Executive president’s graduation 2018 commencement address

30 Jul 2018

Have a Complexity Mindset to Find Your Way in the World

Dear students, colleagues, and parents,

With an enthusiasm that rivals the heat of the Suzhou summer, it is my honour to welcome all of you to the 2018 graduation ceremony of Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, to share the successes of our students, and to celebrate the growth of our University. Thank you all for your help and contributions.

First, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate this year’s XJTLU graduates. Whether you choose to seek employment or postgraduate education at a top university, we know that this will be your first major step in your exploration of the world.

In this highly globalised world, whether from the perspective of China’s social and economic rise, the ups and downs of the global economy, especially the disturbances to the global system and the trade war brought by Trump, we can feel that we are profoundly connected. While these anti-globalization trends give us some cause for alarm, digitalisation and the spread of the internet have strengthened interconnectedness and brought greater balance to the global system. Artificial intelligence and the internet of things will create new paradigms and bring about social transformations and changes. These technologies will continue to disrupt markets, filling them with Uncertainty, Ambiguity, Complexity, and Changeability. Like it or not, we are now living in a ‘UACC-Environment.’

In the context of this UACC Environment, massive disruptive technologies have swept across the globe at an alarming rate, challenging people’s modes of thinking. Scientists, and even the public, are awakening to these trends and are embracing this new paradigm revolution. Actively or passively, a transformation of mindset is needed in order to adapt to this revolution. We must abandon our simple and stable lifestyles and the mindset we used as well, adapt a complexity mindset in order to thrive in this uncertain, ambiguous, complex, and changeable environment.

A ‘mindset’ refers to our deep-rooted assumptions, images, and stories about ourselves, others, institutions and our surroundings. They fall prey to the restrictions of habitual and fixed thinking, as well as our prior knowledge and understanding. Our mindsets have a major impact on our behaviour, the way we look at things and our ways of thinking. They lead us to see our inferences as facts, in turn impacting our behaviour, and this process is mutually reinforcing.

Different systems, environments, and cultural backgrounds can also affect our mindsets: people of Eastern and Western backgrounds can have very different mindsets, and even individual mindsets vary from one to another. Mindsets are often incomplete or have gaps, but people are often unaware of these shortcomings in their mindsets. Thus, we must always be expanding and improving our mindsets.

The changing logic within an UACC environment puts our traditional mindsets under attack. For example, we must transition from thinking in terms of individuals to thinking in terms of interaction; from emphasizing control to adaptation; from focusing on the more stable ‘design optimisation’ to, the more dynamic ‘system evolution.’ In other words, we must transition into a complexity mindset in order to respond to our uncertain, ambiguous, complex, and changeable surroundings.

XJTLU has been aware of this since its founding. In this era of remodelling education, we are committed to exploring a future education system that integrates human knowledge and best practice in Eastern and Western worlds, so as to transform education systems in China and the rest of the world, to cultivate world citizens armed with complexity mindsets and usher in the new world.

Even though it is difficult to transition into a complexity mindset, we can really get ahead if we are able to harness systematic, logical, and scientific Western thinking with the fluidity and artistry of Oriental culture, and integrate and remodel them based on our perception of future trends, so that we can have an edge wherever we are and cooperate with whomever we want.

XJTLU seeks to seize the precious time while students are at university to transform and cultivate their complexity mindsets in various ways, such as: imbuing them with a sense of responsibility as global citizens; expanding their horizons; fostering their sense of curiosity through research-led teaching; letting their interests drive their studies; fomenting critical thinking, innovation, and a spirit of independent thought and life-long learning; and not only preparing them for entry into the real world but catapulting them to the forefront of global development.

As you prepare to embark on your journey, I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you to pay attention to the transformation of your mindset, and to make the switch toward a complexity mindset as soon as possible. I would recommend that you focus on the following areas:

1. Cultivate your systematic view of dynamic evolution, so you can systematically and dynamically view problems, their contexts and trends, learn to harness meaningful changes and valuable trends and adjust your own strategies in the face of complex and ever-changing information, knowledge and approaches;

2. Build a holistic view integrating Western and Eastern Culture. In a complex world, one-dimensional thinking will stifle your growth or even lead you down a dead end. Multi-dimensional, systematic, and well-rounded thinking and analysis will help you find the truth, and develop exceptional vision and wisdom;

3. Enhance your integration capabilities. In this era of UACC, knowledge, resources and demands are fragmented. Those who can integrate these and create value from them will be highly competitive and sought after;

4. Train your mastery of the trends and turning points that are oriented around visions and missions. The biggest challenge in an UACC world is that people have lost their direction and sense of self in the mess of misleading and disorganized information. Happy and successful people must retain a sense of strategic clarity, especially about insight into trends and an awareness of sudden changes;

5. Strengthen your capability to create spaces, platforms and ecosystems. The key of the internet era is to create a symbiotic system to integrate resources, stimulate innovation and create value, and then share this value through the internet. This creation capacity will rapidly expand your career;

6. Achieve dynamic, diverse and symbiotic balance. This age of the internet is breaking down the walls of traditional organisations and business models, merging the tangible work with the virtual as the basis for innovation. The ability of cooperation, together with the skill of dynamically mastering diverse and symbiotic systems, has become an integral aspect of career development;

7. Develop your ability to nurture, protect and promote edge innovation. In the future, your space of development will lie not in what you can do, but rather what differences you can make in terms of contributing value to society. As noted by Mr. Kevin Kelly, disruptive technology is usually introduced from the edges and even from the outside.

Perhaps you have seen the very popular recent film Dying to Survive? Maybe you felt sorrow for the fate of the film’s characters? If you approach China’s pharmaceutical problem with a singular or traditional mindset and from merely a single perspective, you might only see that medicine prices are skyrocketing (from the point of view of the public), that India is producing ‘fake medicines’ (from the point of view of law enforcement), that medicines are being smuggled illegally (from the point of view of the government), or that you can make money and even save people’s lives (from the point of view of the pharmaceutical companies), or you might even have some choice words for the government or the police (from the point of view of the spectators). In this sense, the tragedy never ends.

Society can never progress if we are stuck in old mindsets, whining, sighing, swearing, complaining and feeling hopeless. But if we approach these problems with a complexity mindset, we may see the truth behind the mess, and develop solutions, pulling people out from these bizarre traps and helping them find hope.

You can’t develop a complexity mindset overnight - it requires time and the accumulation of experience. But I believe that by living and studying at XJTLU, you will be able to exceed your peers in this area. I hope you continue your efforts, and that as your complexity mindset matures, you will have an enriched and fulfilling life.

Now that you have graduated, although XJTLU will no longer be with you to help you with every decision along the way, I hope you can take your university experience and our good wishes with you, and be invincible in your future life!

30 Jul 2018