Do You ‘Lock Out’ Or ‘Rock Out’?

October 1, 2008

in Seven Cycles

Auto RockThis week Seven’s South Korean distributor—E.S. Korea—visited our factory for a two day meeting.  They make this pilgrimage annually and it is always an interesting time.  They visit on their way home from the yearly industry tradeshow.  Of course, we are always scrambling and only partially coherent when we return from the show–this year was a bit different because I was the only one recovering from the trade show.  It’s the busiest time of year at a very busy company; at least, that’s my excuse for being incoherent.

This combination of exhaustion and craziness may be one of the reasons that it has taken until past couple visits for me to realize just how incredible it is what they have done:

  • They built a brand around Seven Cycles, from the ground up, in South Korea.
  • We are them; they are us—Seven is responsible for well over 90% of their revenue; without Seven they don’t really exist.
  • When they started with us nine years ago, they put all their aspiration and won in with Seven and jumped off the cliff with us.  Back then we were still a small brand in the US that certainly had no recognition in Korea.
  • Regardless of the obstacles, they saw something worth believing in, so we—without really understanding their plan or what the heck they were saying—all agreed to try it out.

Well, here we are nine years later and ES Korea sells more Seven bikes than any of our other distributors—I am embarrassed to say how many more.  This includes all the big countries that would certainly come to mind before South Korea as a $9,000 custom bike mecca.  They really have made it just that; the international world center of Seven Cycles outside of the US.

What makes all this even more intriguing to me is something that has existed all along but only struck me recently.  No one at Seven speaks a lick of Korean—actually, I already knew that; even though I often don’t know what people are talking about, I was pretty certain it wasn’t Korean.  As an aside, I looked into learning Korean a while back but ran for the hills because of my agonizing, ongoing schooling with Mandarin.  Anyway, at the same time that we don’t speak Korean, only one of our Korean friends really speaks any ‘business English’.  Regardless, their English is infinitely better than our Korean and I have a tremendous amount of respect for their tenacity in dealing with the English language.  I am certain that this situation is a lot more frustrating for them than it is for us.  Thank goodness I speak English; and apparently everyone else in the world has to learn English—except Americans—but that is a subject for another day.

Now, it is interesting to me that, in spite of what looked like an insurmountable challenge to developing a significant business in Korea—at least to me—nine years ago, the language challenge has counter intuitively strengthened our relationship and helped grow our businesses.  We have built—I think—by any measure, a really great business together.  For example, they developed and continue to develop and manage the dominant high-end bike brand in Korea.  We have done this through communicating in ways that are not only verbal—and often not at all verbal.  I find that truly a lot of our work is accomplished through inference, thoughtful interpretation, referential historical crosschecking of ideas and concepts, and through visual communication.  This really surfaced for me—with a bit of prodding—during their past two visits.

So, it is clear that we are not able to communicate complex ideas in the traditional, easy, expected, or expeditious ways, regardless, we have completed a lot of special, and complex, projects over the years with E.S. Korea—more than any other country, and we are now working on the next generation of projects that are even more ambitious.

We don’t seem able to get half as far, half as fast, with anyone else.  We have developed a way of communicating that breaks the norms and I find it really fascinating.  The next challenge is in finding ways to collaborate on this learning with our other partners—domestic and international.

My point is this; when you come to the next door in your life, would you choose to interpret the signs to indicate the door ‘automatically locks’ or ‘automatically rocks’?  I know my choice, and apparently at least one other person agrees.

Thank you E.S. Korea for reminding me of the difference—and for opening the door.

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