An Outsider’s View on Korean Innovation (and follow-up to Bell Labs)

I received this article from a friend (thanks Dave Yoon!) before my recent trip to South Korea, and after having spent a few days here I decided to revisit it. I hear a lot of the “fast follower” talk, but I also see big aspirations that the country and its famous conglomerates are undertaking.

In re-reading this article, the following jumped out at me in relation to the recent article about Bell Labs, “It almost felt as though the company’s engineers had been tasked to play around with new technologies with little or no regard for their practicality or potential market viability. Products were built with a “can we do it?” mentality instead of a “will people buy it?” focus.” While it certainly seemed that Bell Labs had a more purposeful approach than this excerpt describes happening at LG, the same spirit of technological invention rather than productizing innovation seems to be at work.

How will this approach work for Korea vs. the sometimes incremental market-focused approach that is currently favored in the US and others? Only time will tell, but this model seems to fit well within the cultural norms as I’ve experienced it in Seoul and there is a lot to be said for that. And after reading the Bell Labs article from the weekend, such an apparent freedom to explore would seem to provide a real opportunity for continual discovery and breakthrough especially when you have the size and scale to back it up.

Comments welcome, especially from those who have a more in-depth knowledge of Korea than I’ve been able to cultivate in one week.

NYT Opinion PIece on “True Innovation” at Bell Labs

I enjoyed this article about the “culture of creativity” at Bell Labs. Flying over Southern China this morning, I connect strongly to one of the more thought-provoking passages.

“He set up Bell Labs’ satellite facilities in the phone company’s manufacturing plants, so as to help transfer all these new ideas into things. But the exchange was supposed to go both ways, with the engineers learning from the plant workers, too. As manufacturing has increasingly moved out of the United States in the past half century, it has likewise taken with it a whole ecosystem of industrial knowledge. But in the past, this knowledge tended to push Bell Labs toward new innovations.”

Has the single-minded pursuit of the cost advantage of offshore manufacturing led to an even bigger lost revenue opportunity cost from the products and technologies never invented? I’m sure that its an impossible question to answer, though it would certainly make an interesting case to move R&D offshore to co-locate with the plants. Or to move more complex manufacturing back to the US. Personally, I like option #2.

How to force the interactions between the thinkers and doers when they are located 10,000 miles apart and have never met each other. That’s an important question to ponder.