After weeks of demonstrations and social protests helped reshape the American conversation about race, advocates for the Black Lives Matter movement recently gained a powerful group of allies:
Fans of South Korean pop music, commonly referred to as K-pop, are nothing new in Asia, but they are growing in explosive numbers around the world as bands like BTS, EXO, and Blackpink claim the international music stage. K-pop fans are well known for their passionate adoration of their music idols, and they have developed a ubiquitous social media presence that produces a steady stream of video clips of performances (known as fancams), memes, and other illustrations of online adoration. Social media platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and others fuel the growth of K-pop in the United States since they make it possible for fans to not only watch their favorite acts endlessly online, but also create content that demonstrates their devotion to them.
Increasingly, however, K-pop has stepped beyond fandom into a different arena – social activism.
Last week, amidst the protests that have swept the United States, one of K-pops biggest bands, South Korea’s BTS, shared a tweet in both Korean and English aligning itself with the Black Lives Matter movement. In the statement to its 26 million followers, it wrote, “We stand against racial discrimination. We condemn violence. You, I and we all have the right to be respected. We will stand together. #BlackLivesMatter.” The reaction from its fans was swift, and its fervent fan base, known as ARMY, short for “Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth,” quickly matched the band’s $1 million contribution to Black Lives Matter causes.
But it appears K-pop fans aren’t done being allies with the Black Lives Matter movement. In fact, it looks like they are just getting started.
This week, as Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson came under fire for critical comments he has made about both the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent protests, K-pop fans once again sprang into action. Carlson, the popular host of his own show Tucker Carlson Tonight, gave an incendiary monologue on Monday night in which he questioned the legitimacy of the protests in startling terms.
“This may be a lot of things, this moment we’re living through, but it is definitely not about Black lives. And remember that when they come for you — and at this rate, they will,” Mr. Carlson said on Monday evening.
Following his offensive comments, Carlson was dumped by several of his high-profile sponsors, and in response, the hashtag #IStandWithTucker, began trending on Twitter. But in another act of online activism, K-pop fans started spamming the hashtag filling it with fancams and photos of K-pop stars, essentially drowning out the tweets supporting Carlson.
In some ways, it is not surprising that K-pop fans are stepping up their activism. Much of the world is feeling a surge of interest in ways to step up their attitudes and actions around issues of racial justice. And as the music industry starts to more closely examine how its own actions might have sustained systemic racism in America and around the world, it shouldn’t be surprising that fans will continue to find ways to channel their sense of connection to artists and one another in ways that help the cause.
One thing that is clear. K-pop is flexing its music fandom muscles at a time when the United States could benefit from a surge of activism and allyship in the fight for racial justice. And regardless of whether it is said or sang in Korean, English, or any other language, the sound of people supporting one another is always good to hear.
We are no longer on the beach. I’ve reference this in a previous article, “How to Approach Change Like a Skill.” We’ve became accustomed to a certain level of expected stability. The solid ground beneath our feet is not supposed to shift. The water is supposed to stay at the edge of the beach and we should be safe to build sandcastles. The truth is, this pandemic has swept us out to sea, and we will never go back to that safe, quiet little beach. Instead, the ocean is our new home.
The ocean moves, waves crash and even when the waters are still, there is no solid matter on which to stand. It is in that environment that businesses and people find themselves today. It would be a mistake to assume that the goal should be to swim back to shore. Instead, the ones that will thrive and evolve will be the ones who learn how to swim, surf and build a boat. But what does that look like in a Post-COVID19 world?
We Are Going On an Odyssey vs. a Journey
Aidan McCullen, a transformation consultant in innovation and host of the popular podcast, “The Innovation Show,” shares that business destinations are no longer clear. Today, we are embarking on odysseys, not journeys. A journey has a defined destination while an odyssey does not. A journey follows a predictable path, while an odyssey is ambiguous. A journey follows a map, just as business execution follows a strategy. In contrast, an odyssey follows a sense of purpose, vision and collective values.
What does it take to even undertake going on an odyssey?
We Need to Learn How to Rebel
Nicola Smith, CEO and Founder of Rebel & Reason, an organization that helps to drive disruption and innovation for the numerous brands they serve, says, “We misinterpret rebels. Angry rebellion is part of this mythology. This idea of rebel without a cause or misbehaving teenage rebel that wants to break all the rules is outdated.” Instead, she recommends we recognize that every major accomplishment, whether it’s a piece of literature that sticks with us, a scientific discovery that changes the course of life or a societal revolution that shifts our consciousness, began with a rebellious thought. “The act of creation itself is an act of rebellion. It is breaking the rules of what came before.”
We Have to Be a Rebel that Affects Change vs. Resists It
To overcome the negative stigma that rebellion has had in the workplace, you can’t just rebel for the sake of thwarting authority. It requires purpose, skill and collaboration. How do you approach rebellion without alienating those that you are hoping to influence? The first step is understanding that you are not rebelling against a person. You are rebelling against a policy, process or structure. The goal is for others to come along with you. With that in mind, Nicola recommends the following steps to ensure your rebelliousness affects change in a productive way.
Go where the energy is. Find the other rebels. Do small tests and experiments to build momentum and create a tangible example of what you are hoping to achieve. Expand that out to benefit more than just yourself or your territory. Find the people that are passionate about what you are trying to achieve.
Build a business case. Make it easy for those that don’t think like you to come on board and support you. Connect the dots between what you are thinking and how that benefits the employees, clients and the business overall. Help others to see, not just what you want to do that’s different, but how it’s possible to make it a reality. Use the results of your mini experiments to help show what you’re trying to achieve vs. solely relying on telling people you have a better idea.
Frame the narrative of your rebellion to show how you’re trying to help people. Many rebels get a bad rap because they lack the patience to help people process the distance between how they currently are doing things to where the rebel sees things needing to go. But telling people that if they don’t change bad things will happen or getting frustrated with them for not thinking like you is not a recipe for influencing others. Instead, frame the narrative to why your rebellion is for a greater cause, how it can help others and why it’s worthwhile taking a risk and following you.
It’s Time to Recognize Employees Are Paying Attention
There have been new expectations brewing for some time now around how employees and employers should interact and support one another. We went from the culture of employees should be lucky to have a job and employers providing them with security well into retirement to a free agent philosophy of employers reorganizing as they see fit and employees changing jobs as frequently as needed to grow their careers. COVID-19 has brought those two philosophies crashing together.
Now we are seeing two counter-trends emerging. There is a need for agility and stability cropping up in the workforce. Companies are recognizing there are is a need for a certain employee population to keep the company running, the so-called essential employee. Then there are those that are strategic support and require more flexibility in terms of how they do their work and what work they do. There are also employees who are looking for more movement, while others want to see better job security from their employers.
Suffice it to say that the job market and talent pool will eventually right itself and for in-demand positions, the talent war will still exist. Employees will be evaluating how prospective companies supported their employees through all of this. Were they quick to lay off? Did they furlough? Did they come up with creative ways to keep their staff employed. Did they demonstrate responsible business planning in the first place to ensure they could protect people’s livelihoods when hit with a market low?
We Have to Identify the New Skills Needed for High-Performing Talent
Though technical skills are critical for any job we take on, there are transferrable skills that are job-agnostic. All companies should be hiring for and all employees should be honing these skills. Nicola shares a few to keep at the top of your list:
Demonstrate a commitment to being autodidactic. What does that mean? The literal definition is a person who learns subjects without the benefit of a teacher or formal education. In other words, a person skilled at figuring things out, motivated to learn without being told to do so and able to find the right resources to help them increase their knowledge base.
Solving problems vs. merely finding them. Often, I see people fine tuning their skill set at pointing out the roadblocks in the way of success but having very little practice in finding the solution. The two require different mindsets. You must be looking for deficiencies to spot the problem. That means you have to cultivate your skepticism, sometimes misconstrued as negative thinking. However, you can’t stop there. You then have to switch modes and engage your creativity and find or come up with solutions.
Using solutions to move forward. Nicola recommends leaders and individuals implement the ‘Can-If’ approach. This means that you stick to the best practice of never bringing up a problem without also having a potential solution. But phrasing solutions from the viewpoint of, “we can do this, if we do that.” This way, you embrace reality, but you also invite your brain to find a way out. Remember that the solution may not be the ideal, but it should help the business move forward.
Setting goals for purpose and momentum vs. to get a guarantee. When it comes to navigating the unknown, it is critical for individuals and businesses to have the audacity to say they plan on making something happen, even though there are no guarantees they will be able to achieve it. The danger is waiting until things feel certain. So many people view goal setting as making a promise that they can’t break vs. using it to create a sense of purpose and direction. Without that, you are guaranteed to be knocked around by the environment you’re in. Focus needs to move from surviving today to creating tomorrow.
“Disruption is not going to slow down. It’s no longer the threat to business but the environment in which we are creating and working. It’s the water we swim in and the air we breathe,” says Nicola. The goal isn’t to learn how to survive COVID-19. It’s about evolving the way we plan, work and support one another so we can be storm resilient. This isn’t about knowing the details of the disruption ahead of time. We rarely, if ever get that luxury. Instead, it’s about navigating all disruption in a way that enables us to use it as a source of energy, momentum and innovation.