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Choi's Research/2.Unpublished

Does China Need Democratizing HRD to Improve Innovation Capability?

by Jeonghwan (Jerry) Choi 2008. 8. 14.

Reaction Paper #1


Science and Technology Studies in China: The Question of “Innovation”

Langdon Winner (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

Jan 24 2008


Summary of Workshop


l       China is going to get own capacity of innovation

l       China’s new vision: 1) Endogenous innovation, 2) Harmonious development

l       Political constrains in Chinese schools (Curriculum and contents are restricted)

l       RPI’s “Think out of Box” education in Science & Engineering

l       Who is an Innovator?

n        Careful study of external/internal environment

n        Fine strategy

n        And then break it

l       Democratic social system is required to cultivate and sustain the innovation capacity in China

n        Innovation comes from strong interaction with “End-users”

n        Creativity and cooperation are the key “terms”

n        Participatory practice in Science & Engineering is recommendable to China



Does China Need Democratizing HRD to Improve Innovation Capability?


Quality of Personnel is one of the key factors in Innovation process. Drucker (2002) suggested in his article “Discipline of innovation” that innovation requires knowledge, ingenuity, and concentration. But on top of these requirements, there are prerequisites such as hard working, focused view, and purposeful vision. He pointed out if there is no diligence, persistence, and commitment, innovation can not be achieved at all. Pearson (2002) believes productive innovation – the kind that actually makes a company more competitive – arises from disciplines practiced by only human resources are more important than any other resources. Schumpeter J. (Edited by Clemson, the Essay, 1954) said whenever the economy or an industry or some firms in an industry do something else in a new way, outside of the range of existing practice, we may say it as a creative response:


Creative response has at least three essential characteristics. First, from the standpoint of the observer who is in full possession of all relevant facts, it can always be understood ex post; but it can practically never be understood ex ante; that is to say, it cannot be predicted by applying the ordinary rules of inference from the pre-existing fact … creative response-the frequency of its occurrence in a group, its intensity and success or failure-has obviously something, be that much or little, to do (a) with quality of the personnel available in a society, (b) with relative quality of personnel, that, with quality available to a particular field of activity relative to quality available, at the same time, to others, and (c) with individual decisions, actions, and patterns of behavior.


As described by Drucker, Pearson and Schumpeter, the most important resource for innovation is the human beings. Specifically the most valuable human resource for making new products or processes – more focused on the tangible innovation – is scientist and engineer. So, we can say the quality of scientists and engineers decides the level of innovation capability of organizations or countries. In this sense, cultivating qualified innovation leaders, usually who comes from various science and engineering field, is quite critical to increase the innovation capability.


What is the problem of Human Resource in China?


Economist (Aug 16th 2007) reported the most concerning thing to make a business in China is “Shortage of qualified staff.” Other Human resource issues are also listed high in business person’s worry-lists such as “Staff Turn over,” ‘Wage inflation,” “Cultural and linguistic differences,” and “Intellectual-property theft.” In the same report, the survey result of successful HR initiatives in south-east Asia was also provided. The top five successful HR practices are

             1. Increased training

             2. Mentoring System

             3. Personal-development plans

             4. Raise wages at greater than market rated

             5. Subsidized education/schooling

Except the number 4, successful Human Resource practices in Asia are highly related with education, training and development to improve the quality of human resource.

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Source: Economist (Aug. 16th 2007): Capturing Talents


HRD, the activity for improving the quality of human resource


As mentioned by Dr. Langdon Winner, the education is seemed the only one method to improve the quality of human resource. Especially the education over college level and workplace has direct influence to develop innovation capability. McLean & MacLean (2001) defines the Human Resource Development (HRD) as

HRD is any process or activity that, either initially or over the long-term, has the potential to develop adults, work-based knowledge, expertise, productivity, and satisfaction, whether for personal or group/team gain, or for the benefit of an organization, community, nation or ultimately the whole of humanity.


Conventionally, HRD have focused on Training & Development (T&D), Organization Development (OD), and Career Development (CD). But these days, as McLean’s new definition, HRD roles are expanded into strategic and national level to help improving the quality of human resources.

Another economist reports said that the “Talent War” had started and leaders in business as well as policy makers should concern about developing human resource in their country and sustaining it as much as they can to improve innovation capability in their organization or in their country. The left graph shows that the number of returnees of China has been highly increasing since 2000. This data support the report of Hannah Beech (Oct 30, 2006: Time International – Asia’s Great Science Experiment). Hannah questioned ‘Asian countries can be home to the next scientific revolution in her report’, and she concluded that it is positive for the power of high quality of scientists and engineers like returnees and strong support from policy makers.

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Source: Economist (Oct. 07th 2006): The battle for brainpower

Then we can say the importance of HRD to improve quality of people for Innovation is highly emerging not only in developed countries but also in developing country from staff level to top executives and top science and engineering talents including policy makers


China needs more democratizing HRD in order to improve innovation capability


As taking a lunch with Dr. Winner, I asked a question “What China should do to develop future innovation leaders?” Then, he exemplified a young RPI graduate who participated in Siemens Management Program. Dr. Winner suggested that targeted and focused developing for young talents might be the answer for my question. But I though that it was not wrong in short-term but in the long-run China might need more democratic education and HRD practices to develop it’s innovation capability. My rationale for supporting democratic HRD comes from my own experience at management program in Europe (German MBA) and learning from Leadership Development Program in UIUC.



Targeted and Focused HRD can discourage motivation in whole level.

When I participated a management development program in Europe, it was a great opportunity for me. I could get tons of privilege stuffs from the company and I could get a chance to promote Executive in 5~6 years after completing the program. But I found a strong negative effect at whole level of organization. Young managers who were taking management development program were commonly selected from top-tier schools with strong GPAs and high Intellectual power, but when we started a real work we could feel “Isolation” from other level of employees. They counted for us as an “Alien” who had no interests on the organization or their life, and the fact discouraged ‘normal employees” to participate innovation activities. I awoke myself that even though a top talented people might effective to make a better bottom line for an organization, it could be very harmful for all level leadership development to draw participatory learning activities which were believe the core competency in knowledge economy.


Innovation leaders comes from all levels in an organization

Noel M. Tichy (2005) suggested a ’Teaching Organization’ to explain what is the core competency of winning organization. Dr. Jeff Flesher, a professor at UIUC HRE department, taught this concept by using GE’s Leadership development program case. General Electric is now accepted that it is one of the strongest/richest Leadership pipeline in the world. GE was totally transformed by Jack Welch, a UIUC alumni of Chemical Engineering, who devoted himself to establish the ‘Leadership development for all level.’ Jeff said the key success factor of GE leadership development is highly based on the ‘Democratic HRD practice’ with strong drive and teaching from the top. He added that democratic practice in an organization can encourage participation and it can lead the real innovation in all level.



From Dr. Langdon Winner’s lecture, I have learned three things. One, China is emerging not only in manufacturing but also in every industry. Two, China is on the tip of decision making: changing social system to improve their competency for innovation. Third, education is the key for innovation in all countries.


Although my question “How can we develop future innovation leaders” is not yet answered from the workshop, it motivated my research interest about innovation leadership development. I hope to continue this important research topic and someday have an answer at the end of this workshop series.





Clemence, R. V. (Ed.). (1951). Essays. "the creative response in economic history (reprinted from journal of ecnomic history, nov. 1947, 149~159)", edited by richard V. clemence. Cambridge: Addison-Wesley Press.

Drucker, P. F. (Aug., 2002). The discipline of innovation. Harvard Business Review, Vol. 80(Issue 8), 95-101.

Economists (Oct. 07th 2006): The battle for brainpower

Economists (Aug. 16 2007). (Aug. 16th 2007): Capturing Talents

Pearson, A. E. (2002). Tough-minded ways to get innovative.(best of HBR 1988)

Gu S. & Lundvall B. (2006), China’s Innovation System and the Move towards harmonious growth and Endogenous Innovation, Innovation: management policy & practice, Vol. 8 , Issue 1-2, July 2006

McLean G., and McLean L (2001). If We Can’ts Define HRD in One Country, How Can We Define It in an International Context?, Human Resource Development International, Volume 4, Issue 3 September 2001 , pages 313 - 326

Tichy, N (2005). , The Leadership Engine: How winning companies build leaders at every level, preface, xx~xxiii.