Sep 08

Robert Compton, one of America’s most succesful businessmen, talks to Fool’s Mountain

Written by dewang on Tuesday, September 8th, 2009 at 12:00 am
Filed under:Analysis, economy, education | Tags:, , , ,
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Bob Compton and U.S. President Obama

Bob Compton talks to U.S. President Obama abour education reform

More Americans are becoming aware of Bob Compton (standing next to U.S. President Obama in the picture to the left) for his efforts in changing America’s education system.Compton is one of the most successful businessmen in America.He has created numerous companies, lead companies with sales of a million dollars to hundreds of millions, and served as President of NYSE-listed companies.  He is an active venture capitalist as well as an angel investor.  Compton traveled the world extensively.  He is also keenly interested in what is happening outside the USA.  His funded companies hire engineers in China and India.

Compton produced two documentary films:  “Two Million Minutes” and “Win in China.”

“Two Million Minutes” explores how two high school students from each of U.S., China, and India spend their high school years.  The film claims that the U.S. K-12 education system is fundamentally flawed, and that Indian and Chinese students are much better prepared for the future.
“Win in China” documents a business competition ran on China’s CCTV-3 in 2006, and the film claims that China  is a hotbed of innovation, creativity, and ambition that will soon rival that of the United States.

Fool’s Mountain’s editors, Steve and DeWang (aka huaren), had a chance to talk with Compton about these two films.  In this Bob Compton series of articles, we hear directly from Compton. We also would like you to join us on this debate as framed by the two films:

  1. Is the K-12 education system in the USA fundamentally broken and that the 21st century American work force will not be able to compete against India and China?
  2. Is China a hotbed of innovation, creativity, and ambition that will soon rival that of the United States?

In this first installment, we asked Compton to tell FM readers what his background was so we can better understand the experiences he is drawing from:

Bob Compton talks to Fool’s Mountain about his career in business and entrepreneurship (10 min)

He then takes us through the discoveries in India and China which then prompted him to produce “Two Million Minutes.”

Bob Compton talks to Fool’s Mountain about “Two Million Minutes” (10 min)

Subsequently, he made the documentary film, “Win in China.”

Bob Compton talks to Fool’s Mountain about “Win in China” (9 min)

Below are additional materials on the two documentary films. You may visit the “Two Million Minutes” and “Win in China” film sites to order the DVD’s.

Stay tuned for the second installments where we get to hear Compton tell Fool’s Mountain why the U.S. K-12 education system is flawed and that Americans will therefore be unprepared to compete against Indian and Chinese future workers. The third installment will explore Compton’s “Win in China” documentary film where he speaks to us about China becoming a hotbed of innovation, creativity, and ambition that will soon rival that of the United States.

As usual, we invite your participation in this debate. What do you agree with him on? Where do you disagree? Why?

“Win in China”

“Two Million Minutes”

[Edit 9/12/2009: Added official Two Million Minutes trailier]

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29 Responses to “Robert Compton, one of America’s most succesful businessmen, talks to Fool’s Mountain”

  1. Charles Liu Says:


  2. TonyP4 Says:

    I’ll find some time to look at the films. I do have several questions/comments on the brief description.

    * Within each country the education system has a vast difference from city to city. A city in Beijing (a Tier I city) is very different from a rural village. Same for US. So, quite hard to generalize.

    * Family should play a big part in the education. The typical black kid does not have a chance to compete in academic class. It is sad but quite true. Exceptions abound such as Obama.

    * Most top high schools in US encourage innovative thinking (that leads to innovative products/services) while most top ones in China prepare the students to take exam.

    Judging from the accomplishments of the Chinese and Indians in US graduate schools, it seems good in taking exam. is not too bad.

    * It is important that the education system meets the society’s needs than the individual’s needs. It wastes resources if the country needs 1,000 engineers and 100 artists, but the education system produces 100 engineers and 1,000 artists.

    * In a modern society like US, (for rough estimate for discussion), we may need 1% genius, 30% professionals (engineers, doctors…), and the rest are uneducated cleaning offices, farming… Over-educated could do harm to the country. China today has a hard time to absorb all the college graduates.

    Just random thoughts.

  3. Raj Says:

    I will look at this in more depth later, but thanks for taking the time to put it all together.

  4. dewang Says:

    Thx Charles. I encourage you to go off and do some homework in these areas, and if you have friends who have lots to say, help this effort by encouraging them to come here and debate, especially in the next two installments.

  5. dewang Says:

    HI TonyP4,
    Nice “random” thoughts. I encourage you to dig deeper those thoughts of yours – find numbers to support or refute. I hope you will be deeply engaged with us on this series.

  6. dewang Says:

    Sure, Raj. Would like to hear your perspective, especially from U.K..

  7. hzzz Says:

    I listened through the 9 min audio and watched through the trailers, pretty interesting stuff.

    I wonder if the documentary will contain bits about the cultures as well. For example, I personally believe the reason why academic areas in Chinese schools are so competitive while the sports area are not has something to do with the traditional Confucius teachings.

    I know that I don’t want to send my kids to schools in China, Japan, or any asian nations though. Focusing simply in certain areas such as math and science (indian system) or route memorization (china/japanese system) in a hyper competitive system make a lot more obsessive robots than happy kids..

  8. TonyP4 Says:

    Hi Hzzz,

    Chinese and Indians are more motivated to study harder than American counterpart. In these countries, if you do not study, you’re nobody with no future.

    Here is my coconut theory how folks are motivated to think and work hard that I posted in Cities of Dreams or Nightmare (so there is nothing wrong with your eyes in seeing double).


    If you’re in some tropical island, you sleep all day. When you’re hungry, you just climb up the tree you’re under to get the coconut, you do not need to think much but how to open the coconut.

    In the extreme case, the coconut falls, breaks open when it hits your head, so you do not really have to think at all. 🙂

    Chinese do not have a coconut tree, so they’ve to work hard and think. After many years, they could be smarter and work harder as the environment forces them to adept. My stupid theory and nothing to do with racism.

    With that in mind, I do not think the black or any race that leads a easy life would succeed if they were inhabitants of HK instead of Chinese.

    If every Chinese had a coconut tree under them, HK would not be successful for the same reason. 🙂

  9. Raj Says:


    I am astounded by your ignorant stereotyping in regards to all people with dark (“Black”) skin colour.

    Africans do not live on tropical islands so never had coconut trees to live under. Caribbeans arrived on tropical islands due to slavery, but they did not all live on coconuts and they most certainly do not live on them today. Indeed trying to live on them coconuts long-term can make you very ill.

    The idea that “Blacks” suffer from poverty in many countries because their descendants all lived underneath coconut trees is frankly racist.

  10. dewang Says:

    Hi TonyP4, #8,
    I’d prefer we stay more strictly on topic and avoid the distraction. Please be considerate that we are spending good effort on this topic. I’ll collapse your comment once I learn how.

    Hi Raj, #9,
    That’s a very unfriendly response and not conducive either. I’ll collapse your comment as well.

  11. Raj Says:


    To collapse a comment you need to be logged in and vote on a post. If you vote without logging in you will only vote it down one point. Whether you are logged in or not, once you’ve voted you can’t do it again.

    Ordinarily I wouldn’t do this because it’s your thread, but as you want the comments collapsed and they’re off-topic I will do it for you.

  12. dewang Says:

    Hi hzzz, #7,

    Culture and rote memorization are two important items in this debate, so you will hear about it in the next installment.

    Could you spend some time digging into these areas and help put meat to the bone (sorta speak) in preparation for the next installment?

  13. TonyP4 Says:

    Hi Dewang, I thought the motivation (and so is family support) to study is important for comparison, but fine with me to concentrate on the topic.

  14. dewang Says:

    Hi TonyP4, #13,

    I agree with you – the motivation is important. Culture and other things “outside” the K-12 education system is important and I think a really worth while angle to explore.

    Again, please refer to my comment #5 to your comment #2. thx.

  15. hzzz Says:

    #7 “Could you spend some time digging into these areas and help put meat to the bone (sorta speak) in preparation for the next installment?”

    Hmm, the Wikipedia entry on China’s education system is actually really good.


    I attended elementary school for a brief time in Shanghai in the 80s. It wasn’t fun. School hours were long (8am to 4pm + tutors on weekends) and a lot of the tests were focused purely on memorization (memorizing poems, paragraphs, etc). In the math/science department I would say that the Chinese students were learning stuff roughly 3 years ahead of Americans. I remember learning some Algebra starting in the 5th grade in China, while having to go over it again in the 8th grade in because a lot of the US junior highs don’t offer geometry. A Chinese class mate of mine who also came to the US ended up attending Phillips Exeter (an elite school in NH) and was studying Linear Algebra in the 9th grade. That is nearly unheard of in the US (most Americans never get to study this because it’s taught only after Calculus and most colleges only require Calculus for math) but is not that uncommon in China.

    One thing lacking in most of the articles on education in China is the amount of competitiveness in the system. Whereas in the West most student compete to get into good colleges, in China the process begins with high school. Also, test scores alone is a major basis for admission. Hence, you get the issue of people studying purely to do well on the tests by trying to remember the answers to previous versions of the test rather than actually think how to solve the problem. On a political tangent, this is why I scoff at those who think lower test requirements for minorities in China isn’t a big deal. Most Chinese, hans or not would consider that a huge advantage save the few who don’t care about social mobility (most say they don’t but they do).

    Speaking of entrance exams, it’s actually a relic of the old Imperial examination system which had lasted for some 1300 years. Since the ancient times, politicians fall into two categories: scholar and warrior. Since there were no elections, warriors were chosen based on their military might, while the the scholar branch of imperial advisers obtain their posts by succeeding in the imperial examination. Every year, scholars would travel across the country to the capital in order to take this examination and hope for a government job. In an agrarian society, doing well in this test was one of the few means for average citizens to move upwards socially and financially. The examination itself has been romanticized in many if not most ancient Chinese novels/stories and is well ingrained into the Chinese culture as a test for success in life. The underdog, born in a poor family, climbed his way up through the imperial exam is the typical plot.

    Today this sentiment still remains in Chinese people’s heads : to do well on academic tests means success in life.

    I would research more on this topic but my Chinese is quite lacking and I don’t know how to type using the Chinese style keyboard.

  16. dewang Says:

    Hi hzzz, #15,

    Thx for this nice post. I guess we mind as well start throwing things out there.

    I would research more on this topic but my Chinese is quite lacking and I don’t know how to type using the Chinese style keyboard.

    It seems like we are on similar level in our Chinese education. I left China at the end of 4th grade. I go on baidu.com and type in English – often enough Chinese characters show up that I barely recognize. I then cut&paste. Or I use Google’s translator. I use pingyin too – if you add Chinese input in Windows.

    Today this sentiment still remains in Chinese people’s heads : to do well on academic tests means success in life.

    I can personally attest to this as well. My parents always reminded me and my brothers while growing up to study and do our homework. Its like a mantra. After our family immigrated to the U.S., they repeated this same mantra. I played organized volleyball in high school and college in the U.S., but my parents tried for a while to discourage me from playing thinking that might allow me to bring up my grades.

    As a common denominator, I’d say this 1300 year tradition is extremely valuable for a society. In some ways, this is enlightenment in ancient times that people are created equal and that particular thought was actually put into practice.

  17. TonyP4 Says:

    @hzzz #15

    Phillips Exeter is the top of the high schools (close to schools for geniuses) and is miles, miles ahead of an average public school in ghetto. So, hard to generalize.

    In a white ghetto like Lynn in MA, where there are many teenage mothers, single parents and even prostitutes, their children do not have good chance to finish high school, not to mention to go to college. If the children do not want to learn, no matter how much money you throw in and how good the teachers you have, they still fail.

    Actually in Hong Kong we have entrance exam. in the 6th grade for entering better high schools. A good high school and an average one in HK are vastly different. Most of my classmates got into my high school with good grades (I’m not), they’re doing great in life.

    My theory on Beijing Duck style of education for academic subjects. It may not be that bad at all. We train our brains to memorize to take tests and recite poems. Same as taking piano lessons for youngers even they will not be musicians. The developed brains mature and think creatively in graduate schools. The society may not need creatively for most jobs like the average accountants and computer programmers – many exceptions. However, graduate students need to be more creative to discover new products, theories… instead of just applying rules/formula. Just a brief summary and too simplified for debate.

  18. Charles Liu Says:

    Just for comparison, standardized testng, and test prep/craming by teachers, were part of no child left behind during Bush regime in US.

    Was that better or worse than what’s been happening in America’s publc schools where children in general are placed in the lowest common denomiator and not expected to excel?

  19. TonyP4 Says:

    Some children should be left behind as they do not have a chance with the culture, family support…We need to be realistic. The reward/cost does not justify and there are many, many bad examples already.

    As long as they do not become a burden to the society (like being a prisoner, drug addict…), they can make min. wage at McDonald’s and the government subsidizes their living expenses.

  20. dewang Says:

    Hi Charles, #18,

    This idea of a “lowest common denominator” and lowered expectation is often discussed. Do you think you can help quantify it? How does the picture look like across different neighborhoods in the U.S.?

    In my neighborhood, I would say, the bar is set extremely high by the parents. The parents are very active in the public schools and in their kids education. I’d say my neighborhood is fairly diverse – 30% European decent, 25% East Asian, 20% Indian, and 25% else.

  21. dewang Says:

    Hi TonyP4, #19,

    That it a very interesting view. You are saying: students not interested and not motivated, and despite society’s best efforts, why then continue to waste the resource? Let them fail and allocate resource to the people who are going to make a bigger impact.

    I always wonder what the prevailing view is on this. In reality, how much does the “laggers” consume in terms of resources vs. the norm.

    What is the right policy in education to address this phenomenon?

  22. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Dewang and Tony:
    Tony’s perspective reminds me a lot of my parents’ attitude when I was a kid. Studying was the be-all/end-all. It works for some, but I don’t think it’s for everyone. And while there are high achievers and folks in McDonald’s, there is also a lot in between….and let’s face it, that’s where most people end up. Not everyone can, or will, become lawyers/doctors/rocket scientists, despite the apparent impression of some Asian parents (I’d certainly lump Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian together here, based on my experience). Nor should they, if society is to function.

  23. dewang Says:

    Hi S.K. Cheung,

    Agreed. My parents were same way towards me and my siblings.

    Knowing that my parents yearned to study more and couldn’t when they were young, and given we were dirt poor upon arriving in the U.S., that attitude was one of the best gift they could give us.

  24. TonyP4 Says:

    Besides academic subjects, we also need musicians, artists, fashion designers… for a well-rounded society where regular academic training may not applied.

    Our generation of Chinese and most other Asians limits our professional choices. However, we can see more are coming in other non-traditional professions. When will we see a Chinese QB in NFL (one guy from Hawaii is promising)?

  25. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Dewang:
    Don’t get me wrong. My parents also made huge sacrifices when we came to Canada, and I too am grateful that they held my nose to the grindstone. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, for many in their generation, the prevailing impression was that that was the only way to get ahead. It certainly is one way. But with my own kids, I think/I hope that my approach will be that there’s more than one way to get ahead, and there’s something to be said for being well-rounded.

    To Tony:

  26. dewang Says:

    HI S.K. Cheung,

    I got it, and I am with you.

  27. MODmeDown Says:


  28. BMY Says:

    ChinaGeeks has a article last month about LuXun (Luckily he lived in old ROC) which also touched the same subject about the Chinese education


    sorry, didn’t mean to drive off traffic

  29. dewang Says:

    Thx for the link, BMY.

    In that article, this idea of ‘rote memorization’ came up. The 2nd installment podcast is up now and you can hear what Compton says about that.

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