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About inclusivity at TroubleMaker

A group of people young and old male and female working on technology projects


Paul Weedman recently posted a guide on this website on how to combat the New Year's Monster that's roaming around in factories the month before Chinese New Year. The post received compliments from people on LinkedIn, Facebook, and WeChat. It would be awesome if people also comment right here on the site. But hey, I'm a happy camper when I read those nice comments anywhere.

In his own words, Paul describes the significance of this celebration which in China is commonly referred to as Spring Festival. His writing style reflects his personality. It makes him human, unique, and -in a way- also vulnerable. 

This authenticity is important to me. There are enough situations where we feel we can't speak freely. Moments where we reply with a socially desirable answer to avoid a turbulent situation.

In my opinion, this happens when we don't feel safe. We tend to tread carefully when we fare through unknown waters. And diplomacy is a proven technique when we communicate with people who hold different views than our own.

When we share our personal thoughts with a wider audience though, this should not be the default. It is utterly futile trying not to upset anyone when the people who may read our posts have totally different backgrounds, cultures, genders, and beliefs. 

When we cast our views to the world, there will always be some who takes offense. It saddens me if people misinterpret my meaning and feel hurt by what I write. That said, human's capacity of interpreting the world in individual ways, is actually one the best talents we have. Our unique understanding of what we observe can lead to the genesis of new ideas.

We all are creatures with our own unique experiences. There is so much I can learn from you, and you from me. Simply because you have mastered things I didn't even know existed. You are a treasure to me and to other people, no matter if they realize it or not. 

However, if we cannot express ourselves freely, then there is an external opposed limit on how much we can enrich the world with our unique insights. And sometimes that's a loss for everyone. 

Creativity is the result of cross-pollination of ideas. I have seen beautiful projects come to life at TroubleMaker when people felt safe enough to express their thoughts, receive feedback, and implemented what they felt valuable.

A person of color speaks up in front of an audience with people from various nationalities and gender

A person of color speaks up in front of an audience with people from various nationalities and gender

The day after Paul published his guide, a person wrote to me privately on WeChat, suggesting an edit to Paul's post. I usually don't specify the nationality of the person, but this extra clarity may help to place things in context. Both the writer of the post and the commenter are Chinese. Here is the text: 

I like Pauls article. I would recommend taking out this part of the blog: "The Chinese New Year is sort of a religious celebration too. In general, we celebrate our dead ancestors instead of gods, as people do in other countries. Our ancestors are our gods.". Chinese is actually a big mix of ethics with very different definition of god and religion. It really does not add much to what he wants to say and can be both offensive and misleading.

I consulted Paul about this well-meant advice and asked his opinion. Paul replied "I would suggest to change the word celebrate into worship". And so I did. The only word I deleted was the word "dead", as that's what ancestors usually tend to be anyways.

I then explained our company values to the commenter -wearing my diplomatic hat- in a thoughtful reply. And invited the person to respectfully ask Paul questions in the comment section below the post to start a meaningful discussion.

I believe a well thought through discussion can bring people together. Not only the two writers, but also those who read the conversation. A win for every side.

Men and women with various nationalities work together on a DIY tech project at TroubleMaker

Men and women with various nationalities work together on a DIY tech project at TroubleMaker

Things like these make me think. And often not just for a few minutes. Sometimes I replay my actions over and over again from different perspectives. It helps me see what I could have done differently. It also helps me come to peace with myself by understanding the limitations I had at the moment. These insights give me the tools to become a better person.

A Code of Conduct?

The question if I should write a Code of Conduct for TroubleMaker has plagued me for years. My personal opinion is that a Code of Conduct should not be necessary. People should intrinsically know what is right or wrong.

Simple example: Even within the limitations resulting from our personal bias, we all know we cannot physically hurt anyone. We also know we shouldn't take away or damage other people's belongings. Not hurting anyone physically is often easier to adhere to than the other examples, as the repercussions can be tough. Especially here in China.

Taking away things, however, is something which happens regularly in a shared space. Think of a library. Everyone who visits a library takes away books and may place them back in the wrong place if it's not obvious how the system works. There are no malicious intentions at play here. Most people want to do good. It's the result of poor communication in combination with the expectation that everyone will understand the library system and follows up accordingly.

Things also get damaged. Sometimes from wrong use, other times from wear and tear. In the past, we gave members at TroubleMaker almost ultimate freedom on how to use the tools and machines in the labs. We rarely checked if they cleaned up behind themselves and usually we only found out stuff was broken when a member wanted to use a tool and reported the situation. In a company where we pride ourselves for the quality of our service, this is far from ideal.

The reboot of TroubleMaker Huaqiangbei gives us a chance to take what we have learned from the first 7 years of operating the space and create a more professional offer. This includes writing down how we operate and how we communicate. I've made a start with this and wrote "How we work together at TroubleMaker". Have a read. I'm eager to hear your thoughts on it.

About the Author

Henk started his China adventure in 2011 as an LED display consultant to corporates. In 2016, Henk co-founded TroubleMaker in Shenzhen. Since then he has received over 16,000 visitors and helped hundreds of companies of all sizes with lowering development cost and speeding up time to market.

  • Paul Weedman says:

    Happy New Year to all of our world!

    Totally agree Henk. As an individual, every one of us is special, and the meaning of life to me is to be who I am and contribute special value to the world I live in, so do you all. This is particularly important in the Chinese cultural context where most people try to be THE SAME as others, the same education, the same mentality, the same ideology, the same everything… and if not, you don’t belong to “US”. This leads to a big missing of “0 to 1” innovation in the Chinese society and that’s why the western world is leverage its technology power in semiconductor which relates a lot to what we do in Shenzhen.

    I know a lot of people, particularly my Chinese peers, may not agree with me on this comment as this may hurt their pride. But again, I don’t see my special value if I just become the SAME as others for the sake of “harmony”, and I’m not ready and not able to make everybody happy.

    • Thank you for sharing. I’m a younger Chinese individual, and I find different perspectives interesting rather than hurtful. While I haven’t worshipped my ancestors during the Chinese New Year, I do participate in ancestor worship during the Tomb Sweeping Festival. Regarding the concept of ‘God(s),’ I’m not religious, and I haven’t concretely defined what God means to me. But my late grandfather is a cherished memory in my family tree, not a god.

      Concerning the ‘meaning of life’ and ‘value,’ I believe it depends on how one understands the relationship between humans, Earth, the solar system, the Milky Way, the Laniakea, or the wider unknown Universe. This understanding shapes the meaning of life for both humanity and individuals, influencing the values one contributes to humanity, the Earth… or just oneself.

      • Thanks for commenting, Guest.

        Please note you have used a fictitious name and email address. I usually don’t approve submissions this way. However, your messages is meaningful enough. Please consider next time to use your real name and email address, so that we can have a real discussion.

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