On an innovation expedition

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On an innovation expedition


The author is a deputy editor of industry 1 team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

SK Innovation’s “jersey party” was an unusual event at the end of the year. 140 executives and employees were dressed in matching jerseys. Middle-aged executives wore red, blue, pink and purple “SKinoman” uniforms and proclaimed the will for a “deep change” through new perspective. The company claimed that the bosses, who are hard to approach, gave up authority and tried a drastic challenge.

There’s no reason to pick on the executives trying to approach young employees. But I am curious. What do leaders want to achieve from the unusual attempt? Kim Jun, president and CEO of SK Innovation, wore a purple jersey and cited a four-line poem. “Happiness for Ourselves, Happiness we grow. Happiness we try. Happiness we make.” “Happiness management” is the keyword that SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won has been emphasizing lately. The key message of the leaders dressed in unusually casual outfits was quite coy. They acted like the teacher’s pet who claims that they know how to have fun.

Companies break formality not simply to have a day of fun. But unconventional attempts are often misunderstood. Such an attempt would be vain if it has a thin message, but companies repeatedly break convention for the sake of it. So the government’s attempt to allow employees to wear shorts during the summer or year-end parties that designate employees to wear jeans become awkward.

How about SK Innovation executives deliver honest messages as they wear casual outfits? “Happiness management” is so abstract that even SK employees ask what they should do about it. “Innovation” is a concept that is misunderstood in companies and Korean society as much as “breaking conventions.” So many slogans proclaim innovation, but there are little thoughts on why. Many Korean businessmen visited CES 2020 in Las Vegas in search for a clue for innovation this year. More than 390 companies and organizations are registered, and 10,000 people are attending. Korea has the third largest number of attendees after the United States and China. Local governments, including Seoul and Gyeonggi, joined the “innovation expedition” despite the expensive registration fee and travel expenses. They are thirsty for innovation, whatever that is, and I hope their expedition has a goal.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 9, Page 28
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