Don’t Be A Wiener

Press enter to search
Close search
Open Menu

Don’t Be A Wiener

By Susan Nichols - 11/04/2013

One of the most compelling issues our industry faces today is education — how do we attract, prepare, train, motivate and inspire incoming talent to do great things in our companies. And while there is ongoing debate in the United States over educational reform, one scholar says it just might come down to stop cultivating students as if they were sausages.

How does one turn a budding, bright student into a sausage, or a commoditized product in the same shape as millions more and void of individualism?  Why, that’s easy. We obsess over standardized test scores and common core curriculum standards and essentially set up an educational system that squashes creativity from the earliest of ages.

So believes Dr. Yong Zhao, internationally known scholar, author and speaker, who was named one of 2012’s Top 10 Most Influential People in Educational Technology by Tech & Learning Magazine and whose work focuses on the implications of globalization and technology on education.

I had the opportunity to witness Dr. Zhao captivate an audience for an hour-plus in Greenville, SC, where he spoke at an event organized by a local Montessori school, Five Oaks Academy. Dr. Zhao joked that the Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones, noting that anything that can be outsourced or automated eventually will be. (I was personally amazed to learn that Hershey’s kisses were hand-wrapped up until three years ago.)

Born in China and a self-described  “failed peasant” (he was the first in his family to move beyond third grade and the first in his village to go to college), Dr. Zhao says we often place too much emphasis on blaming or worrying about another country vs. focusing on what it takes to be globally competitive.  “China has 20 percent of the world’s population, and yet just 1 percent of the world’s patent filings,”  he says.  He challenges America, saying its dreams are becoming too small.  

“We need a new middle class, a creative class,”  says Dr. Zhao, because so many of the jobs, (think car assembly in Detroit, or sewing in a plant in Alabama) which primarily require following directions, no longer exist. And with about half of Americans spending income on what they want and not what they need, he says, we are squarely in the age of abundance.

Those who can achieve in such an environment will be innovative, creative, entrepreneurial and collaborative. They will be curious and take risks.  They will be passionate and open to cultural diversity.  “Traditionally under-valued talents are becoming valuable,” says Dr. Zhao. A perfect example he says is the rise of an entire new industry around cooking shows and chefs. “Chefs have become great artists.”
Schools should not be a place to homogenize talent, says Dr. Zhao, but to allow for exploring what one is good at and how that can be translated into a product or service that serves and is of value to others.  Such a focus is what will make students great and make them world class leaders. It’s all good food for thought as we strive to attract the best and brightest — and a challenge to take on relative to how we encourage (or don’t) creativity, innovation and risk taking within our companies.  

In short, if you want to be a winner, don’t be a wiener.

Susan S. Nichols is publisher of Apparel.
She can be reached at [email protected]

Editor’s Note:  Learn more through articles and videos at


More Blog Posts In This Series

The Uncommon Good: Making Apparel in the 21st Century

If you’ve been watching the apparel industry for a long time, there are things you’ve likely come to realize about it. One of them? The inexorable march of time does not care about your apparel business model.

Breaking Down the Robot Takeover

If we leave robotic tasks to the robots, seeking to blend the best of what both humans and technology have to offer, we’ll reap the benefits of unleashing the creative forces of the human mind.

Both/And and the True Nature of Retail: Top 20 Takeaways from NRF, Part 2

In the most amazing combination of revolutionary and totally boring ever, we as consumers have evolved from shopping in stores, to ordering online and waiting, to ordering online and picking up from a locker, back at the store.