When I say I planned this university by first designing the graduates, I know people don’t understand what I mean. But that’s what I did.
If you are a designer, you would know what you are going to produce. If I don’t know what I am going to produce, I won’t start.
Like in advertising, where I spent many years managing my own company, you have to study how a product will look as part of a campaign to launch or revive it. That means you actually design what the result will be.
Professors from conventional universities talk about industry not doing its research before starting a university. That point of view is inaccurate.
People from industry do conduct research. The difference between them and the people who run conventional universities is that they do their research very much faster. And they begin their research with the outcome clearly in mind.
For instance in Botswana, a public university there took five years to be established. They were amazed we managed to set up ours in three months and build up an enrolment of 10,000 students in less than two years.
We do it completely differently at our university. We start by looking at the kind of graduates we want to produce. Then we work backwards to put in the processes and build the support systems to ensure we get the desired outcome.
If you are an industry person, you will think like that.
Essentially, when I talk about designing the graduates, it is about creating the ecosystem that empowers students to be the person they want to be and to become better at what they do.
It’s their call and nobody else’s.
Everything that I have done is a reversal of the norm – giving up control rather than imposing control; giving the students the stage instead of owning the stage; letting them run as fast as they want.
When you impose strict rules, you are stopping the students from thinking. You force them to think very little about themselves. You force them to be unattractive, to be very dull people, when they are supposed to be vibrant.
I planned for the campus to be a happy place because creativity is a positive attitude. You can only be creative if you are a positive thinker.
A good writer will not be able to write well if he is not happy. An artist will not be able to paint well if he is not in the mood.
Creative energy is positive energy and it can only come from people who are happy.
So when I talk to the students, I tell them to design themselves or re-design themselves if they don’t like what they have.
The first step they must take is to discover themselves. To Malaysian students, I say rediscover yourselves. That is because Malaysians are used to being told what they should do throughout their school years.
They have a window of two or three years on campus to do it.
At the end of their stay, the graduates are simply better than others – they present themselves better, they are more confident, more inspired and therefore more enthusiastic about what they do. The whole personality is different.
When we held a fashion show for the public, two-thirds of the models were our students. We asked the media after the show who they thought were the best models and they said the students were miles ahead of the professional models.
Our business programme classroom is designed to look like an office. Students go in and sit at a conference table, and the lecturer chairs the session. So the lessons are conducted in a simulated meeting environment.
When it is a student’s turn to make a presentation, he or she will stand and make it. If a student disagrees with the chair, he or she can interrupt him.
I tell our students that they shouldn’t discard what they had learned or what they had become in the 17 or 18 years of their life before they joined our university. They just have to build on what they know and have.
What they cannot do well they learn to do better; what they know they can do well they learn to do even better than anybody else.
It always works. Overnight you can see their confidence boosted because they feel that is what they can become – the best version of themselves.
Somebody will quietly advise them only if they have gone overboard.
In designing the campus, you must be clear about the purpose and the goal you want to achieve. You have to think it through. You have to put in place all the answers before the questions are asked.
That was why I designed the buildings of the campus and then engaged an architect to do the technical details.
You have to attract the right teaching staff, attract the right administrators, and put in the time to make sure enough thinking is done.
You will reject what is second best. If you know you can do better, you simply will not accept what comes easy.
Similarly, in an environment like that, the students will know this campus is no piece of cake. This university will not make life easy for them. This one believes in quality.
Our output is good because the input is good.
I have many messages from our former students who said their parents noticed the change in them after they graduated and went home.
They said that when they joined the university, they had no idea of what to expect, meaning they were expecting something to happen to them from outside.
But when they were empowered to decide their future, they realised that they could make things happen to them from inside, and take control of their life.
We produce results like that because we designed this university based on an unconventional blueprint that has largely come out from our experience in industry. We know how it is done, so we know what must be done to bring about the results.
We have been there and done it.
Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Paduka Dr Lim Kok Wing, the Founder and President of Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, does not fit into any ordinary mould that would describe most entrepreneurs.
His journey has been closely linked with the economic and social development of Malaysia.
China accounted for 8% of global gross domestic product in 2009 – still some way behind the United States and European Union economies that accounted for 25% and 28% respectively.
—The Star, March 2010
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