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How Yahoo Taiwan 'Reads the Air'

Creativity Comes from an Interest in People

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In the ever-changing Internet industry, success comes with being able to detect the latest trends, and as Yahoo Taiwan's general manager Charlene Hung has discovered, an interest in observing people and their surroundings.

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Creativity Comes from an Interest in People

By Benjamin Chiang
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 407 )

At the end of last year, 20-odd high-level executives at Yahoo Taiwan gathered in a meeting room, not to discuss operational strategies, but to construct their ideas out of Lego bricks.

One by one, these executives brought their sculptures to the next room to discuss the picture in their minds with General Manager Charlene Hung.

This is all a part of Yahoo Taiwan's accountability training.

Any occupation requires a grasp of the reigning industry trends, but in the global Internet industry, this is translated into a staggering 120,000 blogs per day, or 1.4 new blogs per second – at this rate, observing the latest trends is the key to industry leadership.

"Observing subcultures is the most important ‘air' that Internet professionals need to read," says the company's human resources director Genevieve Lu, who worked for a foreign telecom firm before joining Yahoo Taiwan.

Observing the Environment, Staying Interested in People

Walking into Hung's office, the first thing you see next to her door is the cardboard cut-out of her dressed as Superman, with the words "You are our god" written on it, and covered in post-it notes from employees.

Unlike what you'd expect of an executive at a foreign firm, "Charlene's life is a patchwork," says Lu. Before joining Yahoo Taiwan and rising to general manager, a post she has held for a year, Hung had been a nurse, a journalist and a flight attendant too.

"I am very interested in people and their immediate environments," says Hung. She has been contemplating "the air" around her since her first psychology class at nursing school.

At every job, Hung always got to know the environment first. "I looked for the most senior and knowledgeable person around to learn from," she says.

After graduating from the Fu Jen Catholic University Department of Mass Communication, Hung went to work for a news agency, and volunteered for the toughest beat – financial news. Her first day on the job, she was sent to a public hearing on banking law. Knowing nothing about finance-related regulations, this made her extremely nervous. She spent the day before cramming at the library, and the duration of the public hearing observing the every move of other, more senior journalists.

In order to fulfill her thirst for change, Hung spent three years working as a flight attendant, learning how to communicate with people from all different cultural backgrounds. At the time, international travel was not as casual as it is now, and for many passengers, it was their first time to experience flight. Hung would always look out for those who were uneasy and help them stow away their carry-on luggage.

Eight years ago, Hung switched career paths, joining Taiwan's most popular local Internet portal, Kimo, which was soon acquired by Yahoo.

Two years into her time at Yahoo, Hung asked to be transferred from the sales department to the e-commerce department. At the time, the dot-com bubble had recently burst, and the market was at an all-time low. Her keen market senses detected an emerging trend in online auctions in Taiwan, and after three months of research, she decided to take on the auction business, which few saw as holding much promise.

"The Taiwanese don't like to buy secondhand from strangers," everyone told her, but she went for it, and won the hearts of consumers island-wide. Growing at the rate of 50 percent per year, her e-commerce department expanded and thrived.

Creativity Comes from Intense Observation

Yahoo Taiwan's creative ideas all come from observing the world around us.

After noticing that users spend a great deal of time entering their search topics, Hung introduced the "Yahoo Taiwan text input method" in May, which integrates the Chinese phonetic system with a regularly updated list of popular search topics to save time.

When recruiting, Yahoo Taiwan places great importance on the applicant's ability to "read the air."

"We're looking for fun-loving types who love to learn and can grow independently," says Lu.

If a company builds a good working environment, it will naturally attract the young and creative. Many Yahoo Taiwan employees got their start as Internet forum moderators or student organization leaders.

"We never refer to anyone by their rank at the office. We even call the general manager by her first name," says Genevieve Lu. Hierarchy is an innovation killer, and she frequently encourages her staff to propose good ideas, preferably ones that would scare her.

Only an open and free environment can produce a working atmosphere in which employees dare to be creative and take joy in communicating.


Yahoo Taiwan's Secrets for 'Reading the Air'

1. Discard meaningless hierarchical concepts, so employees won't be afraid to be creative.

2. Keep up with the latest subcultural trends.

3. Encourage employees to find fun in their work.

Translated from the Chinese by Ellen Wieman

Chinese Version: 創意來自對人的興趣

Keywords:

好友人數