How to Develop Humanistic Balanced Cities

In This Podcast
Show Notes
Richard Hsu
E 137

In This Podcast

  • How to design humanistic, balanced cities
  • Why China provides a second life for international brands
  • Innovating through the D O U X principle
  • How to bring humanism into your corporation
  • Why the world needs balance

How often are you moved to tears in a day? How often do you experience things that make you really feel deeply? This is what drives Richard Hsu, as he tirelessly redesigns systems and connects dots, as he develops humanistic balanced cities.

The world has had a collective awakening. People are fast realising life is too short to waste on dirty, profit making projects. They want purpose, they want good reasons to invest their time in something. Which is why now is a really good time to have a conversation about what kind of society we should develop, what kind of companies we want to build, and how we want to be for the people around us. 

In this episode of Corporate Unplugged, Richard explains why collaboration and curation are key to change, why leaders need to create on the edge, and why China is leading the way, creating cities of the future, with an open mind and a desire to disrupt.

Show Notes

Why China is Leading the Way, Designing Cities of the Future with Richard Hsu

Richard Hsu was born in Shanghai, yet spent his teenage years in Paris and Luxembourg. He trained professionally in New York, Japan, China and in Southeast Asia, giving him a unique insight, a blend of East and West, that has led him to where he is today, as a cultural strategist, designing humanistic, balanced projects and places. 

He is also credited for introducing TED and TEDx conferences to China, and building communities and different co-learning programs across China. This was a huge turning point in China, because prior to that, says Richard, the idea of co-working spaces, co-learning, collaborative innovation, a lot of these things simply did not exist. But around 2009, when TEDx was first introduced in Shanghai, there was a tangible shift, and he began seeing people really coming together for public learning, using public platforms.

“It was one of my life changing experiences. Humanism is such an important part of TED Talks, and it triggers so many of us [in our] work; the first group of curators, we became super curious and addicted learning creatures.”

A second life for international brands

In Southeast Asia, in Japan, in the 1990s, says Richard, if you had an idea, you could just go with it. The companies, the city, the government, they wanted to see creativity and to experience new things. And that energy is something Richard has seen in China over the last decade. People are hungry for great ideas. And so if you feel your brand is tired in the West, in the East, says Richard, you can breathe life back into it, because the new cities in China are open to it. 

“I call this a second life for international brands, because the same idea in the West may have lost steam and may have been taken for granted. But if you enter China, into a few great first, second, third tier cities, you can reinvent your story, or tell it in the way that you want to.”

And this is where TED provides such a fantastic entry point for companies wanting to access China, because it’s a chance for brands to introduce themselves, not in a commercial way, but in a purposeful way, i.e. to share with audiences what the intent of the brand is, to connect with new customers on a deeper level. 

One of Richard’s jobs was to rethink the future of retail. He took what we know about the shopping experience, about brand experience, and he turned everything upside down. Because people don’t want the same thing they’ve seen before, says Richard. They want new things, they want innovation. 

D O U X – digital, oasis, urban, collaboration

So how did Richard deliver? How did he create a new shopping experience? 

“We realised there were four things that were very strong in the global zeitgeist of marketing and youth and retail, D O U X – this is a French word [that] means sweet, soft; digital, oasis, urban, and collaboration.”

  • Digital – they brought the best of digital thinking into the building, replacing windows and walls with the biggest LED screens that presented arts and digital presentations.
  • Oasis – they brought in as much green space as possible so that even in the middle of a city, people can still enjoy the green around them.
  • Urban – they spent time understanding urban beats; the energy, social media, everything that makes China at any single given moment, tick. 
  • Collaboration – this was, and still is such a buzzword. So the team found radical ways to create unexpected great, extraordinary collaborations, bringing in artists, and scientists, along with brands.

Why the future looks human

The world is changing at an unimaginable speed, says Richard. And what we have seen in the last six months alone is unimaginable. Right now, people are concerned about their jobs, and how they can stand out compared to AI. But, says Richard, nothing competes with human imagination and ingenuity. Only people can create incredible things with their hands, with their artistry, with their craftsmanship; only people can inject meaning into their work. 

“My way of dealing with the fast changing world is always not just focusing on tomorrow, but also yesterday. So the voice of elders, the knowledge of elders, together with the knowledge of tomorrow.”

A decade ago, we were more inclined to feel safe because we were thinking whatever problems we have today or tomorrow will be resolved with innovation, with tech, with something else. But today, people are less inclined to believe that that’s going to happen. Now, we’re going back to our roots, hoping our humanity is going to take us in the right direction.

“When we look at beautiful things online, or read, or experience on the streets, things that really touch us, that put a tear or two in our eyes, I don’t think AI is able to do that. So how can we find ways to touch people’s emotions, to really understand what moves people and celebrate it?”

Bring humanism into your corporation

What makes a company great is the human element. So if you want to make your organisation better, says Richard, think about how you can bring humanism into your leadership. Do you give people the best you can possibly give them? Do you serve your people as best you can?

In China, the word good is drawn simply as a woman and a child, side by side. Imagine a company that just helped companies to be good, says Richard. What a great company, what a great agency, it would be. Imagine having a Chief Good Officer, a CGO, in a company. 

It’s not just about corporate social responsibility or individual responsibility, but how can we be as good as we can on the planet that we are on for the time that we’re here while bringing your customers with you, so they feel the goodness when they’re using your products?

The world needs balance

Balance, says Richard, is about finding a happy medium between the haves and the have nots. The whole concept of duality, the opposites: the rich, the poor, the privileged, and the underprivileged. 

Imagine if we could find a way to average it all out and create a flow system. Take inspiration from companies like TOMS with their ‘buy a pair of shoes, donate a pair of shoes’, or the beautiful Italian system created 100 years ago called suspended coffee, where you buy two or three extra coffees for the next people who need coffee but can’t afford it. 

“How often can you be moved to tears in a day, try to maximise that, try to make some things happen, that you can feel so good, that there’s a tear inside of you. Or look out for great thinking, great projects, great ideas, great expressions, that makes you really feel deep. That will be my advice to leaders, go out and touch your customers.”

If the talk resonates with you, we’d recommend you listen to this episode too: John Caswell