What contributes to success – drinking or learning?


I went to join a family gathering during Chinese New Year. One relative’s response to me saying I work in lifelong education was ‘ It is not learning that defines success here, it is drinking!’. That was meant to be a joke and I did smile.

To a very large degree, my relative was right. The reason is that transaction cost to conduct business and develop career in China is much higher compared to that of other places. To setup a business, to get a license, to obtain a promotion, connection is particularly key in order to reduce the transaction cost. To build and grow connection, drinking is a social norm. The more you drink with the right person, the less obstacle you will face in what you want to achieve. (Take your liver out of the equation).

This might somehow explain the different student profiles among MOOC learners. The Chinese parter of Coursera – Guokr did a survey to understand Chinese MOOC learners. The biggest trunk of Chinese student segment is people under age 25 (~80%). While according to Coursera’s blog last October , 73% its global students are employed.

In a culture where knowledge does play a major role in one’s career or life progression, people would have a strong motivation to continue learning even after they step out of school gate.In a culture where the key success building block comes from drinking, people would naturally develop more capacity for alcohol than the thirst for knowledge.

Having said that, my relative recently paid huge amount of money to send his daughter to a US college. Why would he made that decision to invest in his child’s education when he believes drinking define’s one’s success. That is the question I need to probe into later.


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