Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Global Forces Evident in South Korea

The article “The four global forces breaking all the trends” explains that today’s world is undergoing a drastic transition due to a combination of four global forces: rapid urbanization, acceleration of technological change, aging of the population, and increase of global connections. As long-standing patterns are being disrupted by these four major forces, the article urges leaders to be quick to adapt to change and that “gaining a clear-eyed perspective on how to negotiate the changing landscape” will be key to success. As I have lived in Korea for most of my life, I felt very strongly about discussing how South Korea has been affected by such a dramatic shift and how it has been adjusting to it. Although all four disruptive trends can be reflected in South Korea, I will focus on the first two trends, acceleration of urbanization and technology, as they are reflected especially well in South Korea today.

The first force, rapid urbanization, is well reflected South Korea. During the urbanization of Korea after the Korean War in the 1950s, many citizens migrated to Seoul, resulting in the capital city accounting for about 20% of the Korean population as of 2014 and 23% of the nation’s GDP as of 2012. However, as the article states as a general trend, the center of economic activity has been going through a dramatic shift recently within South Korea. With the capital being overcrowded and urbanization accelerating in other cities, the center for tech economy, for example, has been shifting to Pangyo (“Silicon Valley of Korea”) and the center for government offices has been shifting to Sejong. Such a shift lead many Korean business leaders to adjust and move their headquarters to emerging innovative cities.

The second force, acceleration of technological change, is prevalent in South Korea with established tech companies such as Samsung as well as tech startups such as Kakao contributing to multiplying and spreading innovation. The article cites China’s messaging service WeChat possessing 300 million users to demonstrate the ubiquity of technology today. Similarly, Korea’s most popular messaging service KakaoTalk that launched in 2010 has 42 million users today in Korea alone. Considering that Korean population is 50 million, this clearly demonstrates how technology has become so prevalent so quickly in the recent years. As the article discusses, such rapid growth is backed by “mutually amplifying forces” such as increased connectivity. Indeed, after the introduction to the first telephone in Korea in the 1890s, it took almost a century for telephones to be a common household item in Korea in the 1980s. However, after the first launch of mobile phones in Korea in the mid-1980s, it only took a couple decades until about 90% of the Korean population possessed mobile phones in 2007. Such connectivity would definitely be a mutually amplifying force for new innovations such as mobile apps. Well-established tech companies in Korea such as Samsung is adjusting to this change by making heavy investments for new innovations. For example, Samsung has had a long-standing focus on hardware, but is now also focusing on software to respond to the growing demand for new innovations faster.

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