Over dinner with my former colleague ZZ in Changsha, he mentioned something that caught my attention. “You know in China, we have this saying: Tixi jueding suoyou de dongxi. The tixi decides all things.”
I had to look up “tixi” (体系) in my Pleco Chinese dictionary first. “System; Setup” Pleco defines. ZZ went on to define his use of the term further: “the rules that individuals use to work together.”
We were discussing ZZ’s new role as a construction manager for a Chinese developer. ZZ was talking about how much he appreciated the culture at his new company. At the same time, he was dismayed at the status of the construction projects he was now working on. “A lot should have been done differently at the start.”
Whether the construction of a new building or the start of a company, the “setup” of the system holds a lot of power; it decides a lot. For example, I absolutely believe that the culture of a company originates from the values and personalities of its early founders. Similarly, making smart decisions about a building at the start of design (for example, its siting) impacts operations and experience within the building later on.
I asked ZZ: As tixi progresses, who decides its success? “The people,” ZZ replied. In his typical way, he went on: “You know, we have another saying. Shang you zhengce, Xia you duice.” Off I went to Pleco. “The higher authorities have policies, but the localities have ways of getting around them.” ZZ offered his own take: “Policy can’t update faster than people change.” For all the importance of tixi, the system, in the beginning, there needs to be ongoing buy-in from the participants for it to be successful.
When starting something new, the time of setup / system design in an incredibly rich opportunity. But, don’t forget what it will take for that system to continue to be successful: aligned motivations of participants.