Cho Se-mi on the 'Korean mindset'
Thursday's edition of The Korea Herald has an interesting article (Yang Sung-mi, "Fluency of English not enough to be successful at global firms," November 10, 2005) on Cho Se-mi, "a consultant who designs strategies" for international businesses "to attract and retain top talent."
Cho has written a book, 세계는 지금 이런 인재를 원한다 (roughly translated: The World Wants Talent Like This), and has some interesting insights on the problems that the Korean 'mindset' poses for Koreans working in international firms, and since the same problems show up among my university students, I thought that I'd post some of her views here.
Koreans lack initiative:
So what's wrong with the mindset of Koreans? Cho said Koreans are hard-working and excel in what they are asked to do. But they lack a sort of independent mindset, particularly a positive drive to take the initiative.This confirms my experience. Korean students can work hard and excel, but they show little independent initiative and wait for someone in authority to tell them what to do and how to do it.
Koreans don't pursue excellence:
"And we also lack a sense of pursuing excellence. We tend to think that this is enough, and just try to compete with colleagues in a company, rather than seek excellence," Cho said.Cho is referring to Korean business people who don't strive to meet international standards of excellence. I can't speak for the world of business, but I see a similar problem with many of my students, who seem accustomed to a lack of rigor in their academic work. When I return to them their corrected essays, which I have marked up with rivers of red ink, they look shocked and appear surprised that anyone would care about consistency in such things as punctuation and grammar or about concern with using proper footnoting and avoiding plagiarism.
Koreans don't think:
When global firms recruit new employees, they focus on whether job applicants have leadership, drive for excellence and problem-solving skills. And many Koreans fail on the logical and creative thinking.Koreans really do have problems here. Although my students can usually draw conclusions in clearly defined problems requiring deductive reasoning, they tend to lose this ability if they have to define a problem for themselves. They also show weaknesses in using inductive reasoning, being unable to generalize from similar cases. I think that this latter weakness stems from weakness in thinking analogically. Many students lack ability to transfer insights gained in one case to another, structurally similar but superficially different case.
Koreans are closed-minded:
An open-minded attitude also matters. In some cases, there could be many answers, but some Koreans couldn't handle such open-ended questions creatively, she said.Again, this fits my experience. Koreans expect a question to have one well-defined answer and a problem to have one well-defined solution. This stems from the Korean pattern of training students to memorize questions and answers, which becomes the model that Koreans apply to every type of learning. No room for creativity there.
Koreans don't listen:
When it comes to problem-solving skills, Koreans -- or any other applicants for global firms -- should sharpen their listening skills. "When we interviewed top talent at major universities in the United States and Europe, some people simply didn't listen to the questions we asked at the crucial moment," she said.Cho finds this problem not just among Koreans, but in my experience from teaching and doing research in various countries, Koreans have the poorest listening skills. Many times, I have posed a crucial question only to see Korean students miss the point or even ignore the question entirely. Partly, this stems from the lack of a "culture of discussion."
Why no culture of discussion? Because of the culture of hierarchy, I say. Even the Korean language, which should promote discussion (else what's a language for?), works against it. Professor Choi Bong-young, of Hankuk Aviation University, could probably tell us a lot about this problem.
But that's another story.