A window in Condominium 1, Sea Ranch, CA by Charles Moore and architects. Photo by James Chan.
As I was making my way out of a tormenting dream this morning, I found what I really want to do in life. I want to be creative.
Jim, a long-time friend, said to me many years ago: “James, I never heard of such a thing as a China Consultant.” He meant no contumely. An effective and highly-paid insurance executive in New York City, Jim was a believer in the safe-bet attitude “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.”
Not me. I quit my Fortune 500 company job in New York at age 34 and declared myself a “China Consultant” in Philadelphia. I made up the concept and I’ve been doing it since 1983. Why?
I can’t exactly tell you why. The more reasons I give, the less I believe them myself. Someone asked the American architect Louis Kahn about the importance of market “needs” in order to succeed in any industry or profession. Kahn’s rejoinder was: “The world didn’t need Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.” But after Beethoven had created it, the world needed it. Creativity favors Desire, not Need.
No one needed the book Self Help by Samuel Smiles before it was published in 1859. It became the “bible of mid-Victorian liberalism” and sold more copies than any book except the Bible. I found an old copy one day wandering in the sun-lit stacks of the Main Library at The University of Michigan in my final year of getting my Ph.D. degree. How I needed the book! It was a life-saver to me.
America didn’t need the painter Edward Hopper to create such hauntingly melancholic paintings as the “Lighthouse at Two Lights” or the “Nighthawks.” Hopper refused to explain to rich patrons what he had in mind when he was creating his works. I get it.
The world didn’t need to have a trumpet player like Louis Armstrong until he started playing, and later singing. The unbearable odds of racism and discrimination against a black man could have easily trumped him to poverty and oblivion. But Desire came to his rescue and Creativity followed. Look at how he sings in 1934 in Copenhagen, Denmark: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZvqvNYJmC4. The world found a need for his willful superfluity.
There may never be too many who understand why there should be a “China Consultant.” It doesn't bother me. Satchmo covers the waterfront. I cover China.
Creativity gives us the fuel to survive and be alive.
James Chan, Ph.D., Consultant Asia Marketing and Management (AMM) 2014 Naudain Street