Monday, July 27, 2015

Everything Korea: Episode July 27 Insightful Feedback and Resources

I’ve just begun compiling feedback from the new case study.  Contributions from readers, like you, show highly engagement in the study as well as many dealing with some common issues. 

One that surfaced was although they have achieved much success Korean brands in their overseas operation need to adopt MORE to local norms including accepting failure and missteps. If not, and as a consequence growth will stall and be unsustainable--something of recent concern that we see occurring globally amid strong competition by rivals and changing markets.

To paraphrase one well thought out response that nailed it dead center with this profound statement.  With regard to their local Korean business operations  “[a] company needs to foster innovation rather than just be a fast follower.

Adding, “The challenge is with ‘Acceptance of mistakes’, which as you noted [ in the case study] is one of the foundations for American’s success. Culturally, failure [for Koreans] is not an option. Until they realize that it can serve as a foundation for success, they won’t be able to go much further.”

Again, in the next few episodes look for a more well thought out feedback, which I share on the case study.

Meanwhile, changing the topic slightly, but sharing as solutions…I’ve offered considerable content over the past several years in video format—first are a series of 5 concise videos, and second a more recent 2015 presentation—all captured in high resolution and quality audio.  I strongly encourage you to view.

For the 1st five videos they run 2-3 minutes, and the last video about 26 minutes.

Opportunities and Challenges

Common Misconceptions

Lesson in Localization

Competitive Advantage

A Shift in Korean Management Styles

Korea Perspective

As always I’m happy to answer questions, please direct them to

Until next time…

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Everything Korea, July 20 Episode: a Case Study Sneak Peek This week we have something special, a preview of a new case study.

Over the past month I have been sharing the role of the creative class in the workplace--Korea and America. To clarify I looked at the “culture” needed to foster the Creative Mind in the workplace, and in particular recognize their values, norms, and attitudes.  The new case study is the result of this study and research.

This said, I have attached a link to this new Case Study.  Please take a moment to download and read.  I would appreciate any feedback and comments before we offer it to a wider Korea facing distribution.

And by the way…
If you and your company would like to discuss challenges, I would be happy to chat. I’ve found each company has its own dynamics and I approach this case-by-case crafting an approach tailored to the client.

So until next time…

Schedule a chat?
or if you have a Direct Question?  Go to

Download Link for the Case Study:  

Monday, July 13, 2015

Everything Korea, July 13 Episode: a Roadmap for Creative Class Korea and US

In the two previous posts we looked at the dynamics required to nurture a creative and innovative workplace. In particular, Korean work values, norms and attitude surfaced as polar opposites to the characteristics of the western creative class workplace.  In turn some core change would be required if Korea aspired to develop a strong sustainable innovation-driven economy. In fact, the current South Korean president, Madame Park, Geun-hye recognized this and upon election boldly had proclaimed a  “Creative Economy” as her platform for Korea’s economic growth over her 5 year term in office.

Frankly most in Korea’s private and public sector have found this high level government mandate hard to embrace—in part because the overall concept was difficult to grasp within their current society.  And, as I have pointed out what drives a creative economy is creatives as well as the unique communities that align with values and sustain their lifestyles.  For example over-hearing a tech startup chat in edgy Golden, Colorado coffee shop Pangea, I quizzed the three young entrepreneurs on “why Golden?” They response was 1) lifestyle, and more specifically rock climbing 2) access to established startup and incubator hubs like Boulder and Denver, and 3) available local funding for startup, the community quite wealthy.

To give another snapshot, Biz Stone former Twitter co-founder shared in a recent weekly update on his current venture, his partner Ben Finkel’s view on their work culture

* The world is our oyster. We get to build awesome software, dream up future products, use the best technologies, and get well paid for doing it. There’s no handbook, but the challenge is part of the thrill.

* We have tons of flexibility in our work style, no micromanaging and minimal bureaucracy. Of course, we can still improve our work processes, but this is another problem we get to collaboratively improve together.

* Working with a small, creative group thinking up and building future products—that has always been my dream. Of course, the products won’t work as planned, we’ll have to adapt, redirect, and persist.

In a future Everything Korea episode, I’ll suggest some steps Korean companies need to take if they look to build a creative workforce in their domestic Korean divisions, but before I tackle that set of challenges, I would like to address the need for Korean overseas operations to be sensitive to the needs, values, and attitudes of the creatives with their local organizations.  Studies show that up to 1/3 of the American workforce are now part of the creative class. The best companies recognize this trend. Sadly, firms that ignore this reality, suffer.

My big concern is that Korean companies with global operations may fail to recognize this reality, too.  This reality was well captured by Authors Josh Hammond and James Morrison in their book The Stuff Americans Are Made Of.

The authors cite seven cultural forces that define Americans:
1      Insistence on choice
2      Pursuit of impossible dreams
3      Obsession with big and more
4      Impatience with time
5      Acceptance of mistakes
6      Urge to improve
7      Fixation with what’s new

I feel Korean companies need to recognize and adopt a creative culture in local markets to sustainable recruit and retain this talent -- a difficult challenge even for many American companies strongly rooted in older workplace norms.  Again quoting Richard Florida, “ Many companies are merely presenting a cheap, façade of the alternative [creative culture]—a Ping-Pong table, perhaps an espresso machine.”

So for starters, Korean companies that need to draw upon local creative class talent will find that locating in right community can be half the battle.  This means a locale that embraces diversity and openness, with some edgy counter-culture thrown in.  Interestingly, we know there is considerable synergy between the creative class workforce in these communities like San Francisco, Austin, TX and Boulder, Colorado—a huge side benefit to any firm looking to nurture their workforce.

Perhaps the greatest hurtle is ensuring that Korea workplace norms and company practices do not over-power and overtake local norms—resulting in a stifling of the very creativity the Korean company so desires…  In the worst cases, top creatives will exit and those that stay make no attempt to tap their creativity.

Again this is not an easy task, and frankly one I spend considerable time as a consultant providing leadership and teams—Korean and Western-- with strategy work arounds and solutions.   And, I do have solutions.

More to come on this topic, in the meantime if you and your company would like to discuss, I would be happy to chat. I’ve found each company has it’s own dynamics and I approach case-by-case crafting an approach tailored to the client.

So until next time…

Oh, one more thing…. I am back in SoCal and OC two days this week.  Some time still open

Schedule a chat?
Direct Questions?  Go to

Monday, July 06, 2015

Everything Korea, July 6 Episode: an edgy Korean Counter-culture?

To recap my thoughts in previous posts, a strong Creative Class is seen as key to sustaining a forward-leaning, innovative economy.  Going hand in hand with this is workplaces that embrace diversity and openness, are not opposed to self-expression, promote individual recognition for hard work as well as resulting compensation (more than a base pay) for doing what they are good at… and they work in a community offering an engaging and even edgy lifestyle.  

So where do I see disconnects between South Korea and America?
For starters in America the old Fordism and Company Man model at least for the creative class has shifted. Workers were once strongly tied to the company, this relationship nicely summed up by Richard Florida, “You were a company man, identifying with the company and often moving largely in the circles created or dictated by it.”  Today, creatives value their unique social identity--one able to move intact from firm to firm and well as assuming the risks and absorbing the benefits companies once backed.

In contrast, rooted in Korean norms and collectivism, Korean workers strongly identify with their company—perhaps more so within the major Groups like Samsung, Hyundai, LG, and SK, as well as those working for a high profile global brands in Korea like Nike.

These organizations tend to be highly traditional vertical (and often horizontal) corporations— top-down management hierarchically flowing workload down to teams (most often operating in silos) with the Taylorized expectancy they follow routines and norms long established.  In contrast, a creative work culture dies when so regimented as Florida points out, “ like rote work in the old factory or office.”  A long hour chained to cubical cranking out Point points is very different than a culture where ideas are conceptualized inside one’s head in a café over a latte or during a trail run. 

All said, one could argue Korea may not be wired for fostering a sustainable creative culture.  

What I do find as encouraging is many in Korea on a personal level attracted to and appreciate counter-culture. There is an ever growing segment is their society adopting a lifestyle more conducent to creativity.  Much of this influence has been Koreans exposed to the global art scene, the influence of expat non-Koreans, plus Koreans embracing their own traditional artisan heritage.  In some ways, this movement has taken on a rather edgy Bohemian feel… one I find very cool. 

Seoul LP Bars, the 60s and Dylan.

For example, Korean media reports there are a growing number of “dives with DJs and extensive collections of LPs,” many located in ultra-hip neighborhoods…. walls plastered with album covers from the likes of Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and B.B. King. The interiors shrines to Bob Dylan and Neil Young and the cultural revolution of the 1960s.

One more thing,
I have a request for my friends both Korean and non-Korean expats in Korea to share their observations, especially on the emerging counter-culture.

I’ll also be pulling together some example of a budding Korean counter-culture scene and what I see as roadmap for workplaces looking to attract and groom creatives—not only for Korea, but also for their U.S. and global operations.

Until next time…

Schedule a chat?

Direct Questions?  Go to


Monday, June 29, 2015

Everything Korea, June 29 Episode: the Gap in Norms

Outside my day-to-day support of Korean facing business and clients, I am drawn to ponder on issues and drill deep. I other words research, investigation and then providing commentary on the direction of Korean business from trends inside Korea to Korea-facing international operations. 

An example of this process, several years ago I coined the term K-lobalization (Globalization with a K for Korea) as I saw the trend when Korean firms boldly promote their own unique management style and corporate culture internationally and across many markets. A recent manifestation is organization-wide, corporate-directed mandates.... from core value, vision, and management training directives to most recently how they should brand or even target specific consumers in local markets. Usually these programs are expected to be unchallenged and accepted without question by overseas teams—at times not in the best interest of the local operation.  

This said, a new topic, which has my interest, was touched upon in May 11 edition of Everything Korea… there I argue a key challenge in Korean success with startups and innovation was “culture.”   I would like to expand this perspective more broadly to be the “culture” needed to foster the Creative Process in general.  In fact, this is the first of  three commentaries on the topic.

Let me explain.  What has evolved in America regarding startups, tech, and innovation is they tend to hub in cities with diversity and strong counter-cultures like Boulder, Colorado, San Francisco, Austin, TX, and NYC, although more and more scenes are emerging in Nashville, TN or here in Golden, CO…


                                                Nuff said…Edgy Austin and  Jack Kerouac

Within these communities I have witnessed an amazing synergy not only in day-to-day interactions and dialogue, but also in resources.  Actually spending an hour and listening to the chats and even pitches for Angel Funding in edgy Caffe Centro on a South Park Street in San Francisco (the couple of blocks once referred as the Tech Ground Zero and where concepts like Twitter were launched and well as scores of tech companies and startups now call home) one quickly sees why locating in one of these scenes is key.  In fact, showing how widespread, I frequently hear similar coffee shop launch pitches in Golden, Colorado.

Let me explain more in detail.
As academic Richard Florida points out in The Rise of the Creative Class, creatives as a group reflects a “powerful and significant shift in values, norms, and attitudes.” He clusters this attitude to be:

1) Individualism

2) Meritocracy

3) Diversity and Openness (which can translate to gender, sexual preference, race and my favorite “personal idiosyncrasies”.)

Of course those familiar with the Korean workplace and by this I don't mean only the larger organizations but even most progressive firms, recognize there is a huge disparity from these “creative” norms.

For example, in contrast to the individualism within the creative class, in Korea we find deeply rooted collectivism where the group is the primary unit of reality and the ultimate standard of value.

In collectivistic societies, group goals take precedent over an individual’s objectives. This view does not deny the reality of the individual, but, ultimately, collectivism holds that one's identity is determined by the group(s) with which one is affiliated.

Collectivistic cultures also require that individuals fit into the group—and “conform.”

Noting this, outside values, norms and attitude, perhaps the gap between US and Korea that also occurs is in “risk mindset.”  Today the American entrepreneurs, angel investors and VC who launched Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, Square and now Super continue to look for, invest and provide mentorship and guidance to what they hope will be the next success story…. In most cases they are investing resources in multiple ventures…. 

This said they know and accept that failure is part of the process…. As Biz Stone (co-founder of Twitter, and an early investor in Square, Medium…and a bunch more) said at SXSW on his most recent work…  “the failure of one venture, Jelly, led to success at a venture, ”

So getting back to Korea the real challenge is not in lack of ideas or topnotch talent, but in allowing and fostering a culture of Diversity and Openness, an acceptance of failure, and tolerating and even embracing non-conformity. 

The good news…. I would not give up on Korea and a creative culture.  More of my thoughts on this in the next episode of Everything Korea. I even will propose a roadmap for grooming creatives in Korea.

So until next time…

The Rise of the Creative Class  


The Beat Museum

Biz Stone’s

Questions and Comments?