Getting to Yes, And

Brian Wong: The Tao of Alibaba


Brian Wong

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Kelly talks to Brian Wong, the first American employee of Alibaba about his new book “The Tao of Alibaba: Inside the Chinese Digital Giant That is Changing the World.”

From reading your book, it seems to me that you may be familiar with the term “Yes, And” because something very similar is talked about in the culture at Alibaba.

“I think the text that you're citing is when we're talking about Savio Kwan's management approach, and it also relates to kind to this concept of the Tao within Alibaba. I think most people tend to think of decisions as binary, yes and no, and Savio says it's yes and yes. The idea behind that is that life is about yes, and yes. It's never one or the other, and it's about how you calibrate or balance those decisions in life. And the reason why I use the analogy of the Tao in the book is really to show that it's not black and white, it’s shades of gray and we have to be able to embrace this duality.”  

You quote Jack Ma as saying the reason Alibaba succeeded was because they had no plan, no money and no technology.

“Jack sort of talks in riddles, and most people were scratching their head when he made that statement. I think it was at a Harvard Business School conference, and when you hear it, you're like, well, how do I interpret this. And what Jack was saying is no business plan means that we're adaptable. We're willing to change when we need to. We're not going to lock ourselves into one way of doing things. No money really meant that they had to use the limited resources that they had in order to achieve the goals that they were. And so that forces you to be more creative in the way you do business. And then no technology really refers to the fact that Jack was not a technologist. He was an English teacher.  But what he did understand was the need that existed in the market, and he trusted his technology team enough to make the decisions necessary to try and provide solutions using the tools that they had to address those problems.”

It’s interesting that a disadvantage in China became the biggest advantage in terms of how e-commerce dominates the world when it was the opposite 30 years ago.

“So that's a good point, Kelly. I mean, China in the nineties had very little in the way of legacy or let's just say the existing kind of retail infrastructure. It had very little in the way of financial services, very different from what we have here in the US at that time. And what Jack like to say is that in America e-commerce is the dessert, and in China e-commerce is the main course.”

Photo credit: Thanakrit Gu

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