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Econo-pop creator lectures to companies

Leader of ’80s band Five Fingers uses jazz to teach economic flair


Lee Doo-heon is no ordinary music star of a bygone era.

He not only continues to play but also keeps himself busy as a lecturer to companies.

Since 2009, Lee has given lectures to big Korean companies including Samsung, GS Construction, Hyundai Motor, LG Display, Hanhwa and Motorola Korea. A zesty blend of economics and music has made him the talk of the corporate circle, which wants to shift organizational innovation paradigms.

The former leader of ‘80s band Five Fingers studied economics in college, but soon changed his major to music performance and music history at Berklee College of Music in Boston and at University of Southern California from 1993 to 1999.

With the idea of combining music and economics, he concocted “econo-pop.”

Now, he talks about how music can be applied to the organizational restructuring of companies.

While the virtue of classical music is to strictly abide to the composer’s intentions of rhythm, style and tempo, the beauty of jazz music is to improvise, leaving a lot up to the player.
Leader of ’80s band Five Fingers Lee Doo-heon talks about his blend of music and company structure while playing guitar at his jazz bar in Seorae village, Seoul. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)
Leader of ’80s band Five Fingers Lee Doo-heon talks about his blend of music and company structure while playing guitar at his jazz bar in Seorae village, Seoul. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)

“You roll a company and stimulate the employees to become more creative, just like jazz. In jazz, it’s all about improvisational skills and listening carefully to your team,” Lee told The Korea Herald.

“A ‘classical talent’ was more adequate for the old-fashioned vertically structured company but what we need now is a ‘jazz-like talent,’ that is self-motivated employees.”

Early in the twentieth century, Ford produced cars at the rate of one every 10 seconds by using employees with relatively limited skills. For much of the first half of the twentieth century, this system was a source of increased productivity.

But in the 1960s, in some jobs, problems arose from specialization. Boredom, fatigue, stress, low productivity, poor quality, increased absenteeism and high turnover more than offset the economic advantages.

“That’s why we are in need of more jazz-like talents, more unique individual talent, creativity, not just submissive classical music types,” he said.

Lee says he wants to see big companies become “boundaryless organizations,” a term coined by former General Electrics executive, Jack Welch. In spite of GE’s monstrous size, Welch wanted to eliminate vertical and horizontal boundaries within the company and break down external barriers, eliminating the chain of command, and replacing departments with empowered teams.

Lee says he applies different teaching methods depending on management levels, as a way to bring about step-by-step changes.

“As different methods and theories are applied for beginners, intermediates, professionals in teaching music, so the same is true with companies.”

For new recruits, he emphasizes improvisational skills and creativity. For professional seniors such as CEOs and board members, he tries to focus on fixing the “bad habit” of ignoring lower level management and their tendency toward self-righteousness.

“Samsung, famous for its unity of command, may disappear unless it adapts to a new organizational paradigm. It isn’t right for the owner to think that their company is solely their possession,” he said. “Samsung is in transition of changing into a parallel structure. It has a long way to go but it has started.”

He cited The Beatles as an example worth following.

“A band should survive with the best skills and their own unique talent. Beatles manager Brian Epstein did not dictate to band members, but managed them with communication and mutual respect. So, every member felt equally and fairly treated. That is the underpinning of their success,” he said.

“These days companies need good listeners and self-motivated staff. Better communication skills are a must, just as in the case of playing music together.”

By Hwang Jurie (jurie777@heraldcorp.com)
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