Here is the first installment of the Korean's shameless gimmick item -- the overrated/underrated series. This series will cover everything from serious to petty, as the Korean sees it. Each part will be loosely themed, and the theme of this post is a little more on the serious side: things that people constantly overvalue/undervalue when they consider how Asians -- including Asian immigrants -- do things.
The point of this post is NOT to say that Asians do everything right. That is obviously untrue, and in the future there will be a post exploring the other side of the equation also. Neither is it the point that Asian countries/Asian immigrants have nothing to learn from anywhere else, nor is it that the things listed as "underrated" are all-important. They mean exactly what they say -- they are underrated, i.e. people often do not stop to think about it when they consider the corresponding overrated thing.
Without further ado, here goes.
OVERRATED: Creativity of Apple's iPhone
UNDERRATED: Creativity of Samsung's production line
"Creativity" is the favorite hobby horse of people who want to criticize Asian industries. The argument usually goes something like -- "Sure, Asians make quality things that don't break, but where is the creativity? Look at my shiny iPhone. I bet Asians can't make something like this!"
This attitude is something that drives the Korean crazy, because of its inability to see the real creativity that exists beyond pretty, sparkly things. Take a look at this article, which explains out Samsung is able to keep up with Apple even though Galaxy S does not create a psychotic fan base like iPhone. Essentially, Samsung's production line has an extremely fast reaction time to precisely caliberate the amount of production based on consumer response. If Galaxy S sells well, Samsung can instantly double its production. Apple cannot do this, and must turn away potential iPhone customers if they do not have enough in stock, and must sit on the excess inventory if they produced too much.
Developing this reaction time requires real creativity. It requires an outside-the-box managerial vision of what might be possible. It requires highly-skilled, highly adaptable professionals working in the factories so that they can switch to producing just about any product in Samsung Electronics lineup. It requires creating a supply chain that few other companies in the world has -- a chain that is both cheap, reliable and flexible. It requires creating a product lineup that makes such a supply chain possible. This is not creativity?
OVERRATED: Apple's creativity and America
UNDERRATED: Nintendo's creativity and Japan
Continuing on this theme -- this myopia of seeing "creativity" also does not connect the creative product from the culture in which it was born.
No one can doubt that Nintendo is a creative company. Think of it this way -- it is a Japanese company that made its fortune by telling a story about two Italian plumbers who eat mushrooms to grow big. When it seemed down and out, it came out with an innovative motion gaming system that took the world by storm, expanding video game market to the populace who never even imagined enjoying a video game.
Japan dominates the world's video game market. Japan also dominates the world's animated cartoon market. It makes great movies over which critics fawn. The Japanese people, raised within Japanese culture and Japanese educational system, are responsible for this success. Then the question is -- why do people always say Japanese culture and educational system inhibit creativity? Can it be that a culture that emphasizes hierarchy and discipline -- like East Asian cultures generally do -- actually helps creativity in a way that other cultures cannot even imagine? Perish the thought -- Asians are not creative, we all know that. They work too hard and never think for themselves.
Hey, there is another overrated thing.
OVERRATED: Critical thinking
UNDERRATED: Hierarchy and discipline
"Asians lack the ability to think critically," the never-ending Greek chorus sings, "because they are taught to follow orders and know their place in the hierarchy." This is such a steaming pile of crap. Koreans achieved their democracy by relentlessly rebelling against their own government for decades. The democratization leaders were imprisoned, tortured and killed, but they did not stop until Korea indeed became democracy. That's a sign of the people who always follow orders?
The hypocrisy of this position was the clearest during the Mad Cow protests in Korea in 2008, which many observers denounced as a result of Korean culture and educational system that discourage critical thinking, since the protestors seem believe in something that seemed obviously wrong (i.e. danger of Mad Cow disease in American beef.) But wait -- Korean government wanted to import American beef, and was telling its people that it was safe. Weren't the protestors taking a stance exactly opposite of what their government was telling them? Were they not protesting because, after critically examining the government's position, they came out against it? Apparently the protestors were called "lacking in critical thinking" not because they did not think critically, but because they did not agree with certain non-Korean people -- who somehow have a monopoly over deciding what counts as critical thinking.
Why do hierarchy and discipline have to be the antithesis of critical thinking? Has it occurred to all these "critical thinkers" that hierarchy and discipline are what get stuff done? In the end, a million good ideas are worthless if not followed by concrete and effective action. Often the best ideas cannot be implemented by one person -- it requires an organization (sometimes as big as the entire country) consisted of people who are willing to sacrifice their individual interests for the common goal. Armchair quarterbacking is always easier, but the quarterback on the field is the only one putting scores on the board.
Along the same lines...
UNDERRATED: Rote memorization
The bloviating Greek chorus also sings: "Asians emphasize too much rote memorization and not enough problem solving; Asians are book-smart robots who cannot handle real-world problems."
Bullshit. Here is a real world problem: gasoline price is only going to get higher, and sooner or later it will run out altogehter. What to do? Real world solution: build a car that uses much, much less gasoline. Who gave that solution? The rote-memorizing Japanese, specifically with Toyota Prius. Here is another real world problem: with miniature electronics, there is less and less space to put in a battery inside the machine to run it. What to do? Real world solution: build a much smaller and efficient battery. Who gave that solution? The rote-memorizing Koreans, with world's leader in battery technology in LG Chemicals.
East Asian economies are roaring precisely because (among other reasons) they keep on making products that in fact solve real world problems. Facing this result, the idea that Asians are not good at solving real world problems is laughable. One needs technical knowledge to solve actual problems, not elbow grease. Technical knowledge is gained from studying and yes, memorizing the books, not from learning through osmosis from the "school of life," whatever the hell that means.
And another thing...
OVERRATED: Socially inept Asian Americans
UNDERRATED: Social superstar Asian Americans
Another variation on theme: "Asians Americans might be book smart, but they lack social skills." Really? Did Dr. Jim Yong Kim, president of Dartmouth College, become the president of an Ivy League college by being socially inept? Did outgoing D.C. chancellor Michelle Rhee become one of the most extolled education reformer in America by being able to recite Shakespearean quotations? Did Connie Chung become one of the most prominent television journalists in America solely through her impressive ability to solve nonlinear alegebra without a calculator?
Are there socially inept Asian Americans? Yes, there are tons of them. Is their ineptitude because of Asian-style child-rearing? Possibly. But if that is so, shouldn't there also be a correlation between Asian-style child-rearing and the ability to create real social superstars in a number disproportionate to the portion of Asian Americans in the general population? How is that Asian style parenting gets always associated with the downside, but never with the upside?
And the stupidest refrain of them all...
OVERRATED: Unhappy Asian professionals
UNDERRATED: Happy Asian professionals
"Sure, Asian Americans might test well and become high-income professionals. But are they happy with their lives, working at a 16-hour-a-day job that their parents forced upon them?"
So much is made about this "happiness." Well, the Korean is such a professional, and he is very happy. His parents never told him to be a lawyer, but there clearly was an expectation to become some type of professional. He narrowed it down to a journalist or a lawyer, and in the end he chose lawyer. He is surrounded by other Asian American doctors, lawyers, engineers and financiers, who essentially chose their paths in a similar manner -- some parents were more explicit, some were less so. And overwhelming majority of them have happy lives, and the unhappy ones are generally not unhappy because of their jobs.
Would we have pursued a different profession if our parents did not push us toward being a professional? Possibly. Could we have had happy lives working in a different job? Maybe. But are we unhappy because we have a job in which we work hard and earn of a lot of money, because somehow we are not doing what we were "meant to do"? Hell no. We might complain about our jobs like anyone else, but at the end of the day we do them because we like the exchange of what we put in and what we get out of it. Being a highly-paid professional is not an easy gig -- if you don't like being one, there is zero chance that you will make it as one. Don't write us off as miserable just because long hours seem grueling, and money can't buy happiness. We enjoy the fact that not everyone has the grit to work long hours, and that we have money to ward off much of life's unhappiness. And all in all, we are thankful that our parents cared enough to push us to become educated and hard-working.
Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at firstname.lastname@example.org.