Friday, October 26, 2012

Innovation in Korea: Rules of the Mind

The Power of Innovation
The Asian invasion!  How soon will we face our fate?  Will the west be buried by Innovations from the east?  Will we be left in the dust?  

I think the answer is that we’re ok in the near term if my experience in South Korea is any indicator.

The whole concept of Innovation fascinates me. 
·      How do humans dig into their natural creativity and come up with ideas that move the world in a positive direction? 
·      Once you have an idea, how do you turn it into something useful?

I’ve worked around the world and I sense that some places are better at idea generation and implementation than others.  Why is this?

Well I recently spent more than two years in Korea building Innovation capability within a large company.  This gave me a chance to do first hand observation and research.  I found three things:
1.     The vast majority of employees are not engaged in Innovation.  Hierarchy and deference leave them out.
2.     Innovation in product extensions and “adjacent possible” new products is disciplined, rigorous, and repeatable.  The reverse engineering mantra of “faster, better, cheaper” is deeply ingrained in the rhythm of the business.
3.     Korea is a long way away from seeing a Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Eric Schmidt, or Jeff Bezoz.  White space, game changing, blue ocean Innovation is rare in Korea

While I was in Korea I took time to get to know my hosts.  I questioned them about their history, culture, and future.  I visited their museums, landmarks, and festivals.  I studied and listened.  Ultimately I consolidated my learnings into a five page article.  Here is the summary: 

Innovation in Korea is the captive of uniformity of thought and respect for institutions, build on centuries of homogeneity and the teachings of Confucius.  

The entrepreneurial spirit in Korea is swallowed by its large conglomerates.  Seoul is not a hot bed of private equity investors.  Investment capital is generally consumed in the bureaucracy of entitlement.  Capital in Korea belongs to deference.

I respect the achievements of my Korean friends.  It’s impossible to downplay the economic “Miracle on the Han” or the legendary products and services coming out of: Samsung, LG, and Hyundai/Kia.

But is “faster, better, cheaper” the sum total of the Innovation story in Korea.  Will Korean businesses be able to engage the entire workforce and will their Innovators bring new business models to the global stage?

You can look deeper into these questions by reading the whole article: Innovation in Korea: Rules of the Mind

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