certainly one thing is for certain, if it continues to expand and develop at such a pace as it has thus far, expect fireworks in the global marketplace! Already, the author notes, the company is the third largest vendor of smartphones in the world – only pesky Apple and Samsung are standing in its way. Is there a real danger that this company may eclipse one or more of its competitors? Who knows, but previously many people were adamant that Nokia would be top dog until, err, it wasn’t, and there is no sign of a recovery yet. It has a lot of ground to make up.
Well the book does what it sets out to do and it does it well. It is competitively priced, a quality session read and is something that can be significantly out-of-date in just a few months – such is the fast-moving nature of the market. Read it whilst it is hot!
The author nails the importance of the mobile telephone in just a few words and if you reflect on it, it is not hyperbole: “The mobile phone is a member of a small class of human inventions, a tool so essential it has become all but invisible, and life without it unimaginable.” Of course, food, drinking water and shelter are more important, yet once you get past the basic elements of human survival, the humble cellphone is capable of being a lot more than just a means of calling. It can deliver news, provide location services, act as a mobile wallet for distant money transfer and much more; so many things that we take for granted today could be unimaginable just decades ago. It is everywhere, the author notes, citing ethnographer Jan Chipchase as saying that there are only three universally personal items that someone will carry with them no matter where they live – the first two are money and keys; the third is the mobile phone, making it the first new invention added to that short list in three thousand years.
Where are most of the mobile telephones made nowadays? Bzzt, China! Chinese companies are transitioning from being mere manufacturers to designers and naturally large potential targets are in their sights. Xiaomi has a head start and you can be sure they are not the only company chasing the dream of success. Through this book you learn how the company seeks to pump-up its customers to super-loyal users, providing feedback and quality market research in their wake. A wise company is not only responsive to its customers needs but it actively seeks out their opinions, both positive and negative. Maybe some established players could benefit from a little humility before it is too late?
Is the company finding its feet or overheating? Is there an internal clash or two whilst its identity is discovered, polished and formed? One design is lauded as being distinctive and forward thinking, the next is said to be a derivative (or a blatant copy of rivals’ designs). What will the next product be? Can any clues be inferred from the next stake in the ground? The book doesn’t say, yet it implies that the company is not sitting still.
This is not a hagiography or varnished PR book. It is a credible, interesting concise look at a fascinating company that is making waves. Even if you have no specific interest in mobile telephony but care for a good read, this could be something great to consume in an evening. It can also be an ideal travel companion as it is a powerful read without the overhead. Pared to the bone and ready for action, in other words.
Top international reviews
Ho dato 3 stelle perché nonostante il libro sia breve, l'autore ripete spesso delle frasi parola per parola pur di allungare.
Era meglio fare direttamente un articolo.
***ascoltato in audible***
Un libro da leggere per capire il secolo cinese, e l'inizio della creatività orientale.