Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Seoul of Design - Bill Breen

This article in the December '05 issue of FastCompany Magazine captures a concept that I have tried to explain numerous times to people about our own company: the concept of yin-yang. In this instance, the concept has become the touchstone for the transformation of Korea's Samsung into the world's most profitable tech company. The yin-yang symbol which is found on the Korean flag, "represents the simultaneous unity and duality of all things." From this, Samsung developed its high concept of "Balance of Reason and Feeling" that it applies to all its technology design and development.

Chairman Kun-Hee Lee, son of the founder, completely transformed this company into a global technology leader from it's humble beginnings in 1938 as an exporter of rice, sugar and fish. The book he wrote that outlines his philosophy, Change Begins With Me, I could could not find on Amazon. But I was struck immediately by the title, which echoes the main theme of the Arbinger Institute's Leadership and Self-Deception. It seems to me that it's the rare leader who understand where large scale change must begin.

This article, among other things, is an ode to design as the fundamental driver in becoming a technology leader in the crowded field that exists today. Samsung created it's own design school, borrowing elements of Western thought and totally transforming and adapting them to work in this culture. The dollars, the time and the resources that have been invested by Samsung in educating it's designers to be world class is impressive. But if the proof is in the pudding, then there is ample evidence here in the value of emphasizing design as a differentiating factor in the products they produce.

The scale they have developed as part of their yin-yang concept has reason on one end and feeling on the other, and incorporates the values of "simplicity" and "complexity" as well. In measuring their competitors on this scale, they found "In one recent analysis, Apple occupied the 'simplicity/feeling' zone, with Sony in the 'complexity/reason' field. Samsung seeks out areas where there are no competitors - that's where opportunity lies." And therein lies the entire thesis of Blue Ocean Strategy - creating a space where there are no competitors. The more I read, the more these same themes seem to emerge in different places, each validating the premise of the other. This is a great success story and a wonderful example of how one leader's vision transformed a 67 year old export company into a world leader in technology product design.

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