Creativity mixed with a dose of realism
A recurring argument seems to be that Korea is not a creative nation. There are numerous commentaries criticizing Korea for producing students who can memorize huge chunks of information but cannot express their ideas and there are various media outlets that disparage Korean companies for not being innovators.
While being subjected to such reports, we are also reminded that to be successful in this globalized and developed world, creativity is a prerequisite. However, the concept of creativity and its perceived role in modern society needs to be carefully considered.
New York, London, Paris and Milan are cities admired for their creativity, yet they are located in Western countries with almost stagnant economies that are only just about hovering above recession due to massive monetary stimulus packages by their respective governments.
While there is no doubt that creativity and innovation have been instrumental in advancing these cities and our world, creativity is now a buzzword that is perhaps overused and neglects the other essential elements that produce a robust economy. While some claim that Korea lacks innovation, it cannot be denied that the country is in an economic position that is enviable to most other nations.
In the technology sector, Apple is a company much lauded for its creativity while Korean firms are often criticized as they are judged to have copied other companies. It is evident that Apple has produced some tremendous products that have often changed the way we interact with electronic devices and even altered our lifestyles.
However, the company did not actually invent these devices; they merely improved them, albeit beyond levels most thought previously possible. The MP3 player existed long before the ipod and the tablet computer was developed before the iPad. Apple did not even create the name of its own tablet computer as the term “ipad” was actually first registered in China over a decade ago. Nevertheless, Apple is still regarded as a truly innovative company.
South Korean companies have operated in a similar manner by taking existing products, reverse-engineering them and then manufacturing superior quality goods at very competitive prices. As a consequence, Korean businesses such as Samsung, Hyundai and LG among others have grown substantially in size and have become world class manufacturers producing award winning products. This is an exceptional achievement yet less praise is bestowed on Korean companies than that received by Apple, despite following the same practices.
Recently, Samsung and Apple have been involved in many high profile patent battles involving smartphones and tablet computers. As well as protecting intellectual property rights, patents can also be evidence of creativity or at least innovation.
As a nation, Korea is a leader in patent applications despite its relatively small population. In 2010, the country made the fourth largest number of applications in the world. Furthermore, the amount of applications has increased significantly from previous years indicating that it is becoming increasingly innovative as a nation.
This is a trend that must continue as other countries are copying its successful economic model. With time, developing nations such as Vietnam and the Philippines, with their lower costs will advance using this proven method and Korea must therefore further progress to stay ahead of the competition.
Korean companies will still need to further enhance existing products but there will also be a necessity to innovate and become leading producers of new ideas and technologies. This is when the nation’s educated, intelligent and diligent workforce will become even more important in this knowledge-based world economy.
Korea is unfortunate to have very limited natural resources and so must rely on intellect and knowledge to generate wealth. These attributes will also need government support in the form of adequate funds and suitable conditions to encourage research and development in both the public and private sectors.
The utilization of such resources will aid Korea in solidifying its position as one of the leading nations in the world.
The writer is an instructor at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies Language Institute and is currently undertaking a master’s course in TEFL. Contact him at email@example.com.