As students in his competitiveness class settle into their seats, the professor lets fly an opening query: “Who can tell me why Estonia was so successful in making the transition to a market economy?” There’s an awkward silence, then a hand pops up in front. “Because they moved so quickly to let in foreign trade?” The professor rubs his jaw. “Okaaaay … but why would the Estonians do a crazy thing like that?”… Another’s contention that Estonia benefited from a strong work ethic elicits outright scorn. “The Estonians lived in a centrally planned economy for 30 years,” he says. “And we all know that in a centrally planned economy, no one is hard-working.”
It’s a bravura performance in the Socratic tradition”just what you’d expect at Harvard Business School. But this isn’t Harvard. It’s half a world away, on the Beijing campus of Tsinghua University.