Let’s walk the talk2

Let’s walk the talk

Creativity is the oldest of human traits.

It is embedded in our DNA - that unique ability to imagine new ways of doing old things is uniquely human.

The term has found renewed vigour in the Malaysian context, somehow becoming the ‘catch-all’ phrase that’s in vogue. Everyone’s using the word liberally in speeches, powerpoint presentations, books, brochures, and speaking about it extensively in the media and in training programmes for years - but do people really understand what it means?

Innovation is creativity’s first cousin - the outcome of a thought process that serves to improve something or solve a problem.

durian innovation

Interestingly, the word innovation in itself is not a recent ‘innovation. A check with Wikipedia reveals that that the term dates back to the Middle Ages, and possibly earlier. It comes from the Latin word innovatus which means ‘renew or change’.

Wikipedia says this makes clear innovation is not an economic term by origin, but dates back to the Middle Ages at least. Possibly even earlier.

The central meaning of innovation thus relates to renewal. For this ‘renewal’ or change to take place it is people that need to change.

Change the way we make decisions

Choose to do things differently

Do things outside of the norm.

While there is a lot of buzz about about creativity and innovation, the reality is that there is a lot more talk than action in the areas that matter the most.

The most troubling is that many of people don’t really understand how to apply creativity and innovation in a substantive manner, so many resort to ‘talking academically’ about it.

The Prime Minister, to his credit, has been a vocal proponent of real results and he has been pushing his Cabinet Ministers and civil servants to actively adopt creativity and innovation in the carrying out of their duties.

Suffocated by conformity

However, old habits die hard and most regulators continue to insist on entrepreneurs crossing all t’s and dotting all the i’s - essentially conforming with rules and regulations most of which were developed decades ago and based on an Industrial Age model.

These laws do not reflect the world today.

Bureaucrats fail to understand the world of business and how rapidly the world is changing. Sure there are pockets of improvement, but in the larger context, the Prime Minister’s effort to change the mindset of regulators appears to be like pushing an elephant up the coconut tree.

The reality is that:

  • The education system remains mired in obsolescence
  • Conformity remains the order of the day in the public service
  • Emphasis is on funding groups of people, rather than changing mindsets of the nation

The innovation gap that exists between the public and private sector is real. It affects not only the macroeconomic picture, but is insidious in how it translates into real opportunities for all Malaysians.

Size does not matter

There is a myth that innovative economies are those with the biggest economic muscle. The reality is that in an innovation economy, size does not matter. In fact, some of the most innovative economies are the world’s smallest countries.

Innovation Index 2009

The 2009-2010 Global Innovation Index report released in March 2010 ranked Iceland as the world’s innovation hotspot, with Nordic countries dominating the top 10. In Asia, Hong Kong and Singapore were the only ones who made the Top 10.

In terms of the financial support given to innovation in Malaysia, we rank an impressive 5th place, so we are certainly near the top in that area. But when it comes to human capital, we rank a worrying 33rd spot; and in terms of creative output we fall in the 52nd spot.

Numbers don’t lie

Numbers don’t lie, and these numbers show an obvious disconnect between intention and output.

Numbers tell a story, and the story they tell is that our education system - despite all the huge funding that it receives - does not produce the high quality human capital comparable with the most innovative economies.

Numbers provide important benchmarks and predictors - and these tell us that we are falling behind at a time when we can ill-afford it.

Innovation economies are talent-driven, creativity and content driven. Politics and parochial interests aside, the needs of the nation and the future of the country must take precedence.

Last year was declared the Year of Creativity and Innovation.

Malaysia Inovatif Logo

Yet it was not widely publicized and many people didn’t even know about it. The activities were largely about holding carnivals on creativity and innovation - which I am sure is not what the PM had in mind.

Whichever way we slice the argument, the fact remains that the public sector must adopt the changes in a meaningful and substantive way - for they are at crucial enablers of the flowering of innovation at the fundamental level, and at the highest levels of business.

Creativity in particular is a word that runs the risk of being wrongly explained or presented to the public because many still associate it with activities like performance, art and design.

21st century career

Many parents still balk at the idea of their children wanting to pursue creative fields like web design, content development, and 3D animation - despite these being among the most in-demand skills for the 21st century.

We cannot leave the task of energizing the nation about the limitless opportunities of creativity and innovation to the very people whose job depends on conformity.

Often, we seek to bring in foreign talent to advise or provide direction when there are enough local talents and success stories to provide the substance to this agenda.

Yet regulators don’t seem to have enough confidence to allow innovative Malaysian companies to provide the lead, looking instead to foreign companies to provide direction. Foreigners come as consultants - often with a Western model - that is not relevant to our circumstances.

We have to get clear about what we want to achieve and how we are going to get there.

The time for academic talk and pockets of effort are past.

Everything we need to do is obvious.

Everything we need to change is even more obvious.

The rules need to change, that’s true.

But those who make the rules need to change first.

Only then will the innovation the word move from being academic to being institutionalized as part of our everyday lives.

We should expect no less.

tansri photo

About Tan Sri Lim


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.

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Comments

Datuk Razali Mahfar
2011 February 15

YBhg Tan Sri,

I have been reading almost all of your blog articles and have found them to be refreshing, inspiring and motivating. They are succinct but yet very far-reaching and insightful, and do not require further comments of feedbacks from visitors.  However, I just would like to share an experience relating to this particular article.

The dichotomy of theory (talk) and practice (walk) relating to creativity and innovation that you have raised is so real that if all Malaysians do not expend efforts on the latter, we will end up as a society of laggards.

Competitiveness and leadership position is all about being there first before others; and this requires not only doing better than others but also learning faster than the rate of change and putting the new knowledge into practice to produce superior goods and services, both in the public and private sectors, and delivering them to customers more efficiently and effectively than competitors.

It requires a discipline of learning, unlearning and relearning, i.e. to have the will to let go of old habits or what have been successful in the past, and to embrace new ways of doing things since the present and the future pose new challenges.

I recall delivering a talk to a group of senior civil servants in year 2000 and was asked how frequently my then MNC employer changes its policies and procedures. They were surprised when I told them that in some cases we review every six months, but a yearly review is a standard, while benchmarking is a continuous process. They had expected that policies and procedures are supposed to be stable and left for years over. In responding, I replied that strategies must be agile and everything else must align behind strategies, including policies and procedures, the ways of working and how decisions are made.

In summary, whilst we should not change just for the sake of change, changing for the better should be our way of life. 

Thanks and kind regards,

Razali.

Roshan
2011 March 2

very inspiring & detailed writing. I agree with the need to improve on academic innovatins.

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