Posted by: Chris | 23/02/2011

“Designed by Apple in California – Assembled in China”

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from an unknown colleague at IBM, who had stumbled upon my blog. He was very nice to say that it was a very unusual blog that he found interesting to read but he was also quick to point out that I hadn’t written anything in quite some time. Unfortunately true – I am a great procrastinator and while I sometimes have ideas for new topics, I never sit down to write them up.

Now I promised this colleague that his prodding would be enough to put me over the hump to write a new post.

One of the things that has always puzzled me is the nature of work. Particularly the work in our environment where we are responsible with innovation and leading the company to new businesses.

Last year I heard an interesting talk by a German author Anja Förster. She started with the example of the printing on most Apple products: “Designed by Apple in California – Assembled in China” to exemplify the management dilemma she wanted to talk about.

Which is more important?

Which is more important?

“Assembled in China” stands for the management methods and expectations in employees we had throughout most of the last century, employees were expected to be hard working, obedient, punctual, and if possible intelligent. Interestingly enough you can pretty much order people to behave like this and also measure and enforce such behavior. Most management approaches still follow this model.

“Designed in California”, however stands for new employee qualities. We want employees to be engaged, be creative, and have passion for what they do. The interesting challenge is that these latter qualities cannot be obtained with the same management methods as the former nor can they really be measured all that easily. In fact, the old management methods probably run completely counter to what we look for in employees today. If you think not everybody can develop these qualities, think of what people do in their spare time, how they pursue sports (train for marathons, climb mountains, …) or other hobbies (work in charities, sing in choirs, build cars, …) – how can we translate that type of engagement and passion to the work place?

Do we do it by setting aggressive targets (financial or otherwise)? Do we do it by offering rewards (financial or otherwise)? I would claim that more often than not, neither financial targets nor incentives, serve to inspire these qualities. I believe often it is a sense of doing/changing something important, of charting unexplored territory, of doing the impossible, or simply belonging to a team is what causes engagement and passion and lets creativity flow.

As an aside, I worked in sales for a few years and when I started, I was told all sales people are “coin operated”, my experience was very different, they cared about doing something good for their clients.  Yes, they also cared about winning against the competition, but the sales plan always came last and never drove their actions. Now this may have been unique, but then I may have been fortunate to be with that group of people.

I wonder what your experiences are in developing engagement and passion and being creative at work, your own and that of your colleagues or employees?

Please let me know your comments.



  1. I think you’re absolutely right. If you haven’t already, check out “Drive – the surprising truth about what motivates us” by Daniel Pink

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by IBMResearch, Jean Staten Healy, IBM Switzerland, warren hart, Kandu Tapia and others. Kandu Tapia said: RT @IBMResearch: IBM's Zurich lab director blogs about the nature of work. Give it a quick read — #innovation […]

  3. Another interesting post. Indeed, management philosophies in highly creative fields (e.g., computer science) can and should differ from those developed to supervise and organize manual labor. Daniel Pink talks about this a bit, I think many aspects of his philosophy resonate with your observations:

    But I wonder, in what ways do you think IBM Research promotes a healthy atmosphere for productive creativity? My understanding is that in contrast to IBM proper — which has separate management and technical tracks — the research wing offers no such delineation. Instead, highly accomplished researchers (who naturally excel at research) are rewarded with management positions, despite having no real interest (or ability!) in managing people. Leading projects and managing people are tasks that not only draw from entirely different skill sets, but often introduce competing priorities. Any manager that is also concerned with their own research agenda has an automatic conflict of interests: “Do I let my employees explore their own avenues of research, or do I restrict their projects to those in my area so that I may accumulate more patents and papers?” In my experience, the latter mindset usually surfaces in the most ambitious of personalities, and it typically leads to an environment of intellectual slavery.

    I would argue that unless strict policies are in place to prevent abuse of power and authority, putting Ph.D.’s into management positions is the most dangerous move that a research lab can make. Otherwise, the constant internal political posturing will ultimately cause the supremely talented to seek employment in other companies that offer the autonomy required for truly innovative research.

    • I agree, not always the most brilliant researcher is also the most brilliant manager, which is why, like the rest of IBM, we do have a dual career path also in IBM Research. You can move up the technical ladder without going into management.

      We certainly try to avoid intellectual slavery by promoting a system where people can change groups and define/migrate to those project where they feel they can have the most success as a professional. After all, as you point out, it is an open market and having a variant of it internally may let you keep the best talent.

  4. Speaking for myself, you are spot on. I get exited the moment I know what I do makes a difference, when I know some one cares or it has a new interesting idea.

  5. Interesting article.

    As I’m reading Maslow’s “The Farther Reaches of Human Nature” at the moment, I’m inclined to suggest that the dichotomy you describe between “California” and “China” here is not dissimilar from the difference between primary and secondary creativity in individuals. Where primary creativity represents the ‘real’ / unconscious self, where freedom gives us the space to spawn new and exciting ideas, secondary creativity is the ‘slog’ required to realise those ideas.

    Are we therefore outsourcing secondary creativity? Is this a natural progression from segregation of duties in as ever-globalising world? And what is the implication for all of us on missing out on all of the potential ideas from those who are suppressed into the secondary role?

    While it is cheaper to operate in this way, I guess this is where we naturally find ourselves now. But as the developing economies become more dominant, we might find we the developed economies are missing vital ‘realisation’ resource that’s now committed to developing the ideas spawned from within their own borders.

    • Interesting observation about loosing the realization capability. I would agree that retaining this ability is key to the developed world in maintaining their long term competitiveness.

  6. Words about work I read many yeras ago, at the time I started in IBM -1965.

    “But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born,
    And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,
    And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.

    You will find it all at:

  7. Well, Matthias, on your comments re Salesplan: It should motivate people and drive personal qualities into the sales community that help both for the longterm and for the shortterm. Salesplans should be designed carefully.

    However, if salesplans are ill-designed (and I saw many of them), then people just disregard them, as their actions become disconnected to the outcomes of the salesplan. There is no commeon recepie.

    A good innovation culture that helps triple – the clients, the employees and the company is something that cannot be built overnight, however it can be destroyed quickly. One key element must be that innovation and a professional, profitable care towards the client should be rewarded, often the milking of a franchise is overweighted in a salesplan until the milk dries out.

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