[NOTEBOOK]Thinking Out of the Box Is WorthwhileIn February 1996, Sony Music, one of the most famous music companies in Japan, was preparing a project. Sony was looking for a Korean singer whom the firm would introduce to Japan through Sony Music Korea. If Sony had used the typical approach, the firm would have looked for the singer among talented and perky youngsters. Since these were "video" times, Sony had to consider outward appearances.
Sony Music, though, did something different. Age and outward appearances would not be important, the firm decided. The ability to sing a song in a special and pleasing way were the most important criteria. Using those standards, the firm discovered "Dr. Lee" (his real name was Lee Yong-seok) who already was over 40 and a hero of so-called techno bbongjjak (a traditional and popular Korean rhythm). The results were a tremendous success. Though the bbongjjak songs are known to appeal to older generations, his bbongjjak was totally different. My son, in the fifth grade at elementary school, indulges in rap songs, but still likes Dr. Lee's bbongjjak songs very much. A music firm's ability to make a boorish style popular sent Dr. Lee to stardom. Sony Music made money, thanks to the singer.
These days the phrase "thinking out of the box" is heard everywhere. Nonetheless, the words are still important, especially to those who want to succeed or make money. To see things from a different angle and not in the usual, expected manner, can create "something special."
Highly qualified services are basic to modern business firms. The phrase "The customer is king" sounds antiquated nowadays. The phrase "thinking out of the box" is much more applicable. For instance, one can improve by eliminating the familiar.
Southwest Airlines, based in Dallas, Texas, is not that well known outside the United States because its business focuses on short-distance domestic travel. But in profit-making, Southwest is second to none. Each year the U.S. business magazine Fortune lists Southwest among America's most admired companies. Among famous firms like General Electric and Microsoft, an unfamiliar name usually is included in Fortune's list. Fortune ranked Southwest Airlines No. 6 last year and No. 4 this year.
Southwest passengers don't expect any food on flights, even at mealtimes. Moreover, Southwest passengers do not get assigned seats. Like bus riders, Southwest passengers board according to the order that they arrive at an airport. There are no first-class seats, either. For Southwest, it's first come, first served, and early arrivals get the best seats.
If that was all Southwest offered, the airline would be failing. Southwest's most powerful weapon is its shockingly cheap airfares. Southwest succeeds at cutting fares by eliminating costly services. Though almost all airlines in the United States suffered a decrease in business following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, Southwest continues to do relatively well. The financial structure of the airline, which is very stingy in expenditures, has the power to seemingly endure any difficulty.
Once the exclusive domain of archaeologists, digging into the past has become a business strategy as a result of thinking out of the box. The Mitsui Construction Co. in Japan recently established an excavation research team. The team's mission is to get orders for research on and excavation of historic relics that local governments carry out. Because construction work diminishes due to the slumping economy, the firm has turned its eye toward historic relics. If you think something is exclusively for experts only, you are wrong. Mitsui hires experts who then tell everyday people about the relics.
It is well known that kimchi and hamburger don't have much in common. Now, however, a food item has appeared that is a mixture of kimchi and hamburger. It's called a kimchi-burger, and it's become tremendously popular these days.
We throw away clothes when they wear out. Nowadays, some people sell new clothes with holes made on purpose. People say this is crazy. However, even in this chilly season, you can easily meet young people on the street wearing raggedy, brand-new jeans.
The writer is the international economic news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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