5 lessons learnt from the founder of ByteDance, Zhang Yiming

Written by Joanna Ng Published on     4 mins read

Zhang shares his thoughts on facing competition within the industry, and how we should focus more on the present rather than worry about the future.

ByteDance recently celebrated its anniversary on 30 March 2021. During the celebration, Founder Zhang Yiming shares the progress that ByteDance achieved in the past year, as well as some of his personal thoughts.

Here are a few key takeaways from his speech:

#1: Do not let expectations and labels hinder you from reaching your potential

Zhang explains how labels and expectations from oneself and others might hinder us from reaching our full potential. For example, if one is a high executive of a company, he or she may not ask simple questions due to ego or their competencies being questioned. He mentioned this is why ByteDance does not emphasize company titles. A title will result in comparison amongst others, and set up expectations for what person is responsible for.

He refers back to his experience of working at Kuxun, a Chinese flight and hotel search engine. During that period, he involved himself in various aspects of the business, including sales and product management, even though that wasn’t his main role. Reflecting how these experiences have shaped him, he believes that it is crucial for one to break free of expectations and labels in order to achieve their full potential.

#2: Focus on the present while facing the past and future with a calm demeanor

“The psychological condition of fear is divorced from any concrete and true immediate danger.”

The Power of Now

Best-selling book “The Power of Now” mentions how humans tend to spend their time living in the past and feeling anxious about their future, rather than focusing on the present.

In 2020, he encouraged his company to “stay calm, be patient” in the face of a huge challenge posed by COVID-19.  One of the lessons he learnt early on is that outcomes cannot always be fully controlled. As long as we can remain calm and do not rush through decision making, oftentimes the outcome is good enough.

#3: Treat competition with a calm demeanor

Zhang brings up how his team sometimes laments, “When will this competition end?”

In his opinion, instead of avoiding competition, we should treat competition with a calm demeanor. He feels that companies should not use acquisitions as a way to cut off competition, as there have been many cases where such companies start to be complacent.

Competition might not be a bad thing. With competitors in the same field, we can learn from their products and strategies. He shares how important criticisms of competitors can be, because they are the only ones who will actively point out your problems. By taking those criticisms calmly, it can help to improve the company.

However, competition should not be the main focus of a company. Using Microsoft and Google as an example, he explains how Microsoft tried to compete with Google for years over search engines before ultimately realising that the real competitor that affects their core business was Amazon. Opportunities can be lost when we put all our hearts and minds trying to determine the winners of a competition.

#4: Sometimes, having an “All-in” mindset can be a sign of laziness

When teams have an “All-in” mindset, it could also be a sign of laziness. Unless you’ve thought the entire process through and concluded that this is the right strategy, oftentimes this is just a mindset where a team says, “I don’t want to think about it anymore. Let’s just take a bet and hope for the best.”

Zhang emphasizes on not taking shortcuts, and thinks that companies should rely less on methodologies and abstract concepts. Gaining knowledge can come in different ways, and at times, using methodologies or jargon does not help solve problems.

He mentions how he often sees counter-intuitive designs in their own products, and wonders how these were being designed. He believes that this was because they probably wanted to prove a concept too much, and ended up with problems in product design. Hence, he makes his point about using less methodologies, but instead, treat the business with a calm demeanor and open mind in order to create good products.

“Don’t rush to conclusions,” Zhang would often tell his colleagues. “Don’t mindlessly use the words ‘simply put.’” When making conclusions, there is still a need to have an open mind to think of other possibilities.

#5: Treat successes and failures with a calm demeanor

He shared a story on how he heard a team mention taking action because their competitor had done well. It was interesting to him that there is usually no stress when they are behind competition. They would just think of many different ways to increase their sales, and charge forward courageously. However, now that they have surpassed their competitor, it was harder to maintain a calm demeanor due to the fear of failure.

Uncertainty often causes anxiety in us, and this rises in the need to find a “cause and effect” to every success and failure. However, we should not confuse external factors as internal, and not mistake luck for competency. Instead, we should treat both successes and failures with a calm demeanor.

Zhang also shares his 4 steps in facing failure:

1. Realize it – Realising your mistake, so that you will be less upset about it.

2. Correct it.

3. Learn from it.

4. Forgive it – learn to let it go, and move on. Do not self-criticise too much.

No matter in our personal lives or career, whatever challenges and hardships that we might face, are all external forces at play. All we can do is face these challenges with a calm demeanor.

This article was originally from ByteDance’s WeChat Official Account. Read the translated full speech by KrASIA here


Joanna Ng

Joanna Ng is the Community Coordinator at KrASIA.


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