It’s lunchtime at work, and the bujangnim 부장님 (“team manager”) calls for a team lunch at a nearby Korean restaurant. Everyone’s seated and ready to order, and bujangnim starts off by saying “All right, I think I will go with kimbap (recipe here) today! What do you all want, guys?” As if everybody’s been craving for kimbap the whole morning, they take turns and say, “I will go with kimbap, as well!”
On the surface, you might think that Koreans are the people of unity and teamwork! But on the inside, it’s the result of the Korean people’s tendency to conform to the norm. As the proverb “an angular stone is bound to be hit by a chisel ( a nail that sticks out gets pounded), is the Korean idea that values harmony and conformity which puts the group’s interests before those of an individual. Good or bad? It has its pros and cons.
On the positive side, it facilitates harmony and a faster decision-making process, but the downside is that it stifles individuality and less chance of innovation because it’s difficult to “think outside the box.” Some of the interesting examples you can observe on the streets of Korea are the “long-padding craze” that took the Korean teenagers by storm – they all wore similar looking long padded coats as if they were a school uniform!
Added to that is the same hairstyle they want to have, which changes every time a celebrity introduces a new hairstyle on a TV drama series. When the TV drama series becomes a hit, then the hairstyle gets a name after the character from the TV drama, and you can expect to see that on the streets the following week after it airs.
And a few years ago, there was the “Honey Butter Chip craze,” where people lined up to get their hands on a newly introduced potato chip! The demand just skyrocketed that people had to wait for days, and the resale price more than quadrupled in a secondary market.
Try Honey Butter Chip yourself and see if it’s worth the hype!
As you can see, Koreans love to be part of a group, because such “belongingness” gives them a sense of unity and security. Their dire effort to keep up with the latest trends is also related to the idea. While some find the sense of “belongingness” at the expense of one’s individuality undesirable, there are companies out there that are smart enough to capitalize on the Korean characteristic.
Knowing that the Korean people are one of the trendiest early adopters on earth, many global corporations choose Korea as the testbed for their upcoming products to gauge the probability for success, thinking that if it becomes a hit in Korea, then the rest of the world must jump on the bandwagon, too!