‘Bbalee Bbalee’ (빨리빨리, Quick quick!)


A Korean reporter of well-known English newspaper in Seoul shared a fun story on his personal blog.  His boss – editor – gave him a copy of Clive Crook’s regular submission on the Financial Times, saying, “hey, read this and try your best to write something like this one.  Will get more readers.” Upon this, the reporter replied, “Boss, but Crook has to write only this one per week.  I might be able to pull out something as good as Crook’s, if only you can give me more time.” The boss simply answered, “y’know how South Korea developed its economy, right?”

For those of you who do not find what is funny in this story, I’ll give you a shorthand explanation.  After reaped and shredded into pieces by colony exploitation by Japan for World War II and Korean War, Korean peninsula was a blank sheet of paper – no nothing, dirt poor.  Korean War ended on 1953.  After 57 years, South Korea has become the country with 15th highest GDP in the world from once-poorer-than-Phillippines.  All in 57 years, pretty amazing.  The key action was doing all the big projects, constructions and planning in extremely short amount of time, thanks to long-term dictatorship.  If you would like to know more about this topic, click here (economy) and here (dictatorship).

Ever since then, South Korea’s business is known for getting the job done in an unbelievably short amount of time, making impossible into possible.  Thus the term “bbalee bbalee” came.  Meaning “quick, quick!,” you will hear this often on the street, restaurants and offices of South Korea.  Sure, I do give major credit to this “quick mentality” as a power engine of Korean economic development.  I hold a great respect to a lot of Koreans for working very hard and getting job done very quickly.  And let’s not forget the spirit of bbalee bbalee contributed lot on South Korean cities’ – especially Seoul – top-notch infrastructure, network installation covering all over the country and over 90% of houses equipped with ADSL/VDSL/wi-fi for internet usage.

But as we enter the 21st century, and after suffering my experiencing an office thoroughly missing any long-term strategy, and reading several failure cases on South Korean smartphone market, I feel like bbalee bbalee, mixed with strong hierarchy, is becoming more of an obstacle, a way that does not get you a solid result.  It does not allow you to sit back, take some time to think twice, draw a big picture and check errors.  Rather, it is more prone to inconsistency and confusion.

Look at my office.  Basically my office is bench-marked from American institutes of similar nature.  How did we get established?  Well, some high personnel went to America, saw the offices and operations, thought it is nice to have one and there you go.  They successfully brought in buildings and classes, but missed the most important ones: how each departments are related to each other, things needed, management system and integration, targets and how to apply this in Korea, rather than simple copycat.  Now it’s not doing its best.  And, there is such a little number of channel to suggest positive changes to people who really have authority to initiate change.  The clients are no exception.  While they ask for a customized service, they want the proposal to be done and delivered in 5 days since their first cold-calling.  It’s not impossible to complete the documentation and such, but would that really get them a good, truly customized result?  I honestly think that if they want some value out of it, both them and us will have to take more time with several meaningful meetings (no, not just lunch and saying hi, よろしくお願いしますish stuff) and share needed information.

You might say that big profit-driven business firms are different.  Of course those firms would be much more systemized and organized than my office, but some recent cases are good examples of bbalee bbalee.

There was a TV show, where you invite loads of non-Korean foreign girls and have them light chit chat about Korean society.  It was not the most brilliant concept but to some degree I enjoyed it.  Some episodes were actually fun.  As time goes by, the show has gotten dumb and unpleasantly provocative, consequently exploded, and was semi-forced to change staffs involved in its production and come up with a new concept.  Well, to my surprise, they came with the new format within a month.  Once fun talk show has been changed to government propaganda, losing a big grip on its viewers.  I mean…your job is to make a good TV show, not racing for a completion!  What year are they thinking this is?

Everybody knows Samsung Electronics, right?  SE recently released their new smartphone called Omnia 2.  On the horizon of official release, SE managers often said that Omnia 2 will defeat iPhone for sure because of its top-notch hardware.  Really?  I don’t think people are crazy over iPhone because it has such a great hardware. Well, here’s several reviews from Gizmodo and Engadget, which are well-known IT review websites.   Gizmodo said ‘Samsung, stop doing this,’ and Engadget said ‘How can so much be right with a phone only to have the whole experience be so… wrong?’ In summary, great hardware, worst software and user interface.

Yes, SE is a well-managed company in terms of profit and such.  However, based on my information from friends and contacts, Samsung Electronics is notorious for assigning shitload of works to be completed within an impossible time slot.  How could anyone would take enough time to think about interface, stability and consistency when you’ve worked and drinking with your boss for 12 hours and yet your boss throws another work at your face, expecting it to be completed by tomorrow morning?  If they really wanted to defeat iPhone, maybe they should have taken more time and research to study it.

If I can sum up the South Korean process of idea, planning, installing and executing it in one sentence, I would say: they start building a skyscraper from walls and later tries to build scaffolding.  Sure, it was necessary and it did work back in 70’s and 80’s.  But can we please, please get over it? Unfortunately, the people who have authority to prove that change are the ones who lived through 70’s and 80’s.  Not only they grew in it and accustomed to it,but also they do not see what is the problem when building scaffolding the later.

This is the worst case scenario of building without scaffolding. Click the picture if you wonder what the heck is this about.


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