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Applying Open Innovation in an Asian Cultural Context can be Difficult

My contribution is to share a perspective where open innovation may be lacking more so than others.

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Based on my limited observations, it seems the idea on open innovation lacks for some countries more so than others. My home country South Korea is a good example where open innovation is impeded by barriers that include, but are not limited to: cultural boundaries, education system, and the conglomerates of Korea. The environment created by these barriers simply do not provide a safe platform for the new and unorthodox ideas to thrive.


Now let’s take a closer look at why these barriers may have an impact on open innovation. To inform you a little about the formalities in the Korean culture, Koreans follow a very hierarchical yet respectful stance to people who are either older or in a higher position in a business setting. This can become problematic especially when younger generations have great ideas, but are shut down by people who are older and claim that it wouldn’t work according to their experience. These people can include teachers of schools or even the managers in work settings who have the ability to turn down ideas.


The next problem is the education system because of the strong emphasis that it places on the standardized test, called “soo-neung”. Teachers and parents often push their children to do well on this test before they can even focus on things that the children actually do have an interest in doing. In addition, not going to a top tier school (top 3) decreases anyone’s choice to be able to have their voice heard because of the importance that Koreans place on test scores and being book smart rather than other metrics of intelligence or creativity.


The final concern for me is the brute strength that conglomerates have in the current Korean economy. Yes, the government did support these conglomerates back in the day so that these companies can be the leading forces in driving the new economy forward. This is the reason why Korea was able to develop its economy so quickly within a span of 50 years after the Korean war. However, it now becomes a problem because they are able to yield so much power. A representative example is one of my friends who is known for his intelligence and was recruited by Samsung as a co-op during college, but even if he does create creative and innovative ideas the company is only interested in ideas that are merely profit driven. This is only based on their intuition in which they will shutdown an idea for being “stupid”. What they don’t realize is that the idea could’ve thrived if it was developed in a different setting, but was wasted because of the prestige that is associated with working with a conglomerate amongst the Korean society. Another issue is that these firms can push start-ups out of business if they decide to, which once again lowers the possibility of open innovation to last long in such a setting.


It would be interesting to see how countries including Korea that are in a similar situation can alleviate the situation to promote open innovation. One idea that pops into my head is to create conferences and workshops that promote this type of thinking. Such events would be have to be organized by the government to support open innovation especially amongst small to mid-size businesses. Conglomerates in Korea will not last forever, therefore it may be important for Korea and countries alike to build a support system that can help the "stupid", but good ideas thrive.


Cornell

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Alex Woo

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Photo of Alina Wernick

Thank you for your interesting post. I was aware that strictly hierarchical structures in an organization anywhere can make open idea-creation and implementation very difficult. But my underlying assumption was that organization's cultures in particular society are heterogeneous. Yet I never thought of what it would mean for open innovation if entire culture of the nation would strongly favor hierarchical systems vulnerable to path dependence and suppression of new ideas. Since conglomerates have so much power and few students have interest to miss the opportunity to give their best performance in the national examinations I would assume that the change would not come from there.  Would it be possible to initiate cultural change by introducing more open and creative approach to innovation through collaborative grassroots innovation activities, and lobby for more open innovation -friendly policy at the governmental level? Government back open innovation projects, for example with R&D funding conditioned on multiparty collaboration may help to introduce more open means of collaborating for companies operating in "closed" mindset. The conferences and workshops you mentioned I believe would also be favorable for introducing new ways of thinking of innovation to businesses.