24 Aug 2016 19:54 IST

India and Korea: so far yet so near

Pic credit: Reuters

What IIM-B students learnt about the influence of culture in a global world, and Korean economics

Legend has it that in 48 AD a princess from India arrived in Korea to marry a Korean King. Her name was Heo Hwang-ok (as they prefer to call her) and she was married to king Suro of Geumgwan Gaya. Today, about 10 per cent of Koreans are said to be the offspring of this union.

So, in a way, at least 10 per cent of Koreans have their DNA ties with India. This is how James Rooney, the chairman of Advanced Capital Partners, preferred to describe the deep ties that bond India and Korea.

The first day of the IIM-B Executive Post Graduate Programme (EPGP) Immersion Programme on doing business in Korea began with the description of the deep cultural ties between India and Korea, and the cultural similarities which might not just be evident to an external examiner.

Since the session symbolised the influence of culture in an increasingly global world, there could have been no better speaker than Professor Betty Chung. A Chinese origin US citizen, Prof Betty has been teaching in Korea for the last 15 years and is quite the global citizen.

A global leader, as defined by her, is one who is comfortable with being uncomfortable in an uncomfortable environment. Hence, knowledge of the culture and thought patterns of co-workers, not just the visible 10 per cent but also the invisible 90 per cent, is essential for any leader today.

The Korean culture

The prime values that define Korean culture are hierarchy, respect for authority, harmony, education, patriotism and pride, group orientation and dependency, loyalty and duty to others, diligence and self-service, and relationship and intimacy. Apart from these values, there are others that are deeply embedded into their mind-set and are the essence to being a Korean — these are ‘Noonchi’ and ‘Jung’.

Noonchi symbolises perceptual acuity, or the ability to read between the lines and the minds of others. It is the next level of empathy, where a person not only understands the subconscious message, but also takes actions accordingly.

‘Jung’ on the other hand symbolises care for others. In the Korean society, relationships matter a lot and investing in relationships is an important part of the culture — more so because relationships drive several business decisions too.

Given the hardworking nature of Koreans, there is another important aspect of the culture — ‘Han’ or sadness from not achieving the specified goal. It stems from the love for the country, the company and the people around.

The little ballerina on the tightrope

The second part of the session focussed on Korean economics and was taken up by James Rooney. Over the years, the growth of the Korean economy has been truly remarkable. As a country, it has achieved a feat which might be impossible to emulate today.

From 1960 to 2000, it grew at an average rate of 8 per cent over 40 years and this growth propelled it into a truly developed nation, from an impoverished one. The jump from a mere 3.4 per cent growth came as a result of sustained emphasis on technology and capability building and investment in higher education.

Given the limited natural resources the country had, it relied on the only resource it had — human. Hence, it utilised its limited finances to send people abroad to study and work at research facilities. The returning expert manpower acted as fuel for the growth engine and propelled the economy forward. Hence, Korea has been likened to a ballerina dancing on a tightrope of growth.

Now, however, came along the Chinese elephant. The ballerina couldn’t just wait in the path and get trampled. So it decided to hop on the elephant and grow with it. Hence, Korea has been one of the major exporters to China. Now, another elephant is trudging along — India. And the ballerina again needs to dance along.

And hence the India-Korea growth perspective is more important than ever in the present context.