张一鸣 quotes

Mar 2021

Zhang Yiming (张一鸣) is the billionaire founder of Chinese internet company ByteDance, which develops a variety of apps, including the short-form video sharing platform TikTok. In his early 30s, while building his first startup, Zhang was also a prolific blogger, leaving a lot of his thoughts on work ethics, life philosophy, and relationship management on Weibo. These snippets from the early 2010s are especially interesting to look at now, considering his success in building a valuable technology giant in the post-Baidu, post-Alibaba, and post-Tencent tech landscape.

I have translated a select number of his quotes (logged in this WeChat article) to make it accessible for the English audience. They are split into three sections: person growth, management, and business. The Chinese quote is presented first, followed by English translation.

On Personal Growth


People with different expectations for knowledge satisfaction will not be able to discuss problems together, because their willingness to understand ‘depth’ of knowledge are not the same.


If you can’t do it well, don’t do it. If you have to do it, do it very well.


When you feel communicating with someone is getting difficult, the best solution is not coming up with more communication techniques, but being more honest and direct.


Practice having patience, even when things are moving fast and pressure is high.


It’s okay to use other people’s opinions as additional datapoints, never as the deciding factor in your decision.


Never stop thinking about how to make the future more exciting.

年轻人不要试图追求安全感,特别是年轻的时候,周遭环境从来都不会有绝对的安全感,如果你觉得安全了,很有可能开始暗藏危机。真正的安全感, 来自你对自己的信心,是你每个阶段性目标的实现,而真正的归属感,在于你的内心深处,对自己命运的把控,因为你最大的对手永远是自己

When you are young, don’t try to chase stability as an end-goal. There is no absolute stability; if you start to feel stable, something dangerous is likely around the corner. True stability comes when you are confident in yourself, and you accomplish every milestone you’ve set. True belonging comes when you feel like you have control over your own fate, because your biggest opponent is yourself.


There’s no risk to change if you are focused and dedicated to the change.


It’s difficult to look for faults; it’s even more difficult to look past the faults and see the goods. It’s difficult to avoid mistakes; it’s even more difficult to accept mistakes in order to be successful.


Making the right choice is more important than putting in hard work; having the right framework is more important than making the right choice.


Humble people see the faults in themselves; confident people remain positive even when they know they have faults.


I heard some people can read a book a day; the differentiator isn’t reading speed, but the ability to parse what you need to know. It’s easier said than done.


Today I will discuss perception and rationality. My perspective: perception should be developed quietly and internally, while rationality should be developed up front and center.


What biographies have you read? Two years ago a friend said, if you don’t know what kids should read, give them biographies. I’ve been thinking about biographies lately: they are great for learning about the formation of personalities, aspirations, and motivations.


The worst attribites to have when working towards something are not staying focused, and not critically thinking. There are many things I should be able to figure out, I just haven’t focused and thought critically on those topics. Extending the feeling of satisfaction is a long term exercise.


When a typhoon comes, even the pigs will fly. When your project is taking flight, you have to figure out if it’s you making it fly, or the typhoon. A pig that flies because of the typhoon will eventually fall.


If you don’t push yourself, you may never know your potential. Many things are not impossible; you just haven’t tried.


A good question is already half the answer.

现在年轻人部分流行把三四十岁退休作为理想,我不认同,我觉得理想是一直有机会创造、实现想法,有机会学习,修炼,创造到老。为什么会想退休?想退休 说明你认为现在是在“忍”。我还有很多很多想法想做,希望三四十岁更多条件 去实现想法。

Nowadays, many young professionals make it a goal to retire by the time they are in their 30s and 40s. I don’t agree. I think the goal is to constantly create opportunities to build, actualize ideas, study, practice, and create instead of wanting to ‘retire’. If you desire the retirement stage, it means you are merely ‘enduring’ the present. There’s still so much I want to do. I hope when I’m in my 30s and 40s, I’ll have more opportunities to do those things.


Ensuring a good night’s sleep is the first step to improving productivity.


We’re not missing beauty in our lives; we are missing the opportunity to share that beauty with others.


Capable people find solutions; dumb people find excuses.


Only when you leave your comfort zone can you challenge the limits of your capabilities.


My personal strategy: forget credentials & focus your energy on working hard in order to have the capability and potential to assess situations. Credentials are good anchor points, but they may not be accurate.

On Management


When you give someone enough trust and pressure, they can always do better than before.


When in meetings, there are always some people who focus on responding to emails and text instead of listening to the presenters; they think they don’t need to care about topics that don’t pertain to them. This is wrong. Inviting you to a meeting means your leadership values your thoughts and opinions; if they notice you don’t care, slowly you won’t be invited to meetings anymore. Long term, your value in the organization decreases.


Fair culture and fair trust are very important values. Establish very clearly what results in reward and what results in punishment; this is the only way for everyone to believe the game rules are fair, and they will push themselves for greater returns. CEOs must not forget this.


For a CEO, the most difficult part of the job is probably limiting themselves from trying to solve individual problems. You may have the experience and is the most qualified person to solve the problem, but this is not the way to build a strong management team. It is not easy to delegate these opportunities to others, but it’s worth it. This way, you can level up the entire organization’s capabilities.


When selecting someone who will hold a high level of influence, you need to look for the following: rationality, logic, mastery, ambition, and self-control.


I actually want to know what people on my team are doing on the weekends; I’d like to hope that everyone uses their weekends to their fullest extent. Not just about work, but also learning, rest, fun, exercise, communication, reflection etc. And this gives us opportunities to plan activities together.


A good team should be able to consistently innovate and break new barriers.

On Business


Common questions that product managers should think about: what’s the benefit, is it important, how did you know about this, and are there good ways to reach this benefit.

如果你很有才华,在某些方面又有一技之长,请先不要急于露出锋芒,如果你只是以普通身份而不是以领导身份到新单位去的,那就更不能锋芒太露。一个人新到一个单位,就像一粒石子投入一潭平静的池水,往往会引入注目,一举一动, 一言一行,都在别人的视野之中。

If you are talented, and proficient in some specific skills, please don’t rush to show off when moving to a new company or organization. If you are moving as an IC/middle manager and not an executive leader, then this applies even more. When a person arrives at a new division, they are like a small pebble landing on a tranquil lake; their actions and words will often catch everyone’s attention.


When I discover problems, I’m always happy and sad. Happy, because I can now find solutions to the problem. Sad, because I wonder why it was me who found it first, and why was it only discovered now.


There are many reasons startups die, whether it’s due to business model, direction, or strategy; however, one of the most important reason is that they failed at ensuring they meet some fundamental pillar that was easy to miss.