S O U T H K O R E A
W O R K P L A C E
South Korea is one of the most exciting countries in Asia—above all leading the way in terms of its symbiosis of design and innovative technologies. it offers both the reality of mindless everyday work in industry or in an office as well as the freedom for creative life and work models. In this issue, nomad presents three examples of this.
Cornelia Daheim is a futurology consultant whose company, Future Impacts Consulting, conducts trend and scenario projects for companies and institutions including the European Parliament. She is also head of the German Node of the Millennium Project, the world’s largest international non-profit future-oriented research project, which will shortly publish scenarios for “Future Work / Tech 2050”. On this basis, she authored a study into the future of work with the Bertelsmann Foundation, published in German and Korean.
I n t e r v i e w
Cornelia, you are a futurologist and have recently been examining developments in the world of work in South Korea. Keeping things general to start with, as a futurologist, what kind of tools and methods do you usually work with?
Some futurologists and trend researchers like to issue forecasts, while others work on the principle that exact forecasts are impossible given the complex interrelationships between the various influential factors. I fall into the latter camp and believe we have to think in terms of alternatives. From my perspective that makes more sense because it focuses attention on opportunities to exert influence.
Trend analysis is a core method used in research; it involves looking at changes that are already happening and identifying where we can observe trends that have emerged both currently and in recent years. We use historic evidential data to substantiate these changes, and thus create a factual, not an emotional basis for our trend forecasts .
The second core method is scenario analysis. In this, we not only determine the reference trend, as in classic forecasting, but also investigate the different directions a trend may take and compare a number of alternative scenarios. Our impetus for using this method is that unanticipated futures involve greater preparation. Recent developments have clearly shown us all that standard assumptions no longer work as disruptive factors gather in the wings.
How do you identify potential unanticipated futures and alternative scenarios?
Well, methods such as Black Swans or Wild Cards can be used analytically to try and ascertain what might occur. However, to consider the future collectively and proceed in a participative fashion, we like to employ research and creative methods, such as design thinking or scenario enactments. Using approaches based on improvisational theatre, we can explore concrete future scenarios by playing out short scenes from these futures. Alternatively, we develop products of the future, with prototypes that can launch debate. These approaches help us to go beyond a mere rationale of the future, which often implies a lack of bold thinking. The design perspective has an important part to play in this.
Can you give an example based on your own research subject, the work of the future?
In terms of the work of the future, many companies and institutions are wondering what this will mean for them. For example, in one project in Germany’s social sector, we held workshops for a large group of management executives to develop personas, prototype personalities that represent the customer groups of the future. Drawing on data concerning demographics, lifestyles and advancing technology, we investigated what the customer groups of 2030 might look like, what their demands might be and what potential solutions could be found. Beyond this, there is the issue of what future business sectors might evolve from this, and what form the work in these new areas could take. By using classic design methods such as inventing fictitious people, we can bring these scenarios to life very well in relation to both the present and the future.
Did the study deliver any unexpected findings?
Time and again, companies are surprised that digitalisation also encompasses the automation of knowledge and service professions. However, this process also implies that at least in theory, work will eventually no longer depend on time and place. The old model of conventional working conditions, with a permanent workplace, fixed working hours and set duties, will increasingly become obsolete. People are always amazed how fast the trend is developing in this direction, and how many companies are already working to a different model. Of course, it may be that we still decide to preserve classic working practices as the most effective way of regularly meeting and exchanging ideas. Yet this is no longer always necessary, and there is scope for greater flexibility—which entails both advantages and disadvantages.
One trend is that people are creating their own jobs by exploring their own creative abilities and using these to generate a business model.
Yes, exactly. We call it jobcrafting. For instance, it plays a key role in a positive scenario which is part of a group of scenarios on Future Work / Tech 2050 and part of the Millennium Project. This scenario presents a clear-cut shift towards freelance and autonomous working, which also changes the professional requirements. Taking this scenario to its logical conclusion, we would no longer be able to speak of this or that profession. The pace of technology changes everything very quickly, so it is far more sensible to play to our own strengths, stay flexible and even try to carve out our own personal job. Yet at the same time, this means we will have to adapt our education system to teach completely different skills, such as working independently and using personal initiative.
Back toto South Korea, where you’ve developed trend and scenario projects for various companies. How would you describe South Korea’s work culture?
South Korea is one of Asia’s most interesting countries, and also acts as a kind of role model for economic development. For example, incomes in South Korea have soared in recent years, driven by very positive economic development. In addition, the country has a strong culture of innovation, particularly in the service and technology sectors, where it is far ahead of other international players. However, the Koreans are also forced to confront age-old problems of industrialised nations, such as an increasingly geriatric population. Their work culture remains one that is shaped by its many young, very ambitious and dynamic workers—at least, that was my personal experience. A company may employ a great many young, highly educated graduates who are willing to work through the night to ensure that the next day’s presentation to the board is as perfect as possible. Young people have an important role to play, particularly when it comes to promoting a strong in-house culture of technological innovation. Often educated abroad in many different parts of the world, they are able to facilitate international partnerships far more easily than perhaps the older generation, hampered by cultural obstacles, would be able to do.
What alternative and new business sectors are there in South Korea?
Given the ageing population, there is a high demand for health, care and support services. The potential is there to develop new business models and acquire global market leadership in areas such as robotic care services. South Korea has far fewer obstacles to assigning a share of care services to robots than Germany has. Conversely, the pressure to take action and find alternative solutions in the healthcare sector will grow in countries with increasingly geriatric populations, such as Germany and Japan. Robots could relieve the burden on human beings, who would then once again have more time to fulfil their social functions. I hope that developments will move in this direction, and I also believe that we should consciously drive innovation in this field.
Is South Korea’s working world also shaped by jobcrafting and autonomy?
That is not my experience, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Or perhaps the opposite is the case, such as overworking and burnout?
Yes, that’s true, because the pressure to perform is at a level we can hardly imagine. It’s the other side of the coin of success and dynamism. In many companies, the management style is still very traditional.
South Korea is renowned for its lively creative scene and high design quality.
Do you agree?
Yes, of course. The creative economy is a hot topic. The design culture is relatively strong, and IT development has generated a great deal of growth in recent years. I believe that the creative economy will continue to be an increasingly important topic. There is huge growth potential, particularly in light of the focus on innovation and the drive to produce newer, better products as fast as possible and in collaboration with other industries.
Every country has what are known as working nomads, and South Korea presumably has them as well. What is their attitude to life, and what environment do they need in order to be able to work?
Working nomads can be described as people working in a location-independent knowledge profession. They are freelance and provide their services as designers, journalists, or perhaps even futurologists and scientists. They have organised their working lives in such a way that theoretically, they could work anywhere in the world. The group is relatively small, but it is growing alongside new technologies. Working nomads are very interesting because they are a game-changer group; in other words, they are changing the rules of the game and overturning the principle that people have to go where the work is. If this group grows, it will determine where more people live, where more tax is paid and where more products are bought. In 20 years’ time countries may be competing to attract job nomads, and this may cause the emergence of a new future profession—an agent employed by a town or city to acquire as many job nomads as possible. The city would offer the very best working conditions, with suitable co-working space just around the corner, ideally furnished apartments and appropriate infrastructure. It’s an interesting proposition. If it becomes increasingly popular, the question of where we live will no longer depend on being where the work is.