The confidence to be creative

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The confidence to be creative

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“The laws of physics are for reference only.” After hearing this line from an iPhone 5 commercial in passing several times, I suddenly recognized the voice. It was jazz musician Namgung Yeon.

When I called him on the phone, he generously offered to treat me to lunch because he was flush from doing the commercial. As we sat down, I complimented him on how intelligent the ad is. He responded, “Isn’t it interesting that they picked a high school graduate to be the narrator of a clever smartphone commercial?”

I asked him how he landed the job. He said he was approached out of the blue by an ad company and wondered himself why they had called him.

Curious, I called up the person who created the commercial and asked why he chose Namgung Yeon. He said he was looking for a voice that doesn’t stand out immediately but evokes curiosity, that isn’t authoritative but projects intellectual confidence. And Namgung’s voice meets those complicated criteria.

The adman, who is in his 30s, added, “I remember his ‘Messages for People in their 20s’ from the radio and Internet a decade ago. He was a mentor for young people. Now, he’s connecting with tens of thousands of people on Twitter. He proves that an academic background is not the only element that determines your intelligence.”

In fact, Namkung Yeon was a troublemaker growing up. He was born to a family of prestigious scholars but didn’t go to college, instead opting to play the drums. When he got caught in a bar as a minor, his father turned him in to the police and he ended up in juvenile hall.

Of course, he has exceptional creativity. Whenever he invites me to one of his concerts, I always enjoy the unpredictable entertainment. In the early days of Twitter, he organized a concert by planning, advertising and finding sponsors using only the social media network. At a banquet of an international conference, he even performed a digital version of the folk song “Arirang.” He has expert-level knowledge of automobiles, digital technology, film and music. From the mechanical characteristics of different car models to how to wash your vehicle with only two buckets of water, you can always expect a good answer from him.

Namgung Yeon says, “Creativity comes from confidence and self-esteem, and you can’t learn that at school. Because I don’t have academic or regional connections to stick to, I’m free to deviate from convention and try new things all the time.”

Hearing what he had to say made me concerned that it won’t be easy to enhance the creativity of Korean society. When we talk about other people, we always want to know what school they graduated from. We’re already analyzing what schools produced the most new cabinet members, checking out how many Seoul National, Sungkyunkwan and University of Wisconsin alums are being promoted.


The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yang Sunny

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