For the past few days I've been in Hong Kong visiting my brother. I've been walking around the city, gawking at everything that's changed (a lot) since 1999, when I was last here. Earlier in the week I took day trips to Shenzhen and Macau, cities growing as fast or faster.
With these changes in mind and in front of me this morning, I read David Brooks' recent column comparing China's economic growth with U.S. stagnation. He says that, "The Chinese, though members of a famously old civilization, seem to possess some of the vigor that once defined the U.S. The Chinese are now an astonishingly optimistic people. Eighty-six percent of Chinese believe their country is headed in the right direction, compared with 37 percent of Americans."
This kind of woe-is-us thinking resonates when you're visiting this part of the world. When you see a 30-year-old city like Shenzhen that dwarfs Boston, or when you see wealth accumulating like it is on Hong Kong Island, you wonder why the U.S. economy doesn't have such visible signs of strength.
But I don't think it's useful to frame this discussion in national terms. The vigor, optimism and growth David talks about are decreasingly connected to place. Increasingly, what matters is the ability to constantly learn and re-invent your livelihood.
China's economy is vigorous, but there is equal vigor in the U.S. economy if you look at the right individuals or institutions. Google and Apple are thriving because they focus more on developing new businesses than on propping up old ones. The same goes for small business owners like Charlie King and Duncan Page who are figuring out how to use new tools to run their businesses more efficiently.
This type of constant innovation is the key to creating vigorous, competitive businesses today. It will certainly be the key for us at HubSpot as we grow from a successful startup to a thriving institution — and whenever we're ready to start selling in China.
Photo: A bus stop in Shenzhen on Wednesday.