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[Professor’s Bookshelf] Prof. Hai-young Yun

12 Aug, 2019 KDIS News Center 1,289

Book is a refuge from the incessant noise of our daily lives. 

– Professor Hai-young Yun –

 #1. Areas of Interest / Research / Academic Life 

I’ve been very fortunate to have lived in different parts of the world. I was born in Jamaica in the West Indies, spent most of my life in the United States, went to the U.K. for graduate school and now live in Korea. 

I first started my career as a Program Officer/English Editor at the Korea Development Institute in 1994. I then went on to the Hyundai Research Institute and came back to KDI as KDI School was being established. I was at KDI School when we first moved into the KAIST Seoul campus in 1997, swatting away mosquitoes through the night because we didn’t have any air conditioning at the time due to on-going construction. One of the things I worked on was KDI School’s very first English brochure and application form that is housed in the KDI Archives. I’m proud to say that I was there from the very beginning and had a hand in contributing to the KDI School culture in the early stages of its existence. 

My academic background is in public policy and public administration. After many years of teaching and working at KDI School, which is truly a microcosm of the global world we live in, my interest in communications in a multicultural environment, and learning and teaching in such an environment are of keen interest to me. 

 #2. How do you choose the books you read? 

There is so much content available nowadays. It’s challenging to know where to look for the best sources of reliable information, worthwhile entertainment or simple enlightenment. My book recommendations come from a number of places: colleagues, friends, social media and my husband. The added bonus of working in academia is that we get to personally know so many authors, and writers themselves are often times the best sources of book recommendations, especially when it’s not their own.  Another great place for book recommendations is Bill Gates’ blog He shares what he’s reading and his selections are not isolated to just pure geekiness; they can be eclectic, but a common thread for a number of his recommendations is human behavior and what motivates us, which infinitely fascinates me too.

 #3. First book that made a deep impression or changed your way of thinking? 

When I got to the London School of Economics my faculty adviser handed us the book Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit is Transforming the Public Sector by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler. It was a seminal book in my studies of public policy at the time. It was a comprehensive grouping of innovative ideas and experiences from practitioners who were exercising an entrepreneurial approach to government. The authors are careful to point out that market principles are only part of the solution, the other half has to come from families and the communities they live in,  empowering them to come up with their own solutions to their bureaucratic problems. Osborne asserts that it is not about innovation but reinvention, getting public organizations to embed the practice of innovation into their organizational cultures to continuously improve services. It was a paradigm shift in how we should be thinking about government and the delivery of government services. As was quoted by Kirkus Reviews, the book is “an inspiring, well organized exposition of the principles that appear to offer hope for renewal in an era of government decline.” They called it a must-read for “burned-out civic reformers.” This book was a breath of fresh air on how to reinvent government bureaucracies  to be more in line with the realities of a rapidly changing world, which is exponentially more exaggerated today. Despite the long lapse in time since the book’s publication, it still holds up given that we are still facing many of the same problems we saw in government bureaucracies 30 years ago. 

*Fun fact – The author, David Osborne, is married to a close friend of mine from college. It was like she married a “celebrity” in my eyes.

 #4. Second book that made an imprint on your life 

Another book I gravitated towards was Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling.  Hans Rosling helps us see that perspective is so vital in the way we understand the world. When we work in environments as diverse as KDI School it’s critical to be cognizant of our preconditioned perspectives, our cultural conditioning, and what shapes our judgments. We want our students to understand how to think critically but this is only possible  when we understand that our inherent biases can color how we see facts. Rosling presents ten dramatic instincts that influence the way we see the world, typically much worse than it actually is. In fact, he attempts to demonstrate using countless charts and extensive data points that the reality is quite different; it’s actually rather promising or at the very least progressing. As Rosling notes, “the world in general is getting better”.  It’s a good read for understanding how to think, not what to think, and gives us some relief from all the doom and gloom that overwhelms our daily headlines. 

#5. What are you reading now? 

I’m reading a behemoth of a book right now that was recommended to me by my husband, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by renown historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.  One of my husband’s all-time heroes is Abraham Lincoln. I know most of us know something about the 16th President of the United States, predominantly that he is credited with abolishing slavery. This book centers on his presidency and the team of rivals he chose to serve with him in his cabinet. It’s an account of leadership brilliance that was unprecedented in a US presidency at the time. Abraham Lincoln teaches us the beauty of understanding how to rise above political rivalries for a sake bigger than oneself, one’s country. Lincoln’s incredible sense of empathy and compassion that guided his administration and fueled his decision to embrace his rivals for a greater cause is a life lesson I think we can all stand to learn.

 #6. What do books mean to you? 

They are a refuge from the incessant noise of our daily lives. They offer us an escape, adventure, education, conversation, and basically an opportunity to shut out for a brief moment the cacophony of noise and flood of information, both good and bad, that infiltrate our lives.

 #7. Who do you recommend for the next bookshelf interview? 

 I would love to recommend Prof. Heesuk Yoon.

The more I get to know her and hear her thoughts about KDI School and its students during our weekly Associate Dean’s meetings, the more I think it is worth learning about her and the types of books and interests she has. I think everyone will benefit from her recommendations.