05 May 2016

Chinese and Western Mindsets - How the date format tell us

The Date Formats:
What's the difference between the Chinese and the Western Mindsets?

You can easily tell from the way they write their dates...

The West: Day - Month - Year.

The Chinese: Year - Month - Day.

Western Mindset
West mindset works from the details, from data to hypothesis to laws, from symptoms to root causes. It is method of induction. From specific to generalization. From ground level to helicopter view. 

The danger is to be trapped at the surface level, seeing the trees without the forest and going around in circle.

Chinese Mindset

The Chinese mindset is from top to bottom, the eagle view to the ground. From principles to particular behavior. From root causes to observable behaviors. 

The danger is not coming down to the details and stay at the good and high sounding ideals without real practical usefulness.

The Solution
The solution is not taking the mid point as a fixed concept, like the US date format of Month-Day-Year.

But rather, the ability to think and go both ways, from top to bottom and from bottom top according to where we find ourselves. For a start, take the high level view of mission, visions and values. For implementation, work out the details and specifics, with clear measures to monitor progress, to validate the plans. At the same time, always have an eye for the wider and bigger view that we may not trapped by the details and miss the changing trends of the our environment.

So back to the US date format. If we think of it as a iterative thinking process, rather than a fixed format, then we get the right idea. The year is obvious, so we mention the month first, and then the specific day, but at the same time, remember that we must look at the context, so we go up the levels to be back at the year.

That's a key teaching of Sun Zi's Art of War. After listing the 5 key factors, he goes into the details of asking, so where are we? How do we measured up?

True Chinese mindset not just one-way of top to bottom but rather like taught by Sun Zi, is principles centered flexibility---- converting threats into opportunities and avoiding the risks in the opportunities.

So, are you Western thinker or a Chinese thinker?

The right answer is both, depending on the situation.

Principles and values are fixed but the methods and implementation must be adaptable to the situations of time, plae and people.

Lim Liat (c) 5-5-2016

Some friend in Facebook also pointed out the similar pattern in the name. In the West, the order is given-name, middle-name and then family name. For the Chinese, the family name comes first and then the given name and a generation-name (generation-name comes from a family poem or a family history book. The generation name can be the middle name or sometimes the 3rd name). From broad to narrow is the Chinese mindset.