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From Practice to Concept of Jack Ma – The Lead Founder of Alibaba, China


No entrepreneur in the world have ever received four honorary doctorates from four prestigious universities in the world within a year. However, history must reinvent itself. This awesome, extraordinary, and outrageous lead founder of Alibaba, China – Jack Ma has shocked both the academic and world of business practitioners that the unprecedented “Mission Impossible” is possible.

Primary education teaches us how to think better. Tertiary education teaches us how to think deeper. Learning-by-doing teaches us how to think better, faster, and smarter – the outcome of project-based accelerated learning due to the spirit of an entrepreneur, i.e. entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is a process. Whilst entrepreneur is a person. Successful enterprises engage and develop a pipeline of entrepreneurs through entrepreneurship – high performance culture.

Summary of Words of Wisdom from the Four Speeches of Dr Jack Ma

The axioms from the four speeches to inaugurate the award of the four honorary doctorate degrees bestowed on Jack Ma by Tel Aviv University in Israel, De La Salle University of the Philippines in Manila, University of Hong Kong, and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (both in Hong Kong) are as follows:

  1. Persistence – never give up; believe in yourself, be yourself; dream big; be a person who command respect instead of wealth-driven
  2. Optimistic – tomorrow is better than today; work very hard to live in tomorrow’s world of Technology 3.0, the internet-of-things/systems for doing business; though many production jobs will be lost but more service jobs will be created
  3. Embrace Change – change is a constant; life is about how much have we gained from experience, learn from the mistakes and change/ improve to become better; change while the enterprise is at the peak to avoid complacency
  4. Life-long Learning – education enhance competition of knowledge which has a chain effect on competition for wisdom, experience, and creativity; the pursuit of excellence begins from being knowledge-driven to creativity-driven to imagination-driven, and ultimately to independence thinking-driven; human brain development with the right education is an asset, build our wisdom through tough experiences during the journey in our business endeavour and have the courage to accept challenges
  5. Digital Transformation – the future is changing from IT (Information Technology) to DT (Digital Technology); from 20% small scale businesses using IT in Technology Revolution 1.0 to 80% small scale businesses using IT in Technology Revolution 2.0, and 100% of all businesses are connected by the internet in Technology Revolution 3.0; the world of doing businesses is not limited by distance; Technology 3.0 puts everyone on the same starting point of a racing track for competition; competition through IoT/S is global; technology like artificial intelligence (AI) is still considered as hardware to replace the routine/mundane work; human has IQ, EQ, and LQ (love and respect) which cannot be replaced by AI; IT is for sharing of information and controls the mind; DT is responsibility to ensure trust is empowered because it involves money, e.g. fintech, bitcoin which creates the mind to enforce integrity in the internet-of-the future.
  6. Manufacturing is transforming into service industry – 80% of transactions will be on-line consumers who deals directly with the business suppliers; human beings have the heart, smart machines equip with artificial intelligence (AI) don’t have; the moral of the story is – the heart will win over the machines, with smart technology, to serve consumers, faster, smarter to beat the competition

I was enlightened, enriched, and am enthusiastic on all the four speeches made by him. Each one is refreshing, reassuring, reinforcing common sense in its own way. I define this as the words of wisdom – the outcome of smart experience over the years of mistakes that we have made but distilled into meaningful axioms. However, after a few days I have forgotten almost 80% of what Dr Ma has shared. Is it because I did not understand what he has shared or I am getting older, now I am 63 years of age, so the memory starts to fade away bit-by-bit?

Transforming Dr Jack Ma’s Words of Wisdom into a Pragmatic Model

The pictorial sketch below gives us a snapshot of the optimization of the brain, mouth, heart, and whole body which correspond to four types of power which give birth to the concept of Human Capital viz.

The brain = intellectual capital which has no business value until it is transform into an expert for hire = expert power whereby customer will engage your services and pay for it. Many highly intelligent people = intellectual capital – produces academic papers that do not fetch any commercial value resulting in either potential customer cannot understand the gist, meaning, usefulness of the article, journal, magazine, and/or book so though the theory/concept is good but the customer is unable to put it to good use. Take an example of the books written by the late Steven Covey – only one of his books are the best seller “The seven habits of an effective person”. Reason being it is readable and easy to apply and most importantly it works.

The heart = emotional capital which is the passion to succeed. But if the person refuses to change with time, old concept in the new economy does not work. So, every one of us must have the heart of change to bring us to new height of competencies to stay relevant and remain competitive to survive in the brutal business environment. Sustainable competitive advantage, we need adaptive power to strive and thrive in the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Uncertain) business environment, cause by the impact of globalization, in the era of Industry 4.0, where Technology 3.0 will change the way we work and live.

The whole body = social capital which is communication power = our ability to write, conduct oral presentation, and body language to express our feeling (90% of our role is communications). However, in Technology 3.0 communication is driven by the internet where we do not have to be physical present to conduct our presentation at site but through the digital transformation, for example webinar, e-learning, e-coaching, e-certification. Disruptive innovation of digital technology has transformed expensive and complex product/services into simple and affordable ones. The internet-of-future will be driven by customer to business directly – reducing unnecessary expenses in the non-value adding activities in the global supply chain. For example, I can now afford to attend an e-learning executive program without travelling to MIT at USD 1,400 over three months and in the past, it would have cost me USD 1,400 just for airfare from Singapore to Massachusetts. The course fee and on-campus expenses will add up to a nominal sum of USD 10,000. Further, I can repeat the lectures whenever I need by watching the YouTube video provided.

Healthy = continuous improvements in enhancing the expert power – it is essential to transform the lessons learnt from project-based action learning for resilient and stamina, in shorten term is sustainable power by building success, scaling the success, sustaining the success, and contributing back to society by sharing the success. This requires Adversity Capital = Never Give Up!


To capture all these common sense or axioms into a meaningful diagram, not just to help us to remember things that Dr Ma has shared, but to test the robustness of the paradigm – the way we think, work, and live. For nurturing and developing a pipeline of entrepreneurs in an enterprise there must be a template for us to critique and improvise to incorporate refinements and improvements for repeatability, predictability and reliability to attain quality and consistency bridging what we do and what we teach. The Venn diagram is a simple yet effective tool to deploy viz.

Ultimately, to enhance the competence of the whole organization, project-based action learning is the key to ensure all the lessons learnt goes through a structured process towards a truly creative and innovative company in pursuit of transforming knowledge advantage into action advantage – expert power, communications power, adaptive power, sustainable power of its entrepreneur.

In concluding, although all of Dr Ma’s speeches are of immense value – unless it is structured visually to show the interconnection of his thoughts, our ability to memorise by heart will be in vain. Nevertheless, the essence of a Venn diagram coupled with a pictorial sketch will help us to understand and remember what we have learnt from the profound and valuable speeches of Dr Jack Ma with ease.

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Practice Professor KC Chan

Wholistic Chan is the President of TWAN Pte Ltd and an advisor to Pradita Institute of Science and Technology. He holds MSc (Industrial Engineering) and BSc (Production Management) degrees from the Cranfield University (England), an MBA (Strategic Management) and PhD (International Business) from the University of Strathclyde (Scotland). He also holds three doctorate degrees in project-based action learning. He is visiting professor to five leading universities in Asia. He has published 7 books, i.e. strategic project management, agile leadership, technopreneurship, design thinking in enterprise risk management, and disruptive thinking for Olympic innovation. He has also published over 100 articles in international journals and business magazines.

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