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I’ve lived in two countries and spend a lot of time in a third, but they’re all rather homogenous. All are English-speaking and tech-enabled. Your phone runs either iOS or Android. It’s all pretty easy. That’s why I loved reading Little Rice by Clay Shirky. It tells a story that’s similar to my everyday, but so very different.
I should probably point out that this book isn’t like the usual marketing or business books I review. Little Rice is more a commentary/case study on the smartphone industry in China.
As this is a bit different than the norm, you may not know who Clay Shirky is. Clay’s a New York University professor and technology commentator. He’s been interviewed a few times on my favorite podcasts discussing the impact of technology on our lives, and possible future trends. A smart, engaging man.
Back to Little Rice.
Have you heard of Xiaomi? I hadn’t until reading this book. It’s a Beijing-based smartphone company that’s actually a big deal. They design and manufacture their phones in China and on Singles Day 2014, nearly 1.2 million of the 1.9 million phones sold by Taobao were Xiaomis. Sure that’s equal to Boxing Day or Black Friday, but still. It’s a lot of phones by one retailer in one day. It’s easy to forget how big China is.
In Little Rice, Clay tells the story of Xiaomi and along with it, the story of technology adoption and economic change in China. Most of the time he uses Xiaomi’s experiences and practices to show what is happening in China, but he also digresses into Chinese economic history to give more context on why some decisions are made. I especially enjoyed (perhaps more amused?) by the list of things that the Chinese government has banned from discussion. Clay also gives detail into the dual-layered communications policies designed to limit the masses, while supporting the government.
While this sounds in-depth and detailed, it’s actually a short read. My Kindle copy was under 200 pages. At one point, I started skimming but was drawn back in. Probably by the business model that starts with thin margins when a phone is first released and actually gets wider as the phone ages – very different than what Apple or most Western manufacturers do. I also was drawn in by the Xiaomi Ambassador Program. It’s very developed and multi-layered. I’d love to work on a similar program here.
Who Is Little Rice For?
There are few instances where you’ll have a distinct need to read Little Rice. It’s great for supplementary background, or if you’re launching a product in China. Yeah, so limited as a must-read. However, for anyone curious or wanting to see different business practices then definitely read this. China’s confused government policies and immensely different culture bring creativity that’s rarely seen in the US. I’m hesitant to give a demographic group because Little Rice is for many different people (including historians and economists) if they have the desire for the knowledge.