Monday, November 7, 2011

Economic Creativity

The Korean, a Korean American man with some very fascinating takes on both his respective cultures and their interactions, has a fascinating article on why Korea will never produce a company quite like Apple. For cultural reasons. Wait, what?

The first surprising one is the superpower status of the home country. We Americans tend to think of our status as a superpower mostly in hard-power terms: Extensive military might, so many trillion dollars that we could outright buy at least 3 quarters of the countries out there, and the like, but the soft power is what's driving things here. People in incredibly diverse nations still love American ideas, culture, clothing, and inventions. That iPods and MacBooks are American designed is an active selling point in all but the most virulently anti-American areas of the world. The Korean points out that if the iPod were, say, Italian, it'd have difficulty selling outside of Italy. The modern internet's love of bands like Caramell (Swedish), O-Zone (Romanian), and singers like Eduard Khil (Russian) is actually an aberration historically, as most people prefer music in a language that they already speak, in a style appropriate to their own culture. Another culture's music typically sounds vaguely preposterous, unless that culture is a superpower that you feel you need exposure to for success. If the iPod was'd probably be doomed unless well stocked with American music.

The Korean then went on to report that there used to be a site very much like Facebook many years before Facebook. It was perfect for Korea...proper language support, a style that suited Korean culture, and so on. One out of every four Koreans used it, a prospect that gets most businesses drooling. It then failed to expand past the borders of Korea when, surprise, things assumed to be true in Korea turn out to be totally false in other countries. The glam and glitter that appealed to Koreans looked like a cornball thing for a five year old girl in other countries. The extensive use of high density images that gave it its luster in Korea made it load slower than flowing glass in countries that didn't have as good a high speed network, which is pretty much all of them. And so today, those Koreans use Facebook. The network effect took off to the point where the older site just doesn't have your friends on it and facebook does. And today I've seen people use facebook to have friends across five oceans.

This isn't to say that being creative is not a cultural trait the Koreans have. My Korean-built cell phone is plenty creative. Korean ships can be found in every port. The creativity is clearly still there, but the domain and expression tends to be very different. Since Korea's independence in 1945, it went from the poorest country on earth (basically totally wrecked in World War II) to today in the top 7 wealthiest nations.

Nations are probably best off figuring out their strengths, and playing to them. If I wasn't so tired, I could probably draw a profound conclusion from this.

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