I was really inspired after reading the draft by my friend and guest-writer Meri, who attended EARS with me as media practitioners. She wrote such a beautiful piece on her learnings from EARS on Helsinki 2016, so I am moved to write one personal piece too! Check her beautiful website out for the post, which she’d be publishing tomorrow! ~~

You can read our prior interview with the CEO of EARS on Helsinki 2016 here.

Today I wish to highlight a very random conversation that took place over breakfast with Mr. SK Lee. I haven’t had such an enlightening conversation for a long while, and I sincerely think SK is a really wise person.


(Apologies for the blurry photograph–I was sitting quite far back :D)

Here’s SK’s brief profile:

“EARS on Helsinki speaker Sang Kil Lee is currently managing KT Licensing Limited and overseeing other subsidiaries and business units at Fung Group (formerly known as Li & Fung Group) for Greater China and Korea, in the area of consumer products licensing and brand management for world famous cartoon characters. Prior to joining Fung Group in 2009, S.K. Lee worked at Disney Consumer Products for 15 years across important management roles in Asia Pacific region. “

In his presentation on 25th of August, SK spoke at length about on managing and developing one’s IP in Asia. It was a very detailed talk and got me thinking about the difference between copyrights and trademarks, the Berne’s convention (didn’t know/ can’t believe that China signed it) and the “passing off” law. The interesting thing was that SK was sitting next to me before his talk, so we did briefly say hi on that day!

So I was particularly happy to continue the conversation on the morning of 26th of August, and the conversation totally started randomly over breakfast. I asked SK some of his opinions about contracts, because I always have a keen interest about contracts–Be it verbal contracts, written contracts, NO contracts, and etc.

SK shared two very interesting points that really resonated with me: One, his personal definition of a contract (which was really elegant and classy), and Two, the assertion that morality is higher than any form of contracts you can sign.

And I can tell you that I’m rather impressed by SK’s interpretations of contracts, clauses and agreements. It’s very clear that SK is a wise gentleman who’s very generous with his sharing of domain knowledge. In fact, SK’s wisdom on contracts has already inspired one article I wrote about the GrabGas Saga, which you can read here.

SK defined contracts as follow:

“A written contract is a summary of what had been discussed and agreed upon beforehand.”

Now what is special about this definition is because of the idea of “consent”. This has huge implications, because once you get your signature onto that piece of paper, it shows that you have consented to the summary of a prior discussion.

So you sign a written contract not because you don’t trust the person, but because you trust the person and even want to consent to working with them.

In short, this definition of contracts is very wise and elegant, and I’d tell you why.

For whenever two parties sign a contract, they are projecting their future work experiences together, in the face of unknown-unknowns and known-unknowns.

This is to say, nobody started any collaboration/ co-operations thinking that it will all go to shit, and that they’d all end up in court. People always expect and hope for the best.

So, positive intention is key. When two parties sign a contract, they have to feel that they trust each other, and that there is general goodwill between both parties.

However, have you ever heard of the saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”? For instance, why do people end up in court in spite of starting their businesses/partnerships with good intentions?

Let me give you a recent example: QiuQiu Vs Nuffnang. QiuQiu has always been one of my favorite Singaporean bloggers and I have always liked her for her sincere, hardworking and honest online persona. I still cannot believe why Nuffnang is suing her on the clause of “breach of contract”, and because the courtcase is ongoing, nobody exactly knows what is going on until it is made public.

But I believe that when Qiu signed the contract, she and Nuffnang sincerely believed that it is with the best intentions for both parties at that point in time.

Qiu’s case–I believe, is just one of the common things that happen from time to time in the blogosphere, or to a larger extent the creative/ fashion/ arts industry.

So what happened? How can disputes happen in spite of partnerships that started out on a really promising and positive note?

Things can sometimes turn really sour probably because assumptions are different. That is to say, people always tend to value their work differently in monetary terms, and this needs to be clarified. Contracts are written with a certain set of assumptions in mind, and people usually end up in court not because they want to nit-pick, but because they feel that they cannot trust each other.

SK shared that sometimes, when he’s interviewing younger folks, he’d always cringe a little when he hear the younger folks say arrogantly– “I negotiate really well!” He’d always think–“Really? This sounds like you are ripping the other party off.”

So his sharing was that before signing a contract, it’s important for the salesperson to be upfront with his client on the hidden details, and things they can or cannot do. Because the client will eventually find out along the way and feel deceived.

And–SK adds– if the client feels deceived, he can just tear up the contract on the spot and you can’t really do anything about it.

That was when the point of morality comes in. Morality–in this view–is way higher than any written contract, because the premise of morality is mutual honesty and trust, and not the written word/ legalism.

Having said that however, it is still better to sign a written contract than to rely on everything verbal–so you should never start work without signing a written contract!! “Verbal contracts”, while legal in some countries, are rarely enforced because they are so weak as evidence legally.

For one could easily argue that these “verbal contracts” are but “discussions”. That is to say, no prior -verifiable- consent, unless it is recorded.

Anyway, do take some time to think about this and digest it. This issue of contracts, honestly, is something that is close to my heart because I’d personally faced a situation of NO contract and not getting paid in spite of work delivered. I personally had once naively thought that verbal contracts hold, until I realised they don’t–even in Finland, where people are supposedly honest! And you can’t really sue a person without implicating a whole lot of other people!

So I’d always been looking for answers, or a reasonable way to interpret this sort of tort/ contractual disputes. Mark my words–in the creative industry so filled with inflated egos, contractual disputes won’t be uncommon.

This made me reflect on the saying again by Warren Buffett: “Price is what you pay, value is what you get”. After the conversation with SK, I realised that price is determined via consent, and value is determined subjectively in accordance to the individual’s background. And therefore, miscommunication should be minimised as much as possible when it comes to money (which can be done in writing as opposed to just verbal), and trust and positive intention guide the entire process.

So thank you SK, for teaching me all these through our random breakfast conversation. I think it made me a wiser person too! 😀

And factually, this sort of unexpected, random breakfast conversations with smart people is precisely why you should attend EARS on Helsinki 2017–because it allows you to explore your unknown-unknows. You can find out the unknown-unknowns by being random, and you can find out the known-unknowns by attending the specially curated presentations.

I say this for sure because I did learn loads from EARS 2016, and I’m honestly impressed by how much the Finnish fashion scene for instance have progressed within 2 years. =)

Let’s attend EARS 2017 together!! Oh yes, and it will also be Finland 100 next year, so maybe something really exciting would be planned~ 🙂