Why the Chicken Crossed the World: 18 Surprising Secrets from China on Success, Wealth, and Happiness

By Funky Chicken

Excerpt: #2 – The Power of Creativity: Scary Boss

Life doesn’t always go as expected. In China, very few things do. The most useful skill in China—and life—is creativity. I don’t mean the artist-taking-drugs type of creativity. Though that certainly has its own merits (see later chapter). When things aren’t going your way, you have to figure out how to change direction. In China, that means bribery—um…with cake!

Speaking of creativity, I used that skill to get myself promoted in less than a year. After all, China is the new land of opportunity (again, more on that later).Thus, I now manage sixty people and have my own secretary. And now sixty people are scared of me. Some Chinese people may not like their superiors. Others may think they report to complete idiots. But all Chinese people are scared of their bosses.

In China, respect for elders is expected. Also in China, respect is obedience. The Chinese grow up learning their parents are always right, their teachers are always right, and that their boss is always right. And nobody wants to get yelled at by the person who is always right. There is even a popular saying about the perils of the workplace, “More say, more wrong, more do.” The Chinese don’t like being wrong or having to do. So, they resort to being scared and staying silent.

Incidentally, when asking locals about career aspirations, 100% respond with, “Big boss.” They may not know in what department, function, or even industry; but they most definitely know they want to be The Big Boss. After all, big bosses make more money, are listened to, and have fancy business cards to show off with.

Was it easier as an American-born Chinese (ABC) boss to un-scare my new team? After all, you might think an ABC should hypothetically connect better with the Chinese staff. Yes and no. In certain ways, ABCs have it harder in China than white foreigners. As one fellow ABC veteran put it, “A white guy could be 90% clueless but the Chinese expect 100% cluelessness, making him a rock star. An ABC could understand 90% but a local would look at his Chinese face and wonder how he didn’t understand 100%, and think he was a complete idiot.” Consequently, I walked into my new department knowing my team thought I was both scary, and dumb.

It’s not like I didn’t try to reverse their fear of me. I did a two-hour introduction presentation before I joined this department. I even gave out candy. I told jokes. I went as far as projecting a picture of myself as a five-year-old petting a donkey—I figured it made me seem more human. My team just looked at each other, and then at me, in awkward silence.

On my first official day as the head of the department, nobody came by to greet me or introduce themselves. I walked around the entire department and not a single person looked up. I’d just done a two-hour presentation for my team a week before. I’d spent all morning with moving people getting my stuff into my new office right next to theirs. I knew they didn’t have amnesia.

So I had an idea. I took a few chocolate bars from the emergency stash in my desk. I broke them up into pieces, and went to every single desk. And I offered every single person some chocolate. That is how I got my team to greet me on my first day. Bribery.


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