“We can always do better. We can always go an inch further.”
ShaoLan grew up watching her parents, both artists, constantly build on their work. Now she’s modeling the same behavior for her own children with how she tackles Chineasy. Look inside her process.
Last year, ShaoLan, the founder of Chineasy, stood in her laundry room during the making of a stop-motion video. She had a first-class creative team with her—an animator and a photographer leading production. And that day, they were joined by a promising young assistant. That assistant? It was ShaoLan’s 15-year-old daughter, MuLan (pen name LanHsu). “My children are very involved in what I do,” says ShaoLan, who also has a 13-year-old son. “That’s how we build a meaningful connection, rather than just me bugging them to do their homework or take a bath.” For ShaoLan, her team has become family, and her daughter and son have the benefit of learning from those extended family members.
In fact, ShaoLan was trying to pique her children’s interests when she started Chineasy five years ago. Chinese is ShaoLan’s first language, but her son and daughter were born in the United Kingdom. “When my children were really little, they would always respond when I spoke Chinese to them,” she says. “But then, when they got a little older and realized that everyone around them spoke English, they started refusing to communicate in Chinese—they played dead.”
ShaoLan wanted to get them interested in her native language, which pushed her to create Chineasy, a method that uses charming and attractive design elements to make learning Chinese more intuitive. Since Chineasy’s earliest days, ShaoLan’s children have been her product testers, her design consultants, and her toughest critics. And they must have given her some good feedback: In half a decade, Chineasy has become a global brand, with books, games, lesson plans, a daily podcast, and multiple apps.
How ShaoLan stays focused when there’s a lot going on
ShaoLan wants to bring creativity—and a clear head—to Chineasy every day. Click through to find out the mix of routines that help her do just that, even on the most hectic of days.
Connect to the bigger mission
“The first and last thing I do every day is think about my mission of bridging the gap between the East and West. That intention is what fuels me.”
Try to minimize meetings
“Generally, I try to limit myself to three meetings a day. I’m just happier on days when I have fewer meetings, and I can get into a flow and get my real work done. Also, if someone is late for a meeting, I don’t get upset: That’s just more free time for myself."
Spend some time meditating
“I meditate in the morning, at night, sometimes even, during a spare moment, on the bus. It brings me clarity.”
Lift some really heavy weights
“In order to lift 100 kg, you have to focus and control your breathing. Through weight lifting, I’ve trained myself to concentrate.”
Copy down poetry
“Before a big meeting, I’ll copy poems so I can relax and get some clarity. It works for me.”
Of course, ShaoLan isn’t finished with Chineasy just yet. Her next move will be launching the Chineasy Story Builder app, which will enable young children to have an integrative learning environment in which to immerse themselves. After that, she has even bigger plans: “Maybe I’m getting ambitious here,” she says, “but I would like to have Chineasy’s success inspire people to do the same with other languages. It’s not only Chinese culture that needs to be understood, but Hindi, Hebrew, Farsi.”
The desire to keep building is a byproduct of the hours she spent watching her own parents work while she was growing up. Her mother, a calligrapher, and her father, a ceramic artist, would pore over pieces until they were perfect, even throwing away nearly completed works that they deemed weren’t good enough. “Back then, I couldn’t understand how something that I thought was beautiful wasn’t good enough,” she says. “But now, of course, I get it. We can always do better, we can always go an inch further.”
And that’s a lesson ShaoLan hopes to impart to her own children as well. Ultimately, it’s her desire to keep taking Chineasy to the next level—and to further bridge the gap between the East and West—that keeps her in process.
Good news? Bad news? Who knows?
“There’s a philosophy that millions of Chinese have used to get through both prosperous and tough times. It goes like this: ‘Good news? Bad news? Who knows?’ The idea is, you never know how the universe is at work. You never know what will ultimately be a gain or loss. What you think is a setback might not be a setback.”
– ShaoLan, founder and creator, Chineasy