Kuora: Should Silicon Valley embrace China’s ‘996’ work ethic?

Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg
/ Credit: Members of the media try out Alibaba's virtual reality shopping goggle at 11.11 Singles' Day Shopping Festival in Shenzhen, China, on Friday, Nov. 1a, 2016. Pioneered by Alibaba in 2009, Singles' Day has become a Chinese phenomenon, with transactions dwarfing that of Cyber Monday and Black Friday. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

Mike Moritz, a venture capitalist and journalist, wrote an editorial in the Financial Times on January 18 titled “Silicon Valley would be wise to follow China’s lead.” How right is he? That question sparked a lively discussion on this Quora thread; here’s Kaiser’s answer, originally posted to Quora on January 20, 2018:

Is Mike Moritz correct by saying Silicon Valley should emulate Chinese work ethic to remain competitive?

I’m torn on this, and don’t have the data to give a good answer. From the gut, though, and gun to my head I’d say that in the short term, the “996” approach — work hours of basically 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week, which have become standard at a lot of Chinese tech companies — is certainly going to confer an initial advantage.

I don’t know that it will last. Putting aside all the other questions that people routinely raise about native innovative capacity, about censorship, about the pedagogical traditions, and looking insofar as one can just at the work ethic, I do think that it’s quite possible that Chinese companies might suffer higher rates of unwanted turnover and crippled morale in the longer term. Again, so far I don’t know that there’s much empirical evidence for this.

Moritz, as a venture capitalist, is naturally going to want to encourage this hardcore workaholism, and from my experience he’s exaggerating the actual lack of work ethic in Silicon Valley workplaces I’ve been in.

Interestingly, I’ve spent many hours in the last month or so editing a podcast that my company is co-producing with a Sand Hill Road VC (GGV). The podcast is called 996, as is the newsletter about Chinese tech and entrepreneurship that GGV publishes, and there’s a kind of almost masochistic reveling in that schedule and the work ethic of which it’s emblematic.

Me, though — I’m still all about that fabled work-life balance!

Kuora is a weekly column.

Also see:

Why Chinese companies crush Western tech giants in China