[FORUM]Learn to see the bigger pictureTwo celebrated international business management scholars left many talking after their recent visit to Seoul. Professors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, the co-authors of the book “Blue Ocean Strategy,” which created a sensation in advanced countries, attracted hundreds of businesspersons, like movie stars, wherever they went.
The passion that the professors poured out on stage ironically created tension in the audience. Their speeches riveted listeners, who had wondered what the intangible identity of the “blue ocean” is, how to utilize a new market without competitors, or what it really means to create value.
While expaining their strategy for restructuring companies and governments, Professor Kim gave as an example the case of a patient suffering from spinal pain. The first surgeon the patient saw immediately suggested surgery. A second doctor at a different hospital gave the same diagnosis. However, the third doctor was different. He observed the way the patient walked from a distance and discovered an abnormal condition. A close examination revealed that one of the patient’s legs was a little shorter than the other. The doctor customized a shoe for the shorter leg to balance the difference in length, and the pain disappeared in a few months.
Professor Kim explained that, just as in the treatment method for that patient, strategic planning should begin through learning to see the whole picture, before drawing up any new plan. A businessman who takes action after seeing only a part of the issue will destroy his entire management structure.
Professor Kim’s story of the “bigger picture” is similar in concept to that which Robert Betts Laughlin, president of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, spoke of at a meeting last year. He argued that we need to be able to see the whole picture in order to empower corporate organizations, because all sectors of society and science are closely related to, and interact with, each other. For example, if you stand very close to a painting by Monet or Renoir, you see only small dots, and never truly appreciate the painting. Likewise, if you stick to a partial view, you won’t be able to communicate with others, and everything will wind up tangled together. Mr. Laughlin’s argument gave helpful ideas to people who were struggling with pending issues.
While it’s true that Korea is being toasted around the world thanks to Professor Hwang Woo-suk’s developments in stem cell research, we should also listen to voices that warn us not to indulge in over-excitment and delusion. Some prudently argue that Korea’s life-science research faces an internal crisis, because it lacks a comprehensive perspective. Because of the Korean habit of trying to use a certain method and perspective to solve every problem, other views have been completely ignored.
Professor Earm Yung-e, of the Seoul National University Medical School, expressed this concern in a recently published article, “Life Science Stuck in a Labyrinth: Physiome is the Breakthrough.” In it, he wrote that Korea’s failure to consolidate a database of new information, so as to understand the human body more comprehensively, is obst- ructing research progress. He lamented that people mistakenly believed the discovery of one or two of the some 200,000 proteins that control various functions of the human body could be used to map the entire biological mechanism and lead to developing cures for terminal diseases. He claimed we could make a great breakthrough in life science without violating the ethics of life by using computer and database technology to quantify biological information, as well as using the disciplines of mathematics, physics, electronic engineering, biology, and general and clinical medicine.
The aforementioned scholars are experts in economics, management, education and science, with 20 to 40 years of experience in their fields. They say that their contemporaries should be able to draw a bigger picture in order to see the reality of unreasonableness and chaos, competition, friction and discord. As we saw when American psychologist Daniel Kahneman was awarded a Nobel Prize in economics three years ago, the boundaries between academic fields are becoming blurred and the exchange among different fields is increasingly active.
We need to train ourselves to observe both the forest and the trees, but train more at looking at the forest. This might explain why scholars who view subjects in a microcosm and lack a globalized view are not respected in every country.
* The writer is the editor-in-chief of the monthly magazine NEXT. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Choi Chul-joo