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OM in the News: China, High-Tech, and the 996 Schedule

November 9, 2018

“Crazy Work Hours and Lots of Cameras: Silicon Valley Goes to China,” is the title of the New York Times article (Nov. 6, 2018), describing the visit by US high tech execs to China.

A Chinese voice-controlled A.I.-powered family robot

The Silicon Valley natives were introduced to the Chinese concept of 996: Work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., 6 days a week. One Chinese technology executive said he worked 14-15 hours a day at least 6 days a week. Another said he worked every waking hour. The reaction from a group of Silicon Valley executives: Wow! “We’re so lazy in the U.S.!” blurted a venture capital investor.

Chinese technology executives, they found, were even more driven and more willing to do whatever it takes to win. But punishing work schedules are only the beginning. They found Chinese tech executives to be less reflective about the social impact and potential misuse of their technologies, a worrisome quality in a country with loosely enforced privacy laws, strict government censorship and a powerful domestic surveillance.

The Americans got upfront lessons on how quickly China embraced mobile phones, electronic payments and video streaming, and how intensely it has pursued artificial intelligence. (For example,  mobile payments are almost ubiquitous in the biggest Chinese cities, but setting up an account requires a local mobile number and a Chinese bank account). In addition, everything seemed to be moving at an extraordinary speed. While Silicon Valley start-ups raise funding every 18 to 24 months on average, the most successful Chinese companies do it every 6 months. They also found that everybody working in the firms visited is Chinese. Even in its early days, Google had employees from 39 nationalities speaking 40-plus languages.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Compare the U.S. to Chinese high-tech work styles.
  2. Would the 996 concept work in the U.S or Europe?


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