Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ask a Korean! News: English at LG Electronics

In response to the comment thread at The Korean's Guaranteed Best Method of Learning Foreign Language, Strayblog made this comment:
The end of the comments section begins to get into the difference between Korean and, let's say, Canadian culture. And that is, the value of discipline. It seems as though Koreans value discipline for discipline's sake. I remember reading in a book that Grammar Translation method (translating entire textbooks from English to Korean) was valuable on some kind of spiritual level. If you go to a typical Korean English classroom, you'll see a lot of discipline, but you'll also see a lot of glazed over eyes and hear many a droning, monotonous teacher. Where's the passion? My students are very diligent in rote memorizing, but outside of class the majority profess to HATE English. The idea that school must be horrendously boring, but long, to create disciplined people that have the ability to put up with endless boring work days, actually scares me quite a bit. That's life? What is the value of discipline if it is not accompanied by passion? I'd be interested to see some stats on the levels of job-satisfaction that Koreans feel relative to people in other countries. I get the feeling that Korean high school students, as a whole, are remarkably disciplined, but wholly unsatisfied. I wonder if this translates into the work world.
 The Korean had this comment in mind when he encountered this article, which perfectly illustrated the value of discipline.

Case Study: LG Electronic's English-as-Official Language Policy

Every weekday at 9:30 a.m., the underground parking lot at LG Twin Towers in Seoul Yeo'uido-dong livens up, as the twenty-five chauffeurs for LG executives begin studying conversational English. They open their books and learn such English expressions as: "Welcome to LG Electronics," "I will be your driver during your stay in Korea." Instead of business English, they are learning "driver" English.

It has become a rare sight for LG Electronics to send an interpreter to accompany a driver simply to welcome a buyer from abroad. This is one of the changes caused by LG Electronic's "English as Official Language" (EOL) policy, implemented two years ago.

The First Attempt at English as Official Language in Korea

LG Electronics received attention by becoming the first Korean corporation to declare 2008 as the "Year One for English as Official Language" While there were many companies that emphasized the importance of utilizing English in everyday business, LG Electronics was the first company that actually implemented the EOL policy. Starting 2008, strategy meetings were conducted in English, and the email sent abroad had to be written in English as well. Various paperwork other than email had to be written in English also. Electronic systems regarding human resources, accounting, production and sales also changed into English. Some said the policy cannot last for long. The employees criticized it as "inefficient," and were subject to significant stress.

Two years passed since. The most notable change is that there are increasing number of employees who create and translate English paperwork on their own. Kim Nami, head of English Communication Center that supports the in-house translation, said: "There were many requests for translating paperwork in English two or three years ago, but now the majority of the request is speech interpretation," and added "Even the speech interpretation requests are usually from non-Korean employees who have active external business."

Speech ability improved as well. At the seminar held by Global Education Forum in November of last year, LG Electronics' Gyeongnam Changwon Consumer Electronics Headquarters -- considered the gold standard for implementing the EOL policy -- announced, "The scores for spoken English test (SEPT) went from Level 3.3 in 2006 to Level 5.2 in 2009."

Hong Jeom-Pyo, manager for HE Business Headquarters, said, "English feels a lot closer since the EOL started" because there were many more opportunities to face English in such places as the CEO's message, various reports and the company newsletter. Since the EOL policy began, the "English infrastructure" such as conversational English study groups rapidly spread within the company.

The HR policy also changed to become more English-focused such that without English skills, being hired or promoted has become more difficult. As a condition for a promotion, LG Electronics adopted TOEIC Speaking Exam that focuses more on conversational abilities instead of regular TOEIC examination. One-on-one English interview is also heavily considered for new hires. The company explains that such change was only possible because the policy was not simply to use Korean and English together, but to accept English as the official language.

More Power to the Overseas Branch

Overseas branches of LG Electronics are welcoming the global headquarter's EOL policy. There are increasing examples of the overseas branch taking the lead on creating high-quality "premium products." Previously, overseas branches mostly focused on middle- to low-level products because the language barrier made difficult the information exchange between the branch and the headquarters -- a crucial requirement for developing a premium product. But as the business cooperation increased in English, the research-and-development capacity for local subsidiaries is improving.

Because of the improved image that English is welcome even though LG Electronics is a Korean company, local candidates are more receptive to working for LG Electronics as well. LG Electronics representative said, "The number of applicants for overseas branch increased by two or three times because of LG Electronics' image as a global corporation rather than a Korean one."

The business exchanges between the overseas branch and the headquarter have become faster as well. In the past, the successive interpretation doubled the meeting time; now most items are simply discussed in English. The employees for overseas branch became more active and confident in cooperating with the headquarters. When a Korean document is sent via email to an overseas branch, non-Korean employees now feel more comfortable asking for an English translation.

Not a Choice, but a Requirement

There are still many voices of skepticism. One employee said, "I just feel embarrassed of myself when it takes me two hours of strenuous effort in English for a paperwork that I could have written in thirty minutes." Another employee explain, "It's fine most of the time, but it drives me crazy when I have to persuade someone in a meeting." These are the inefficiencies that LG Electronics must overcome.

There is also concern of overestimating the English ability when English is no more than a tool. The stress from considering English only as a condition for promotion instead of practically using the language may be excessive for the employees.

However, the greatest change in the recent times is that, regardless of English level, there is an atmosphere in the company that the employees are taking the EOL policy seriously. One LG Electronics executive said, "The employees who thought 'This can't last long' have given up and began to buy into it."

Prof. Mo Jong-Lin, a professor at Yonsei University Graduate School of Globalization who researches the EOL policy for corporations, said: "In order to attract the best non-Korean talent and succeed as a global corporation, the EOL policy is not a choice -- it is a requirement." A fitting message for LG Electronics, already a global corporation with 50,000 non-Korean employees out of the total 80,000 employees.

LG전자의 영어공용화 케이스스터디 (Dong-A Ilbo)

The Korean's thoughts about the value of discipline reflected in this article, after the jump.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.




While there are many topics in this article worth discussing, the Korean wants to focus on the show of discipline in this article. Take a step back and think about this: a Korean company, whose headquarter is filled only with Koreans for the most part, made English its official language. Not just one more language that everyone should know, but the only language that any of its employees can speak when conducting business. Even the chauffeurs -- the chauffeurs! -- are required to learn English every morning so that they can speak English while driving clients from the airport to the company building.

Of course, one needs some perspective. LG Electronics is one of the best companies in Korea. Generally, people who work for LG Electronics are no slouches; in fact, they are the best and the brightest that Korea can offer. But think about how this would play out in an American company that tends to attract the best and the brightest -- for example, say, Goldman Sachs.

"a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, 
relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money."
(But the Korean thinks it is simply misunderstood.)

Suppose Goldman Sachs announced this new company policy tomorrow:
"Dear employees. China is a rising economic power that is certain to be a major player in the financial world tomorrow, if it is not already so today. As the global leader in financial services, Goldman Sachs must seize the vast opportunity that lies ahead of us. Therefore, effective immediately, we are requiring every single Goldman Sachs business function conducted in Chinese. The firm will provide as much opportunity for tutoring and translation, but from this point on all Goldman Sachs business will be conducted in Chinese. All reports must be written in Chinese, all meetings must be run using Chinese and all emails must be written in Chinese. In addition, your Chinese ability will factor heavily into your performance review. Good luck."
How quickly will every employee at Goldman quit after this announcement? 10 seconds? 0.005 seconds? If a bookie at Las Vegas had to set an over-under betting line for the "time it takes for all Goldman employees to quit," the line would have to be set between the time it takes everyone to say, "I quit!" and the time it takes people to say, "Fuck this, I quit!"

Of course, because America is the best and strongest country in the world, this type of policy is never necessary for an American company. As America goes, so goes the world; that is the whole point of being an American. But obviously, the same is not true for Korea, which was -- if you recall -- a war-torn shithole that was not much better than Afghanistan of today mere 60 years ago.

And sure enough, while all Goldman employees might quit, LG Electronics employees stayed on. Yes, as the article describes, they have complained and gritted their teeth. They surely would have lost some hair and sleep because of the stress caused by the policy. But two years later, the official language for LG Electronics is English, and there can be no doubt that the company is better positioned as a global firm thanks to that.

What is the value of discipline, you ask? THIS is the value of discipline. With disciplined people, you can ask for the impossible -- and those disciplined people will deliver the impossible, like turning themselves into an English-using company in a matter of two years.

Of course, balance and moderation must be required. The whole society cannot be run like a military. The proper question is not "What value must be championed at the cost of everything else?", but "What value must we emphasize while recognizing the necessity for all else?" Critics of Korea (the Korean himself included) are absolutely correct when they say Korea's emphasis for discipline can sometimes go overboard. For example, the Korean thinks that Korean educational system often deny its students the opportunity to find something about which they are passionate -- and certainly, as Strayblog pointed out, passion is an important element of life. But at the end of the day, the Korean believes that Korean society and educational system (which shapes the societal values) are fundamentally on the right track, because they emphasize discipline first.

Putting passion first is no more than a ninny's excuse. (Where's the passion? Have you seen a Korean sporting event?) It is an excuse for immaturity that says, "I will only do what I like to do." If you are one of the few people who can live your life doing the work about which you are passionate, good for you. The Korean means it -- you are very fortunate, because the vast majority of the people never feel passionate about their jobs. This is true for all societies in the world. For those people, what will carry them through their jobs? Without discipline, what will make them strive for excellence? Even when people are at a job about which they are passionate, they cannot be passionate about every aspect of their job, not all the time. Even the most glamorous Hollywood actors and actresses -- the dream job for many people in the world -- must wake up at 5:30 a.m. in order to get to the location when the sunlight is just right.

Here is the simple truth: with a minimum level of intellect and diligence, virtually anyone will do well what one likes to do. Which means that doing well the part one hates the most will be the difference between one and one's competitors. This is such an important point that it bears repeating. It's not about doing what you like to do. Anybody can do well what she likes to do. It's about mastering what you are indifferent about doing, or even hate doing. And discipline is what carries you when you are trying to master what you hate. When a whole company exercises discipline, that company will do better than other companies. When a whole country exercises discipline, that country will do better than other countries. Only with discipline can you be better than you can even dream of. America's best era was built on the backs of people who had unflinching discipline. Korea's best era is yet to come, but you can be sure that Koreans are ready for the hard work.

And that, my friends, is the value of discipline.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

45 comments:

  1. You are right, in that this article does showcase how quickly a company can make changes if everyone in the company is disciplined. I think, though, that the reason everybody in the company learned English so fast was the immersive environment that the company instituted. Aside from the chauffeurs, who maybe are starting from a lower baseline than the white-collar workers, LE didn't ask its employees to attend classes or memorize textbooks. In fact, LE held the hands of people who wouldn't learn English with its in-house translation center. But the average English proficiency of its employees still increased because people were forced to use the language. That's immersion.

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  2. I highly respect Koreans for doing a job they may not necessarily want to do, but I don't think that's discipline. That's self-improvement - and it's reinforced by everyone aiming for something better than they have now. If they're running and you're standing still, guess who comes out ahead? The old saying about a lion and a gazelle come to mind:

    Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.

    Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.

    The moral:
    It doesn't matter if you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you better be running.

    Let's think about this another way. What IF Goldman Sachs were to require their employees to learn Chinese? They'd need to pay more to attract an employee that's trainable or has some Chinese language skill, but the reward - a billion-plus potential customers and the goodwill of the future largest consumer nation - is immense. By differentiating themselves they'd be well on the way to becoming the market leader - assuming, of course, they continued good business practices and the like.

    If you're striving to be an LG employee, you'll recognize that English is much more a requirement than at other companies, and will adjust accordingly. Don't want to learn / use that much English? Find another company to work for.

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  3. True story: When I graduated from undergraduate university in 2003, my dream was to work for a automobile company. Although I am no Berkeley grad, AAK is, I am no slouch, either. However, I was having a hard time finding a job within the auto industry because they said I lacked experience, and my major -- Management Information Systems-- wasnt something a degree they were particularly interested in hiring. In other words, I just wasnt a good fit with human capital perspective. Needless to say, I was pretty depressed that my dream of working for an automobile company was in shambles.

    During this time, I was walking through a local CVS store and ran into a lady who looked very familiar. After a careful visual assessment from afar, she was who I had originally thought. The lady in question was CEO of HP, Carly Fiorina, walking with her daughter. Back then, she was touted as second most powerful woman in America, behind only to Oprah. The only reason why I remembered her was because my final course in college dealt with HP and Compaq merger, and she happened to be the brain and driving force behind what was thought by the industry experts to be "dumb" idea. To cut the story short, I was and needed someone to lend a advice on post-undergraduate whom was searching for a job for which he was very passionate about -- Car industry. So when I approached her, I gently asked her, "Mrs. Fiorina, what do you tell undergraduates who are searching for their dreams job, but are constantly falling short"? She replied,"In life, you do things you dont want to do, and thats part of life. You just need to have the discipline and work ethic to succeed even at things you despise doing". The point of the story is that in order to be successful, whether in life or business, everyone must step out of their acquire new skills. And this could be only accompolished by people stepping out of their comfort zones and mentally challenging themselves to new depth and it requires significant amount of discipline and will, which is what LG has implemented with their SEO policy.

    MC

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  4. AAK - I feel your argument is valid on many accounts but also quite biased.

    The fact that LG is one of the BEST companies to work for in Korea is a HUGE reason why those employees learned English. To compare it to Goldman Sachs and Chinese is a terrible comparison. Of course the Americans would quit and find really great jobs elsewhere...at equally great (or greater) companies. But do you really think a Korean employee is going to quit LG and find an equally good job elsewhere? Doubtful. They'd be risking their salaries, their honor, the respect of their family and friends. I believe those factors played a very significant role in the Korean employees' adaptation of English...more so than just the simple power of "discipline." Of course they stayed on...where are they going to go? Is it discipline or lack of any alternatives for the situation?

    Also, I believe there are stories everyday of people quitting their jobs and following their passion...and being a better and happier person for it. Of course, the latter is true as well. But to say that passion is a "ninnys excuse" suggests that passion should play no role in your decision-making. Perhaps, that in which you are more passionate for...you'll be more disciplined.

    And yes, Koreans are a very passionate people...but perhaps you are confusing passion with nationalism. I feel many Koreans are ONLY passionate about anything Korean. They aren't passionate about American football...but they love Hines Ward.

    Also, your statement "anyone can do what she likes to do"...is that really true? Do you really feel the Korean society could back up a statement like that? Do Koreans do what they like..or what is required of them (from family, govt, society, etc.)? How often is a Korean employee really doing what they want? And you are claiming they make their sacrifices because of discipline. And discipline is the foundation of great countries and great companies. But I feel that in order to use the argument of "discipline" then that implies Koreans have other choices. But their lives are practically mapped out for them from the day they are very very young children.

    Lastly, "mastering what you hate." I agree with this...but it is assuming that everyone is looking to achieve this supreme level of greatness. Well...they aren't! Many people are quite satisfied having an average paying job, doing something they enjoy - that gives them the freedom to spend the evenings with their children or do other things they like that aren't work related.

    Do people on factory lines...who master one specific action (let's say it's an action they hate) - do you think that discipline of doing something they hate leads them to greatness? To promotions?

    Believe me...Korea is a great country. I've been living here for 6 months and am continually amazed at their incredible level of hardwork and commitment. Many countries could benefit from what is instilled in the people of this country. But in the end...Koreans way of life, their work/school ethic is simply put - different than Canada or different from the U.S. I'd like to think it's not better or worse...it's just different.

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  5. I will take this article with me to my next English conversation class. Maybe it will inspire some passion in my students. I will think about a response in the meantime.
    Thanks for the plug.

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  6. First time commenter here -- great post!! Well said.

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  7. As a Latin American I can say we value "passion" too much, and discipline is something we need to learn. But, seriously, there are limits. Koreans are nor just disciplined, they are submissive. They are afraid of saying what they really think. I know MANY Koreans who hate their job, their boss, their class, their teacher... but they will never say anything to change it. Is that good discipline? Oh great, they will get promoted, make a lot of money, but come on! There are other principles that, together with a good dose of discipline, get you to very good results.

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  8. "What is the value of discipline, you ask? THIS is the value of discipline. With disciplined people, you can ask for the impossible -- and those disciplined people will deliver the impossible, like turning themselves into an English-using company in a matter of two years."

    I'm not convinced. No doubt it's a big achievement, but it also seems kind of ridiculously inefficient to implement a policy without considering needs of individual departments. Do those drivers really need to learn English? If they do, more power to them. But American companies thrive in the global economy by targeting the departments and/or employees that need to be multi-lingual and requiring as much. Koreans take pride in their communal suffering even when it isn't an efficient way to go about doing things.

    IMO, obviously. I guess there's a fine line between "discipline" and "a national work culture where employees will cater to the ridiculous demands of their bosses."

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  9. Dicipline is what what helped Korea repay the IMF.

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  10. I'm going to read this entry every time i feel like slacking/complaining about something :)

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  11. Wanda, LGE did not have to ask the employees to attend classes. They went on their own. And LGE hardly held the hands of those who would not learn -- those employees were not promoted, which means they are gently pushed out of the door over time.

    MC, great story. The Korean believes that enough Americans get the idea that discipline is the key. It would be better if every American got that.

    Stray, looking forward to the response.

    Dena, welcome.

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  12. Lisa,

    I feel your argument is valid on many accounts but also quite biased.

    If it's not biased, it would not be an argument, would it? :)

    The fact that LG is one of the BEST companies to work for in Korea is a HUGE reason why those employees learned English.

    Yes, and the Korean recognized that in the post. But he personally knows people who worked at (and quit from) LGE and GS. Quitting LGE is easier than you think, and quitting GS is harder than you think.

    Also, I believe there are stories everyday of people quitting their jobs and following their passion...and being a better and happier person for it.

    Sure. Those stories are great. But that does not change the fact that vast majority of people will have no choice but to work at a place where they have to do the things they don't like.

    But to say that passion is a "ninnys excuse" suggests that passion should play no role in your decision-making.

    The Korean clearly stated in the post that passion is important. What more could you want?

    Perhaps, that in which you are more passionate for...you'll be more disciplined.

    Sure, anyone can do that if they do what they like to do. Again, the difference will be how well you do what you hate.

    And yes, Koreans are a very passionate people...but perhaps you are confusing passion with nationalism.

    Passion for your country is not real passion somehow?

    But I feel that in order to use the argument of "discipline" then that implies Koreans have other choices. But their lives are practically mapped out for them from the day they are very very young children.

    Very, VERY untrue. The Korean recently discussed the band Lucid Fall, where the band member was actively pursuing both his Ph.D. and his music career. If a Korean person has true passion, there is nothing stopping him.

    Many people are quite satisfied having an average paying job, doing something they enjoy - that gives them the freedom to spend the evenings with their children or do other things they like that aren't work related.

    Ok. And those people will not be contributing to making their companies and their nation better. They will do just enough to get paid, because there is nothing inside them that drives them to do the best they can. That is not a good thing.

    But in the end...Koreans way of life, their work/school ethic is simply put - different than Canada or different from the U.S. I'd like to think it's not better or worse...it's just different.

    No. No, no, no, NO. It's not just different. It's better. Do you know why it's better? Because it creates better results. Calling it "just different" is a cop-out.

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  13. Henrique,

    Koreans are nor just disciplined, they are submissive. They are afraid of saying what they really think.

    Koreans recognize that even if they hate certain things, there are benefits to doing those things. So instead of complaining, they grit their teeth and do it. That's not fear, or submissiveness; THAT's discipline.

    When Koreans really do not like something and see no benefit from it, they will dissent and complain vigorously -- again, with discipline and passion. For example, Korea's democracy grew out of relentless dissent that did not shrivel in the face of oppression and torture.

    wetcasements,

    It is fair to question the effectiveness of the EOL policy, but the policy rationale is pretty rational. You might disagree with it, but it is still rational. It is a very tough order, but hardly a ridiculous one. And discipline exactly means the willingness to take tough orders and deliver them. The point of the post is not about whether or not the EOL policy is a good idea, but whether or not discipline has value -- and the Korean obviously thinks that discipline has tremendous value.

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  14. "Ok. And those people will not be contributing to making their companies and their nation better. They will do just enough to get paid, because there is nothing inside them that drives them to do the best they can. That is not a good thing."

    I got the feeling like the world only consists of companies, and nations. In that world, the tremendous value of discipline is undeniable. But me, myself, I'm not sure about that with my self improvement and with my self-discipline I want to contribute to make any company or nation better. But to contribute to make my environment a more liveable place, where people just let other people to be who they are. I don't need a company, or a nation, or a better result in whatever to do that. And I think, it's the best that I can do in my life. Peace.

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  15. Interesting points, all in all.
    I just wanted to point out one thing: I agree with muchadoaboutlisa that GS forcing their employees to learn Chinese is not comparable to LG implementing the EOL policy.
    I believe Korean students automatically learn English at least in high school as a required part of the curriculum? Chinese is certainly not a required language, and will not often be found in high schools (sadly, as I believe it to be valuable). Comparing learning English with that secondary school basis to learning Chinese with no basis- that could get into how much? more difficult it is for Western language speakers to learn the tonallanguage, not to mention the difficulty of foreign character memorization and pronounciation when even native speakers might never learn all possible characters...

    Anyway, good post, and I applaud LG's efforts to make themselves more accessible.

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  16. @ Phie: Agreed.

    I appreciate AAK's fervor, but the problem with passion for your nation is that passion can be blinding. AAK probably experiences this on a daily basis in the US.

    The same problem's here, too, however. For example, if everyone in Korea had this intense discipline that AAK seems to sweep the entire country with, then why were there masses of homeless people underneath cardboard sheets at the Seoul Train Station two weeks ago? Why does my garbage in Daejeon get rummaged through by Koreans dressed in dirty clothes? Why do some of the students at my middle school not have the discipline to stay awake during their classes?

    There are many graces to this society, but it is not without problems. And it is not without laziness. To act as if South Korea breeds human machines is to deny that there are indeed still tons of adults working at Lotteria, collecting bottles and cans, or selling bras and perfume at Home Plus. Who dances in tight shorts when an LG store opens? Who cooks chicken on the street? Are these the human dynamos you speak of?

    "The world needs garbage men, too."

    And yes, some people are okay with that. We need those people to be okay with that. Because Mr. CEO sure as shit isn't going to take his own pile of filth to the dump. Nor is it efficient or smart to ask that of him.

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  17. Phie said "I got the feeling like the world only consists of companies, and nations. In that world, the tremendous value of discipline is undeniable. But me, myself, I'm not sure about that with my self improvement and with my self-discipline I want to contribute to make any company or nation better. But to contribute to make my environment a more liveable place, where people just let other people to be who they are. I don't need a company, or a nation, or a better result in whatever to do that. And I think, it's the best that I can do in my life. Peace."

    As Phie noted in her comment, this is neither wrong and irrational from an American's perspective. As a Korean American, I can understand with her overall sentiment that I live my life according to my own values and morals. Conversely, though, Koreans lives take a much more nationalistic and collective position when it comes to life, to include work. In Koreans mind, we do things both for us and for our country. I believe AAK had a blog that articulated this position in a fine fashion a few months ago.

    With that being said, America doesnt really celebrate culture of humanity. Please dont take this the wrong way, but with less than 400 years of history how much of "culture" and "history" can it factually achieve and celebrate. America, however, celebrates diversity which many nations, to include Korea, can't say they take much pride on.

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  18. Phie,

    But to contribute to make my environment a more liveable place, where people just let other people to be who they are. I don't need a company, or a nation, or a better result in whatever to do that.

    Apparently, you don't really know what it's like to be without a nation.

    Ri, fair point, but that's not really the focus of the post.

    Shawn,

    This part...

    if everyone in Korea had this intense discipline that AAK seems to sweep the entire country with...

    ... is incorrect. To argue that everyone in Korea has the highest level of discipline would be obviously wrong, and the Korean would never argue that point. Rather, the Korean's point is that Koreans, on average, are more disciplined. Korea still has people who have no discipline at all. But on average, Koreans have more discipline because their society and educational system emphasize it.

    At any rate, your examples of homeless people in Korea do not prove your point. Even supposing that everyone in a given society has the highest level of discipline (which cannot be true,) there will be economic losers because, well, free market economic always creates losers. Same with your examples of menial workers.

    (And by the way, around 672K people out of 307 million Americans are homeless. Only around 5500 people out of 48 million Koreans are homeless.)

    There are many graces to this society, but it is not without problems. And it is not without laziness.

    That is obviously true for any society. And again, the Korean would never argue the contrary.

    "The world needs garbage men, too." And yes, some people are okay with that.

    Yes, the Korean agrees with that. But there are very, very few garbage man in the world who are truly passionate about their job. Given that most would not be passionate about their job, who would make a better garbage man -- the man with more discipline, or the man with less?

    This is not just idle speculation. It really, really shows on the level of customer service one gets in Korea compared to the same in America. In Korea, as long as you are dealing with a large enough company that sets exacting standards of customer service, the level of service you get is incredible. People smile and get things to you with blazing speed. In America? The cable guy will come some time between noon and 8 p.m., and you had better be home for him.

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  19. Yes, I see. We need the threat of a good nanny to keep us all in line. Without discipline, there is disorder, chaos! In short, you have a ghastly mess!:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Obte0XqgNc&feature=related

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  20. The service in Korea is certainly much better. I get great attention here ... sometimes I wonder if it's simply because I'm a lone white man in a sea of Natives. I hope not, but it's impossible for me to tell.

    Second, I forgot to thank the AAK for highlighting this story. So, thank you. I'm definitely going to work it into a lesson, as there are a few students who openly wonder why they should worry about learning English at all when they don't plan on traveling. Perhaps it will motivate some of them to know that English goes beyond the 10 words they hear in Big Bang songs, that their future in Korea could actually benefit, as well.

    On a third front, I feel that Spanish-language-proficiency is about as close as Americans come to this lust for a second language. But it's certainly not mandatory. Rather, adults know (and hopefully pass on to their children) that better-paying jobs and more opportunities go to those who speak two languages. I'd venture to say that both the US and Korea strive equally to please their consumers in this regard.

    So yes ... while China's a world-leader, there isn't exactly a demand for Americans to learn Chinese. It seems that Korea is similar. The largest minority in Korea is a group of 1,000,000 well-to-do English speakers, right? It seems like business suicide to ignore 2% of the population.

    My question, I suppose, is whether or not that can be considered "discipline," or is it simply necessary for Korean businesses to achieve their fullest potential profit?

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  21. TK,

    While we may both agree Koreans are on average more disciplined than others, the over-arching issue we need to further examine is how the discipline translates into practical-everyday-life in Korea. Specifically, how happy are Koreans with respect to overall quality of life, which, if you know Korea, it drastically needs improvement.

    For example, Korea and Japan are usually ranked in top 2 countries in the number of suicides on a yearly basis -- I know we duke it out on everything from politics, sports, cars, and electronics, etc but I would have never thought we would be battling over who ranks on top in number of suicides. Maybe Korea and Japan really do hate each other, we simply want to out duel each other in every imaginable way. But lets bunt Japan for now and focus only on Korea.

    The rapid economic developments have brought in significant amount of "monetary wealth", but along with it has brought in tremendous amount of pressure to always "achieve more" attitude. Added to the fact that Korean parents live through the success of their children so having to succeed is really not an option if you're Korean, especially if you're a son. Furthermore, there are added pressures to gain admission to "SKY" universities, -- which is a must if one wishes to have success in the corporate world, and unreasonable societal and family expectations; the former for having the burden to represent your country in a respectable manner; the latter for giving your parents something to chit chat with their friends in church, have thus greatly exacerbated the issue at hand.

    Koreans, however, are slowly beginning to realize that being wealthy isn’t what makes people happy, that real happiness begins with one being contempt with oneself first and foremost. But when it comes to happiness, IMHO; though, I think we are generally more unhappy than happy nation compared to Europe and/or South America because of the conditions prescribed above.

    As proud of a Korean as I am, there are certain things we can learn from the west, i.e. Just being contempt with oneself and accepting others as is.

    Being healthy, happy and contempt should be our main purpose of life. The rest matters, but only to a lesser degree.

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  22. TK,

    Kudos. This is one of my favorite posts by you so far. We have an eerily similar view on education and I'm glad that someone else thinks that from a fundamental standpoint, the Korean education system - although inflexible and antiquated at times - is better than the American one. In fact, the American education system is more unique than most people realize. Western European countries are perhaps the closest when it comes to the weight given to individuality and creativity, and even then, I (in my unprofessional opinion) think they are nowhere close to America. This, of course, has its benefits clearly evidenced in the superior American collegiate education system, but also its shortcomings.

    Chris from South Korea,

    You talk about self-improvement, but self-improvement itself can only come about through discipline. Your analogy of lions and gazelles is invalid since what these creatures possess is instinct. Lions are wired by evolution to catch their prey; gazelles are wired by evolution to outrun their predators. Self-improvement, on the other hand, is not instinctual or evolutionary. If it were instinctual, people wouldn't be lazy; people would always be working towards their self-improvement.

    About this comment:

    Ok. And those people will not be contributing to making their companies and their nation better. They will do just enough to get paid, because there is nothing inside them that drives them to do the best they can. That is not a good thing.

    I don't know if it's a good thing to put it in such black and white terms. There are a variety of reasons why some people become figurative "garbage men." But assuming no one voluntarily chooses to become a garbage man, I think we would agree that a large reason why one would end up as such is a lack of discipline. But in the end, as Shawn says, the world needs garbage men, too.

    The reality of human society is that at one end of the social spectrum, there are the "CEOs" and at the other end the "garbage men." Not everyone can be a CEO, and that may be due to a lack of discipline, but is that in general a bad thing if the world needs such people? It might be a "bad thing" for a particular individual if s/he isn't ready to accept the vocation s/he's stuck with, but in the grand view of things, I don't think so. If that individual were to say, "I'm undisciplined, hence why I'm stuck in this job and I don't care. I'm content with where I am. I will work my job and come home to my family and enjoy my time with them," then others may view that as a pity, a waste, but calling it outright bad might not be right.

    In fact, I think this is a large part of the current high unemployment rate that has gripped Korea. Young people somehow find a way out of college and then betray the discipline that got them there by being unwilling to take on mediocre jobs to hold them over until the economy improves. The disciplined will do what it takes; the example in this article is learn English. The undisciplined are weeded out, which is true in this scenario, as indicated by The Korean.

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  23. @ The Korean:

    May I don't really know, but I'm definetely more close to it, than you.

    Why I just can be American, Hungarian, Polish, Korean, Jamaican, African at one time? I do love them, I can love those people and I can love even more, and I'm ready to take the responsibility and effort to understand them. I'm not contributing to their welfare? With trying to understand them, you can already do more, than their fake politicians and utilitarian company presidents.

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  24. Okay - where should I start.. I have been thinking a lot about this topic and thread since its been posted...
    My first thought is about the English lessons that these chauffeurs are taking.
    They all went through 9+ years of English training in school, and yet they need to go to classes to re-learn "Welcome to LG Electronics"? That's proof enough for me that when learning language, discipline is only part of the equation.
    Like Nassim Taleb says, the nerd studies English with his/her in a book in his room, whereas the student who is passionate about the subject (and life) learns on the fly by hitting on girls/guys at the bar. (He speaks English, French, Arabic, Italian and Spanish).
    I would certainly take issue with your general statement that Korean discipline produces better results ... Sometimes yes, but not always (especially in the language department, where discipline alone doesn't come close to cutting it). Anyways, I'll think of more to say later, but now I'm not feeling disciplined. (Probably due to my lax education).

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  25. Korean, great post.

    I'm with strayblog. I need to share this article with a few Korean students and colleagues as well.

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  26. AAK: "People smile and get things to you with blazing speed. In America? The cable guy will come some time between noon and 8 p.m., and you had better be home for him."

    This isn't so much a refutation as a friendly jab. Right now, it's 10:48 in the morning. We're waiting for someone to come hook up the Internet in my girlfriend's apartment, and we have no idea when they're going to ... except that it's supposed to happen sometime today. There's no number for us to call in English. My girlfriend's cellphone doesn't even have an English option for the menus.

    We truly feel like a Mexican Couple trapped in the Midwest.

    These countries aren't so different after all.

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  27. @AAK: those people will not be contributing to making their companies and their nation better. They will do just enough to get paid, because there is nothing inside them that drives them to do the best they can. That is not a good thing.

    People who don't devote themselves to their jobs are contributing themselves to being better fathers, husbands and creating better families. They can also create better neighbourhoods, better societies and better countries.

    The sort of person who works six 12-hour days a week can't help his kids with his homework, volunteer in his spare time and take part in civil society as well. He also can't exercise, read recreationally or generally do anything other than work.

    There's a lot more to life than work, and there are other ways to create a good country besides compulsively working.

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  28. I think that Alexander Graham bell said necessity is the mother of all invention.

    It's not just a simple matter of discipline. It is also important to look at incentives. LG had an incentive to used the English only rule and I think that most everybody needs an incentive (not always a cash incentive mind you) in order to persevere through the things they hate to do.

    Then there is the small matter of legality. In the US, I can imagine such a rule bringing about real lawsuits. I think that corporations in the US have to watch themselves more then the Korean ones. ACLU anyone?

    But yeah I do think that discipline, perseverance and incentives can be a powerful combination for growth.

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  29. Shawn,

    Good luck with the Internet guy.

    At any rate, the point is not even really about language learning. The Korean said in the post that Goldman would never need that type of policy at any rate.

    The question on point is this: when an American firm demands out of its employees something as tough as conducting business in an entirely new language, how well the employees respond? It was probably a lack of imagination of the Korean's part to come up with an equivalent policy. But that's really what the Korean is getting at.

    MC,

    Suicide is a whole 'nother thing, but your point about happiness is interesting. The Korean thinks all this talk about happiness is overrated. Even talking about happiness is a luxury when one is struggling to survive. Obviously people need to be happy, and Korea's next step will have to be about figuring out how to be happy. But in doing so, it does not make sense to abandon the very thing (discipline) that got Korea to this point.

    Eugene,

    ... others may view that as a pity, a waste, but calling it outright bad might not be right.

    As far as the Korean is concerned, waste is bad.

    Young people somehow find a way out of college and then betray the discipline that got them there by being unwilling to take on mediocre jobs to hold them over until the economy improves.

    The Korean cannot agree more.

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  30. Phie,

    With trying to understand them, you can already do more, than their fake politicians and utilitarian company presidents.

    But understanding them takes discipline as well. The Korean may have put it inartfully earlier, but the bottom line is that people need discipline to do pretty much everything in their lives, particularly those necessary things they hate.

    Adeel,

    People who don't devote themselves to their jobs are contributing themselves to being better fathers, husbands and creating better families. They can also create better neighbourhoods, better societies and better countries.

    The distinction is not about people who devote themselves to work and people who do not, but about people who have discipline and people who do not. And undisciplined people do nothing right -- including being good parents.

    question,

    You would get no argument from the Korean if your point is that there are other important things than discipline. That is most certainly true.

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  31. TK,

    I agree with you about the importance of discipline, but your dismissive attitude toward passion doesn't sit right with me.

    Your whole analysis seems to assume that individual interests are set in stone, but I don't think that's true. Why should I torture myself shoveling shit at something I hate when I could cultivate an interest in it and then perform the much easier task of motivating myself to do something that I'm passionate about? Is blind discipline really a better motivator than cultivating a passion and pursuing goals?

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  32. Korean - I actually had written in my response from a few days back that you would probably say happiness is overrated, but then I erased it.
    Lo and behold ...

    Anyways after experiencing the Korean education system, and interacting with Koreans for just over a year, I marvel at their diligence. I'm not sure I ever could have put in a 15+ hour study day. Certainly not while playing sports and maintaining a part-time job.

    But the suicide issue always hangs in the back of my mind.. It seems like such a high price to pay in the process of creating disciplined Korean adults. I think happiness will come if Korea ever figures out a way to quell its seemingly never ending fever-pitch of status anxiety .. I.e. craving to go to the best school, own the biggest tv, be the best nation in the world,etc,etc. I know status anxiety exists everywhere but Korea has got to be the world capital.. Because, as my dad told me, no matter how hard you try, there will ALWAYS be someone better than you, and at some point you gotta let that go or you will never be happy with what you have.

    I also realize that I probably would have benefited from spending a year in Korea studying while I was in high school.. it may have done wonders for my work ethic.

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  33. Ben,

    Your whole analysis seems to assume that individual interests are set in stone, but I don't think that's true.

    The Korean does not assume that, and he agrees with you on this point. The post said: the Korean thinks that Korean educational system often deny its students the opportunity to find something about which they are passionate -- and certainly, as Strayblog pointed out, passion is an important element of life.

    Why should I torture myself shoveling shit at something I hate when I could cultivate an interest in it and then perform the much easier task of motivating myself to do something that I'm passionate about?

    Because:

    (1) It is very likely that you will end up in a job about which you are not necessarily passionate, given that's how most people end up, and;

    (2) Even if you are lucky and find a job that you want, that job will have certain aspects that you will absolutely hate. Doing those parts well determines your success.

    Stray,

    To be fair, the Korean thinks that American and Canadian hard-work is underrated. Working part-time and playing sports while going to school require discipline also.

    But the following was a little bothersome:

    Because, as my dad told me, no matter how hard you try, there will ALWAYS be someone better than you, and at some point you gotta let that go or you will never be happy with what you have.

    Obviously, it is not as if your father told you not to try hard. But the part that bothers the Korean is how that lesson implicitly sets a cap on how much you are expected to achieve.

    It was a little different for the Korean Family. Not trying as hard as you can was the greatest sin. Both of the Korean's parents were teachers, and they were very wise about how to dispense punishment and reward. The few times when they doled out the worst punishment (i.e. corporal ones -- which will be covered in a later post) were when they saw the Korean not trying hard. And truly, the reward of discipline does not become apparent until you become somewhat older, and find yourself at a better position than you ever dreamed of.

    Your point about status anxiety is completely valid. Koreans (as a whole and on average) would do better if they knew what their limits are and be content with the fact that they have done everything they could. But before we get to that level, the Korean thinks it is imperative that truly, everyone really did everything she could.

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  34. This discussion reminded the Korean of his favorite little thing from Malcolm Gladwell:

    "This is actually a question I'm obsessed with: Why don't people work hard when it's in their best interest to do so? ... The (short) answer is that it's really risky to work hard, because then if you fail you can no longer say that you failed because you didn't work hard. It's a form of self-protection. I swear that's why [Phil] Mickelson has that almost absurdly calm demeanor. If he loses, he can always say: Well, I could have practiced more, and maybe next year I will and I'll win then. When Tiger loses, what does he tell himself? He worked as hard as he possibly could. He prepared like no one else in the game and he still lost. That has to be devastating, and dealing with that kind of conclusion takes a very special and rare kind of resilience. Most of the psychological research on this is focused on why some kids don't study for tests -- which is a much more serious version of the same problem. If you get drunk the night before an exam instead of studying and you fail, then the problem is that you got drunk. If you do study and you fail, the problem is that you're stupid -- and stupid, for a student, is a death sentence. The point is that it is far more psychologically dangerous and difficult to prepare for a task than not to prepare. People think that Tiger is tougher than Mickelson because he works harder. Wrong: Tiger is tougher than Mickelson and because of that he works harder."

    (Source)

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  35. TK,

    I agree with that someone needs discipline even to understand others, or being a good father, and etc.

    But everybody experience doing necessary things they hate, it ranges from eating carrot to prepare to attempt an elbow airtrack.

    So what do you mean by undisciplined people? What is the level of disciplined self one should reach? Do you really think, there is an authority to tell that instead of every single person free to decide it themselves?

    We are too different! Hey, I believe that maybe there is someone who could die, if he must eat carrot! How could I argue with him? That is his experience! May I kill him. We are not living in the jungle, where the strong survive, or something. We decided to be more intelligent, and wait, until everybody will grow up enough to recognize his/her endless possibilities.

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  36. Isn't also very risky, pyschologically speaking, to *not* work hard? Because if you don't work hard, the blame largely falls on you, whereas if you do, you really can't blame yourself. Sure, you can shake your fists at God for not endowing you with greater talent, but how often does that happen as opposed to feeling a certain relief from knowing that you gave it your best shot regardless of the results? That's how it always feels after studying hard for an important test anyway.

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  37. Phie,

    So what do you mean by undisciplined people? What is the level of disciplined self one should reach?

    One should reach as high level of discipline as one can.

    Do you really think, there is an authority to tell that instead of every single person free to decide it themselves? We are too different!

    If we must leave everyone alone, what is the point of expressing any opinion?

    JW,

    That's the obvious side of things, and that's why Malcolm Gladwell wonders why people don't work hard when it's in their best interest to do so.

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  38. Easy! People are lazy and easily distracted. Like me right now, when I should be working...

    I think Gladwell has a point, but I would argue with the severity with which he thinks it's a problem. At least until I see some experiemental studies done to support his observation. I mean, for one thing, I think Phil Mickelson would agree wholeheartedly that even if he were to try his best in golf, he wouldn't get anywhere near Tiger's level of domination.

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  39. TK,

    I believe that sometimes there is no point of expressing any opinion. Silence is gold.

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  40. "If you do study and you fail, the problem is that you're stupid -- and stupid, for a student, is a death sentence."

    So I think the important question is, stupid compared to who? Am I scared that no matter how hard I work I will be stupider than people of average talent who don't work as hard as I did? No, because I know through past experience that I fall within the average talent group. Am I scared that I will be stupider than people of the most exceptional talent who don't work as hard? No again, because I am fairly resigned to the likelihood that that will be the case, since again, I know that I fall within the average talent group. Is Tiger scared that he'll perform worse than others after doing his best? Yes, because, due to past experience, he knows that he is gifted with exceptional talent for golf.

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  41. Discipline is both horrible and a blessing.

    If you are disciplined at something you hate and will forever continue to hate, you will ruin your life. If you know in your heart you want to be a musician but your parents urge you to be a physician, all the discipline in the world when you go to work day in day out at a job you hate will not add up to happiness.

    If you have the integrity to stick to your values through the hard patches, through rough and short-term thankless work or drudgery, then you are using discipline in the pursuit of your values and it will lead to long term happiness. If you are writing a book that you want to complete but don't feel like it that day, or you know you need to get in shape but don't want to work out this week, discipline will align you with what your real values are.

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  42. Bryan,

    I was thinking about the same thing, like the first would be discipline and the second is self-dicipline...but you said it better than I can :)

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  43. Korea - A hyper-competitive, collectivist, densely populated, homogenous, neo-confucian society - it's adopted and even embraced many of the capitalist values of their big brother USA. It's unfortunate to see Korea also suffer from the same problems USA is trying to deal with: rising inequality, poverty, "living to work" instead of "working to live", high divorce rates and the deterioration of the family... Discipline is great, but it should be a means and not an end in itself. Korea ranks quite high in terms of stress levels, suicide, and ranks low in happiness. Koreans are having a hard time accepting moderation and not being the richest or prettiest..The vanity and plastic surgery obsession is just one example...

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  44. I have taught in both Korea and in Canada and I work as a full time secondary school teacher now in Canada. I think a lot of the reason for the dramatic comparisons and contrasts between Korean and Canadian (or Western generally) education and parental styles comes from the fact that overwhelmingly, the vast majority of English teachers from Canada (and the West) teaching in Korea are in their early 20s and have not had the chance to raise their own children in Canada, nor to understand the teaching culture in Canada. I am speaking with 20 years experience teaching in both cultures, and my own opinion is that both systems and both parenting styles are remarkably similar. I would say with strong conviction that Canadian parents are on the whole a little bit stricter than Korean parents (you are surprised, right?), and that Korean school is more focussed on knowledge and understanding than on research compared to the Canadian system, but in both cases good high school students do an awful lot of study and hard work; the main difference (again) being that the Canadian students' hard work while it does focus on memorizing facts too (remember science, history and math tests anyone?) has about equal emphasis on researching, compiling results, and testing one's own theses. I absolutely do not think the differences are dramatic. Korean students are about 2 years ahead in math (according to a Korean math professor I knew who worked in Canada for a few years), and Canadian students are a few years ahead in essay writing, research and such, but any kind of dramatic black-and-white contrast is a bit ridiculous and overworn. I also think that these overworn and exaggerated contrasts lead to misunderstanding between our two countries, and that is a real shame. Canadian students are just as competitive with each other, self-conscious, respectful of authority, shy, and as diligent as your typical Korean student.

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