Friday September 21, 2012
Time to build on our foundation
ONE of the most important lessons I learned from working with Datuk Seri Idris Jala, the CEO of Pemandu has been the importance of “helicoptering”.
To put it simply, it refers to the ability for a person to adjust his or her world perspective at the flip of a switch.
One moment, you’re hovering at 30,000ft looking at the big picture; the next moment, you’re skimming treetops scrutinising details – just like if you were flying a chopper.
To be effective in work or in life, a person has to be able to do both.
In reviewing the latest World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report that came out last week, I did precisely that.
Malaysia is now classified as a nation “transitioning towards an innovation driven economy”. This was the headline that screamed out at me.
It marked a promotion from last year’s “efficiency driven” classification.
From my vantage point at 30,000ft, this signalled we were right on track!
The various efforts of the Government to streamline the bureaucracy, and increase the ease of doing business in Malaysia were bearing fruit and being acknowledged by the global community.
Many of the broad category indicators were in the right ball parks.
For me at least, this new classification was a simple message to us, “Malaysia, it’s time to harvest; to build upon the foundation you created.”
Keep on trucking. That’s the message from 30,000ft.
Descending closer to earth, you get a better appreciation for the details of the challenges that lie ahead.
Some issues appear larger than they really are. Apparent anomalies like the widely contrasting rankings on “efficiency and business sophistication” (high) and “technological readiness” (low) indicates that something is missing in translation – and that the survey takers need to take more care to contextualise things.
After all, the only difference between fact and truth is the context.
This is a small issue in my humble uninformed opinion. But I digress.
The thing that really caught my attention was how the United States also slid a couple of places in the rankings, but its innovation economy was highlighted as its saving grace – no big surprise from the nation that spawned Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs and the like.
This is a country that practically invented the innovation industry.
Despite how the general economy performs, the Americans can always count on their inventors and innovators to refresh stuff, and keep things exciting.
There should be no doubt that this is the way Malaysia needs to go. The 28 million of us make our country one of the least densely populated in the region.
Effectively, we are a small country and we have to develop a nimbleness and agility like other successful small countries.
Last week’s “Transformation Blues” by Idris, sought to strike home the message that the only meaningful and sustainable approach to transforming an organisation – is to “act” your way towards it.
No transformation can be truly successful if it starts by simply redesigning a logo or uniform, or coming up with a new organisational structure, or any of the standard re-engineering tools consultants and experts have sold us.
Old structures can work just fine if work processes simply change to suit the needs.
The year 2012 was declared Tahun Gerakan Inovasi (Year of the Innovation Movement) by the Government.
I might add, quite rightly so. Our recent re-classification in the WEF rankings says it all. It is the ONLY way to ensure resilience in uncertain times.
The entire nation needs to be energised towards this goal.
And the beauty (and promise) of “Innovation”, like Helen in ancient Greek literature, caused a thousand ships to be launched in pursuit of her.
We have an Innovation Ministry (Mosti), an Innovation Agency (Aim), an Innovation Council (GSIAC), and an Innovation Foundation, among others.
Bank Negara Malaysia and the Securities Commission are baking in new rules and new tools in their new Financial Sector and Capital Markets masterplans to create more conducive conditions for innovators to take their inventions to the bank, literally.
Different agencies confer annual Innovation Awards among their respective audiences to encourage them to try new things.
Schools and universities fall over themselves to include hitherto “unteachable” innovation and entrepreneurship courses in their curricula. It’s actually quite an impressive lineup.
Happily, things are starting to crystallize in Malaysia. The Science Advisor to the Prime Minister has his eye on the ball.
Work is being done to integrate policy, planning, budgeting, and implementation.
Humanities disciplines are starting to loosen the death grip the science geeks used to have on the topic.
Financial players are working together with intellectual property promoters. Above all, “Innovation – Entry Point Projects” are materialising and finding homes in the ETP. The view from the helicopter is a good one.
If anyone is unsure of the importance of acting decisively and quickly, let me offer the following: Ben Franklin passed away in 1790, just four years after Francis Light landed in Penang. So, the US had a huge head start.
If you must, Malaysia does deserve a small handicap in the game. But in this age of Moore’s Law, the clock does tick a lot faster – South Korea and Taiwan are living proof – so, let’s get cracking.
Director, Electrical & Electronics and Innovation