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#NPRreads: Decision-Making, And China's Corporate Culture Shock

#NPRreads is a weekly feature on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers from our newsroom share the pieces that have kept them reading, using the #NPRreads hashtag. On Fridays, we highlight some of the best stories.

This week, we bring you three items.

From NPR's acting executive editor, Edith Chapin:

Billions of words have been written about the Chinese economy in recent years. Lately it has been stock market gyrations, currency devaluations, and slower manufacturing output. All of those things are very data driven. Then along comes a culture question: How to do business outside China? These sentences caught my attention with echoes of "ugly American" resounding in my brain. From The Washington Post:

"Having made their money in a one-party state, where political connections are the key to a successful business and the rule of law is easy to sidestep, they are finding things just aren't as simple. ... But abroad, where the public often demands greater transparency and courts enforce stricter environmental and labor laws, it is a steep learning curve for many Chinese companies, experts say, that mirrors the challenges foreign companies faced when they first entered China more than two decades ago."

The article continues by pointing out the necessity to expand to new markets:

"As China's economy slows, as it confronts huge overcapacity in its steel and cement industries, and as labor and land costs rise, companies are being forced to diversify abroad, to 'play catch-up' and learn new skills in order to survive."

Whether you are doing big business or just traveling, being aware of and sensitive to local customs is key to any successful experience. Many critics of China urge it to play a bigger role on the world stage. China clearly is doing that in its own way, but businesses and the government alike are discovering that even answering critics is not without criticism.

From NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin:

Have you ever had a really big decision to make and the weight of that choice just stops you in your tracks? You've made endless lists — pros on one side, cons on the other. You have sought advice from anyone and everyone you thought could give good guidance. Heck, maybe you've even had your palm read or flipped a coin in an effort to just choose.

Over the years I have learned to make quicker decisions because, as Dave Girouard points out in his stellar piece appearing on Quartz, there are very few decisions that cannot be undone. And when you are paralyzed by choice — especially in a work environment — you kill creativity and efficiency.

Girouard writes from many years of working in big high-tech firms that live or die by their ability to be fast and ahead of their competitors. We don't all live in that world, but I think he puts out some really useful ideas about the value of making decisions quickly, especially in work environments. Some of this is obvious — the quicker you can make choices, the quicker you can hire people, execute ideas, create products, the faster you can do what you are charged to do in your given job. But the key is figuring out how to make faster choices. He gives practical advice.

  1. For all big decisions, set a deadline on when debate on the issue will end and a decision will be made come hell or high water. Then stick to it.
  2. "Eliminate dependencies" — which means "making sure people aren't waiting on one another to take next steps. A lot of people assume dependencies where they don't even exist."
  3. Don't be afraid to ask why a particular task is going to take so long to complete. You don't have to be a jerk about it. Do it in a respectful way, but asking can uncover hidden obstacles and move the process forward.

Here are some final thoughts from Girouard's piece worth marinating on:

"Too many people believe that speed is the enemy of quality. To an extent they're right — you can't force innovation and sometimes genius needs time and freedom to bloom. But in my experience, that's the rare case. There's not always a stark tradeoff between something done fast and done well. Don't let you or your organization use that as a false shield or excuse to lose momentum. The moment you do, you lose your competitive advantage."

And, NPR's social media editor, Lori Todd:

Marking the difficult two-year anniversary of the death of her husband, Morning Edition producer Rachel Ward published a personal essay on in the form of a comical FAQ. The piece, which went viral and became one of the site's top stories this week, was both heartbreakingly honest and uncomfortably real.

Rachel's piece was particularly powerful for me because three years ago, I was with my mother as she unexpectedly died while visiting her oncologist. Over the years, I've approached the topic with what must be very uncomfortable humor to both my friends and acquaintances. The tone of Rachel's essay mirrored a lot of how I felt and sometimes talk about my mother's death. For me, this humor isn't meant to diminish the gravity of the loss, but to help the wounded survive and move forward in life.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit

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