A commentary on Korean global business and popular culture.
Wednesday, February 01, 2017
Everything Korea, January 30 Episode, A Matter of Process
Like a moth to a bright light, I am drawn to Korean facing business issues and trends. I explore and then provide commentary on the direction of Korean business from developments inside South Korea to their impact on international operations. To better define this task, my perspective is “culture.”
I’d like to share some thoughts from my most recent visit to Seoul, South Korea—the third in as many months. (This commentary is also available in Branding in Asia)
First, I see huge leaps in the culture that nurtures an emerging “creative class.” In America, as an example, startups, technology, and innovation have tended to evolve in cities with diversity and strong counter-cultures, all of which foster creativity. Those familiar with the Korean workplace ... and by this I mean not only larger organizations but also the most progressive firms... once recognized the stark disparity in “creative” norms between Korea and the US.
That said, one can sense the change just strolling down a trendy urban district undergoing gentrification such as Hongdae or Sinsadong where streets and alleys are dotted with vogue shops and hip cafes. Likewise, as rent has soared in these areas, adjacent neighborhoods, Yeonnam-dong and Sangsu-dong, for example, have become home to Korean hipsters and young artists.
In particular, this emerging Korean creative class has generated a demand for and furthered the appeal for chic design, urban art, indie music, and hip, smart fashion as many look to stand out as individuals within a people once depicted cross-culturally as high in conformity. I see this latter trend as a critical shift in Korean society. As academic Richard Florida points out in The Rise of the Creative Class, creatives as a group reflect a “powerful and significant shift in values, norms, and attitudes.” He identifies these attitudes as:
3) Diversity and Openness (which can translate to gender, sexual preference, race and my favorite “personal idiosyncrasies”)
This said, there are still gaps in applying a creative culture to business, especially when a project’s expectations are measured in global terms. Digging deeper perhaps the reason for the disparity is a matter of process and mindset. For example, in the West whether it is a business proposal, a go to market strategy or a roll out, seasoned veterans, in-house or contracted, work from Day 1 to define and flesh out the project. Complementing this approach, their working level teams are experienced. Overall, there is typically considerable investment in time and talent up front.
In contrast, the Korean approach is more to adapt and modify. Since the working teams involved tend to be comparatively less experienced, the project takes them into uncharted waters, so the more practical approach is to tackle each stage as it unfolds.
Additionally, in the West, high-level leadership, such as Vice Presidents, CMOs and COOs, are commonly directly engaged in the project. This enables a more hands-on approach that brings into play their talents and expertise. In Korea, we find it's a working level team engaged on a day-to-day basis with leadership only periodically briefed on progress.
The challenge arises when western expectations call for detailed upfront plans following a proven model versus ones that are more general roadmaps with fewer specifics.
All and all, I see the engagement of Korean teams in global projects as a positive direction. This promotes the adoption of western approaches to project development enhanced with Korea’s emerging creative culture.
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