LiFi, instead of WiFi: Chinese scientists achieve Internet access through lightbulbs

Lightbulbs may one day be used for connecting to Internet

LiFi Successful experiments by Chinese scientists have indicated the possibility of the country’s netizens getting online through signals sent by lightbulbs (LiFi), instead of WiFi.

Four computers under a one-watt LED lightbulb may connect to the Internet under the principle that light can be used as a carrier instead of traditional radio frequencies, as in WiFi, said Chi Nan, an information technology professor with Shanghai’s Fudan University, on Thursday.

A lightbulb with embedded microchips can produce data rates as fast as 150 megabits per second, which is speedier than the average broadband connection in China, said Chi, who leads a LiFi research team including scientists from the Shanghai Institute of Technical Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.


With LiFi cost-effective as well as efficient, netizens should be excited to view 10 sample LiFi kits that will be on display at the China International Industry Fair that will kick off on Nov. 5 in Shanghai.

The current wireless signal transmission equipment is expensive and low in efficiency, said Chi.

“As for cell phones, millions of base stations have been established around the world to strengthen the signal but most of the energy is consumed on their cooling systems,” she explained. “The energy utilization rate is only 5 percent.”

Compared with base stations, the number of lightbulbs that can be used is practically limitless. Meanwhile, Chinese people are replacing the old-fashioned incandescent bulbs with LED lightbulbs at a fast pace.

“Wherever there is an LED lightbulb, there is an Internet signal,” said Chi. “Turn off the light and there is no signal.”

However, there is still a long way to go to make LiFi a commercial success.

“If the light is blocked, then the signal will be cut off,” said Chi.

More importantly, according to the scientist, the development of a series of key related pieces of technology, including light communication controls as well as microchip design and manufacturing, is still in an experimental period.

The term LiFi was coined by Harald Haas from the University of Edinburgh in the UK and refers to a type of visible light communication technology that delivers a networked, mobile, high-speed communication solution in a similar manner as WiFi.

Contributed by Shanghai Xinhua  Editor: Fu Peng

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Micro-LED LiFi: Where every light source i

Innovation not the same as invention, the difference here…

Innovation practitioners know that they should not listen to the experts who approach life with rigid blinkers that prevent them from visualising anything outside their conditioned minds.


Invention vs innovation

TAKING a leaf out of what our Prime Minister wrote in this space two weeks ago, innovative thinking is undoubtedly a significant driver in propelling the nation’s economy to new heights. It is imperative that Malaysians embrace a culture of innovation.

But let’s take a step or two back, before we can begin to move forward. It is important to pin down exactly what innovation means. Several readers have asked me if innovation is the same as invention, especially after reading about Malaysian researchers winning awards for their inventions. In fact, although they may appear similar at first glance, upon closer inspection both are very different indeed.

If you make something unique or original, that’s an invention. Whether the invention has value or not is immaterial. This is why we see whacky inventions like toothbrushes for dogs or a clip-on fan on chopsticks to cool down noodles. Both these examples are unique and original but offer little value to most citizens.

Innovation demands creating additional value, even though a product or service may not be unique or original. The innovator must first unravel customer needs, and then figure out how to inject greater value at different parts of the solution. Let’s look at two examples.

Forty-five years ago, the radical economist and philosopher E.F. Schumacher formed an NGO called Practical Action to help people in developing countries help themselves. Practical Action states that more than 1.6 million people in developing countries die of diseases and accidents caused by cooking and heating fires in homes. This is not surprising, given that one third of humanity still uses rudimentary stoves fuelled by wood, charcoal or dung.

Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is a viable solution as it costs less than wood or charcoal, but most villagers cannot afford the stoves. Some African countries have implemented an innovative “revolving fund” credit system that allows villagers to buy stoves. It works exactly like the “kutu” scheme prevalent in Malaysia for decades, although illegally. Ten households get together and form a fund, with each household contributing a fixed amount to the fund each month, for 10 months.

Every month, one household collects the contributions that month to buy a stove. The following month, another household gets the total contributions to buy their stove. Households draw lots to see who will get the fund over the next 10 months. Within 10 months, all 10 households get their LPG stove. Now imagine adapting this idea to meet the needs of entire communities and you see the power of this innovative funding system. No handouts or subsidies from the government and no bank loans either – the villagers help themselves, through innovation. This is a common sense solution, not rocket science. To be precise, this is innovation.

Let’s look at the second example. Does the number of new books that hit the bookshelves every month overwhelm you? It was predicted that the Internet would spell the death of the printed word, but in fact the reverse has happened. There are now more books in print than at any other time in history. How does one keep up?

As it is commonly known, a number of innovative online companies have found a practical solution to this. For a small fee, these companies provide a short summary of a book containing all the essential ideas presented in the book. Most people can read these summaries in 15 minutes, making it possible to read at least one book each day. This “compressed knowledge” is another example of innovation.

Ultimately, innovation is not confined to technologies, products or services. You can have innovation at every stage of the business cycle – from manufacturing to distribution to sales to post-sales support.

Just look at Nike, the world’s largest supplier of athletic shoes and apparel. It does not own a single manufacturing factory, but focuses on innovation in design and marketing. Another well-known example is DHL, a world-leading courier and logistics company that relies on innovation to accurately ship a document or parcel from the point of origin to its destination.

For you to benefit and profit from innovation, you have to dissect your business or activity into its key pieces or “parts”. The “eco-system” must be correctly identified, as dealing with just one part of the problem or value-chain is unlikely to bring satisfactory results. Nothing exists in isolation and even seemingly unconnected things are actually connected, so a “village” or holistic approach to innovation is necessary.

For each piece or part, you have to ask a fundamental question: How can I do this better, so that the outcome is greater than it is now – at a lower cost? Your brain will rebel at first and tell you that it cannot be done. Don’t listen to your brain; it is a lazy device looking for the easiest way out. Innovation practitioners know that the last person you should listen to is your own self. Don’t listen to the experts either, for they approach life with rigid blinkers that prevent them from visualising anything outside their conditioned minds.

Adopt a child-like disposition and question the assumptions that you and others have taken for granted. Persist until you have questioned each and every aspect of all the pieces of the puzzle and found answers that are uncommon.

This sounds easy, but it is the most difficult step as it questions all the sacred cows lurking in your belief system. Done correctly, however, it can lead to breakthrough innovations.
If you have been through this process, share your stories with me at so that other readers can benefit from your lessons too.

The Star Ignite

> Unit Inovasi Khas CEO Datuk Seri Dr Kamal Jit Singh is hoping to jolt Malaysians out of complacency.

The Difference Between ‘Invention’ and ‘Innovation’

Two and a half years ago, I co-founded Stroome, a collaborative online video editing and publishing platform and 2010 Knight News Challenge winner.

From its inception, the site received a tremendous amount of attention. The New School, USC Annenberg, the Online News Association and, ultimately, the Knight Foundation all saw something interesting in what we were doing. We won awards; we were invited to present at conferences; we were written about in the trades and featured in over 150 blogs. Yet despite all the accolades, not once did the word “invention” creep in. “Innovation,” it turns out, was the word on everyone’s lips.

Like so many up-and-coming entrepreneurs, I was under the impression that invention and innovation were one and the same. They aren’t. And, as I have discovered, the distinction is an important one.

Recently, I was asked by Jason Nazar, founder of Docstoc and a big supporter of the L.A. entrepreneurial community, if I would help define the difference between the two. A short, 3-minute video response can be found at the bottom of this post, but I thought I’d share some key takeaways with you here:


In its purest sense, “invention” can be defined as the creation of a product or introduction of a process for the first time. “Innovation,” on the other hand, occurs if someone improves on or makes a significant contribution to an existing product, process or service.

Consider the microprocessor. Someone invented the microprocessor. But by itself, the microprocessor was nothing more than another piece on the circuit board. It’s what was done with that piece — the hundreds of thousands of products, processes and services that evolved from the invention of the microprocessor — that required innovation.


If ever there were a poster child for innovation it would be former Apple CEO Steve Jobs. And when people talk about innovation, Jobs’ iPod is cited as an example of innovation at its best.

steve jobs iphone4.jpg But let’s take a step back for a minute. The iPod wasn’t the first portable music device (Sony popularized the “music anywhere, anytime” concept 22 years earlier with the Walkman); the iPod wasn’t the first device that put hundreds of songs in your pocket (dozens of manufacturers had MP3 devices on the market when the iPod was released in 2001); and Apple was actually late to the party when it came to providing an online music-sharing platform. (Napster, Grokster and Kazaa all preceded iTunes.)

So, given those sobering facts, is the iPod’s distinction as a defining example of innovation warranted? Absolutely.

What made the iPod and the music ecosystem it engendered innovative wasn’t that it was the first portable music device. It wasn’t that it was the first MP3 player. And it wasn’t that it was the first company to make thousands of songs immediately available to millions of users. What made Apple innovative was that it combined all of these elements — design, ergonomics and ease of use — in a single device, and then tied it directly into a platform that effortlessly kept that device updated with music.

Apple invented nothing. Its innovation was creating an easy-to-use ecosystem that unified music discovery, delivery and device. And, in the process, they revolutionized the music industry.


Admittedly, when it comes to corporate culture, Apple and IBM are worlds apart. But Apple and IBM aren’t really as different as innovation’s poster boy would have had us believe.

Truth is if it hadn’t been for one of IBM’s greatest innovations — the personal computer — there would have been no Apple. Jobs owes a lot to the introduction of the PC. And IBM was the company behind it.

Ironically, the IBM PC didn’t contain any new inventions per se (see iPod example above). Under pressure to complete the project in less than 18 months, the team actually was under explicit instructions not to invent anything new. The goal of the first PC, code-named “Project Chess,” was to take off-the-shelf components and bring them together in a way that was user friendly, inexpensive, and powerful.

And while the world’s first PC was an innovative product in the aggregate, the device they created — a portable device that put powerful computing in the hands of the people — was no less impactful than Henry Ford’s Model T, which reinvented the automobile industry by putting affordable transportation in the hands of the masses.


Given the choice to invent or innovate, most entrepreneurs would take the latter. Let’s face it, innovation is just sexier. Perhaps there are a few engineers at M.I.T. who can name the members of “Project Chess.” Virtually everyone on the planet knows who Steve Jobs is.

But innovation alone isn’t enough. Too often, companies focus on a technology instead of the customer’s problem. But in order to truly turn a great idea into a world-changing innovation, other factors must be taken into account.

According to Venkatakrishnan Balasubramanian, a research analyst with Infosys Labs, the key to ensuring that innovation is successful is aligning your idea with the strategic objectives and business models of your organization.

In a recent article that appeared in Innovation Management, he offered five considerations:

1. Competitive advantage: Your innovation should provide a unique competitive position for the enterprise in the marketplace;
2. Business alignment: The differentiating factors of your innovation should be conceptualized around the key strategic focus of the enterprise and its goals;
3. Customers: Knowing the customers who will benefit from your innovation is paramount;
4. Execution: Identifying resources, processes, risks, partners and suppliers and the ecosystem in the market for succeeding in the innovation is equally important;
5. Business value: Assessing the value (monetary, market size, etc.) of the innovation and how the idea will bring that value into the organization is a critical underlying factor in selecting which idea to pursue.

Said another way, smart innovators frame their ideas to stress the ways in which a new concept is compatible with the existing market landscape, and their company’s place in that marketplace.

This adherence to the “status quo” may sound completely antithetical to the concept of innovation. But an idea that requires too much change in an organization, or too much disruption to the marketplace, may never see the light of day.


While they tend to be lumped together, “invention” and “innovation” are not the same thing. There are distinctions between them, and those distinctions are important.

So how do you know if you are inventing or innovating? Consider this analogy:

If invention is a pebble tossed in the pond, innovation is the rippling effect that pebble causes. Someone has to toss the pebble. That’s the inventor. Someone has to recognize the ripple will eventually become a wave. That’s the entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs don’t stop at the water’s edge. They watch the ripples and spot the next big wave before it happens. And it’s the act of anticipating and riding that “next big wave” that drives the innovative nature in every entrepreneur.

Tom Grasty By Tom Grasty This article is the seventh of 10 video segments in which digital entrepreneur Tom Grasty talks about his experience building an Internet startup, and is part of a larger initiative sponsored by docstoc.videos, which features advice from small business owners who offer their views on how to launch a new business or grow your existing one altogether.

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Reading opens up minds


BACK in my first year when I was asked to read cases by my professor, my immediate reaction was to ask how many pages were there to read.

My professor replied: “There’s no harm reading more.”

I also remember attending a scholarship interview where I was asked to give an account of the books I had read.

Proudly I answered: “I did not read any books besides the academic textbooks.”

It is really depressing and shameful that I took pride of my disinterest towards the habit of reading.

This may appear unusual for a law student like me to recount such a disinterest but I am afraid to say that many of my fellow Malaysian friends share such a disinterest, too.

Reading with Rover

Many students read for the sake of passing their examinations. Many spend time on computer games and working adults may find it tiring to read outside working hours.

As for myself, I turned impatient, disappointed, annoyed and even regretted choosing law as I later found out that I had to read hundreds of pages of cases every week (putting aside the textbooks, commentaries and other journal articles).

Over the years while in law school, I cultivated the habit of reading.

It was hard at the beginning when I had to flip through the dictionary to check the meaning of the words I did not understand, that I lost patience reading the countless pages of books and needless to say I shed many tears in my struggle to finish my law studies.

However, one thing I can assure you is that the sufferings bore fruit. Indeed, they were rewarding. I am no longer sheltered and ignorant.

My general knowledge and vocabulary have increased and with it, my ability to communicate. With the increased knowledge, I can voice an opinion if needed.

The habit of reading opened up my mind that I am now able to see things more objectively than before.

The treasure of knowledge also taught me to keep an open mind and not to accept another’s views blindly.

Reading news and non-fiction illuminates the world for us and reading fiction gives us what non-fiction cannot.

Through reading we travel and through books we find treasures. In those wanderings we find humanity, through the characters we find knowledge.

As how human beings need to be fed, knowledge serves as nourishment for our minds.

Reading opens up the door of knowledge, an important treasure for our country to achieve the 2020 Vision.
So, I urge all of you to cultivate the habit of reading, for yourselves and our country.

JUNE LOH Kulim, Kedah

A strategic game-changer, the Crude dynamics a new economic ‘golden age’ for USA likely?

A SEISMIC shift is under way in global affairs. At its most potent, this dynamic could conceivably upset the accepted wisdom of where the ‘centre of gravity’ of the world economy will lie two decades from now.

A recent report from the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that by as early as 2020, the US could surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer — and achieve complete energy independence by 2030.

The IEA forecasts that the US will increase its production to 23 million barrels a day (MMbd) in 10 years from total available supplies of around 10.3 MMbd currently. Oil and natural gas production in the US is increasing at its fastest pace in 50 years.

The IEA’s outlook on world energy has underscored what recent data have been pointing to: a perceptible decline in the dependence on energy imports for the US.

The US, currently the world’s largest oil consumer using 18.8 MMbd (roughly 22 per cent of global production), imported about 45 per cent of its petroleum (crude as well as products) in 2011. After peaking in 2005, the share of imports in US energy consumption has declined a full 10 percentage points (from over 55 to 45 per cent currently).

Contrary to popular perception, 52 per cent of these imports were sourced from the western hemisphere, with Canada, Venezuela and Mexico supplying 29 per cent, 11 per cent and eight per cent of the US petroleum needs.

Saudi Arabia, the second-largest supplier of oil to the US after Canada, accounted for 14 per cent of US petroleum imports in 2011. The wider Middle East/Persian Gulf accounted for 22 per cent of US petroleum imports in 2011, down by around 25 per cent since 2005.

The US has benefited from large domestic production gains, particularly in shale oil.

This has been made possible by technological innovation in oil drilling such as ‘hydraulic fracturing’ (or ‘fracking’) as well as the opening of hitherto off-limit geologically rich production areas such as Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico (drilling activity in the latter was temporarily halted by President Obama following the oil spill caused from BP’s rig).

What will this trend mean for the global economy? The virtual elimination of the US’s dependence on imported energy in the next one or two decades is being dubbed as a “strategic game-changer”. (The Wall Street Journal carried a piece with the headline ‘Saudi America’ in its Nov 12, 2012 Asian edition.)

According to influential commentators like Niall Ferguson, the celebrated financial historian and Harvard University professor, the abundant availability of indigenous energy could spark a new economic “golden age” for the US.

Uninterrupted supplies of relatively cheaper, and less price-volatile, fossil fuel could galvanise the US manufacturing sector into creating millions of new jobs.

With its productivity advantages, coupled with a gradual convergence of manufacturing wages between developed and fast-growing developing economies, the US could also start becoming attractive once again as a global manufacturing hub, according to Mr Ferguson.

Hence, rather than write off the US economy as a spent force, commentators such as Mr Ferguson believe quite the opposite: that the US will continue to economically rival, and possibly dominate, competitors such as China and India well into the supposedly ‘Asian’ century.

The replacement of imported fuel and the infusion of domestic energy in the US economy will have implications for the US dollar as well, according to this line of reasoning.

According to forecasts by Deutsche Bank, reduced energy dependence would cause the US current account deficit to fall 30 per cent by 2016.

By virtue of these developments, the value of the greenback will appreciate, which will provide an added impetus to declining world oil prices.

The possible reduction of geopolitical risk in global energy markets as a result of America’s energy ‘independence’ resulting in a weaning away from the volatile Middle East, could trigger a sharp reversal in the international oil price. (This scenario assumes, however, that Saudi oil production has not ‘peaked’ between now and then).

By some expert reckoning, the geopolitical risk in current oil prices ranges anywhere from $20 to $30 a barrel.

Such a large reduction in the oil price, should it occur, will exact a heavy toll on the budgets and economies of Middle Eastern oil producers.

Given their demographics, most of these countries will need to continue ‘pump-priming’ their economies for the next decade at least to create jobs and provide social safety nets.

The potential loss of oil income could be a devastating blow to their economies — and for millions of migrant workers who send billions of dollars in remittances to their respective countries.

The other major implication of these potential developments in global energy markets would be on food prices. If world oil prices do indeed trend down for the long run, it will remove the economic incentive for the push into bio-fuels.

This in turn will be welcome news for the world’s poor, as both the stopping of food diversion for bio-fuels combined with lower transport costs will make a significant dent in food prices.

However, if the US economy does not decline into irrelevance by 2030, and is in fact rejuvenated, the global competition for resources will be even more intense — pressuring not only the environment but also prices for non-oil, non-food commodities.

A fascinating global energy landscape is unfolding. Whatever final shape it takes, our continued dependence on energy from fossil fuels will ensure that oil will continue to play a major role in our lives for the foreseeable future.- Dawn/Asia News Network

 By Sakib Sherani
The writer is a former economic adviser to government, and currently heads a macroeconomic consultancy based in Islamabad.

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U.S. to Overtake Saudi Arabia, Russia as World’s Top Energy Producer.
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Building an innovative society

Bad intellectual property image clouds the country’s real progress in encouraging inventors and building an innovation-based society.

Chinese InnovatorsCHINA has been an easy prey worldwide as it is labelled as a country with one of the worst environments for intellectual property (IP) development.

But little has been known about the nation’s steady progress in raising a greater awareness of IP rights protection and significance to build a more innovation-based society.

Chinese State Intellectual Property Office commissioner Tian Lipu admitted that China is still full of pirated goods and copycats but he also pointed out that many more individuals and companies are turning innovators instead.

“I think the Western media has painted a wrong picture of China on its efforts to protect IP rights. China’s image has been quite bad in other countries,” he said in a recent interview in Beijing.

He acknowledged that one would be able to find pirated goods in places like Beijing’s Sanlitun and Luohu district in Shenzhen but many had overseen the fact that China had developed a comprehensive system and legal structure to protect local and foreign patents and trademarks.

“Last year, we received 526,000 applications for invention patents, accounting for 25% of the world’s total. About 110,000 local applicants were granted patents. While the number of applications reflects the level of awareness of IP protection among the public, the figures of patents granted indicate how good is the quality of the inventions.

“However, the intellectual property office is more concerned about the valid patents and to see whether these patented creations are well received by the market and how well the patent is maintained by its owner. To date, there are about 350,000 valid patents owned by locals,” he said.

In China, applicants can register patents for invention, patents for utility model and patents for design. The office processed 1.63 million applications for these three types of patents last year.

As for trademarks, China received a total of 9.71 million applications as of the end of last year, with 6.65 million of them successfully registered. Besides, some 110,000 software copyrights were registered last year.

“Not many people know that China is one the countries which pay the most royalties for patents, trademarks, copyrights and franchises and one of the world’s largest genuine software buyers.

“Government departments, banks, insurance firms and many companies are using original softwares. Many firms buy books, music, movies and TV shows through copyright trade,” Tian said.

He said foreign companies had gained huge profits in overseas markets after the production of their original equipment manufacturer (OEM) goods in China.

“I think because of the conducive environment for IP protection in China, foreign investors would have a peace of mind to entrust Chinese manufacturers to produce their OEM goods.”

Last week, the office’s patents administration department announ-ced that as of June, all the departments of the 31 provincial and municipal governments had installed genuine softwares.

By the end of next year, it said, all city and county-level governments would do the same. As of the end of October, all levels of government spent some 1.48 billion yuan (RM725mil) on 2.3 million licences for operating system, office and anti-virus softwares.

It is learnt that most of the state-owned enterprises have been equipped with proper softwares while 50% of smaller companies would be given until next year to follow suit.

Tian said China might not have a society priding itself on IP like in the United States but it would not take too long for the Chinese to catch up with the rest of the world.

“China used to be a country with the highest number of inventions during the Song dynasty – and 50% of the world’s total inventions came from China. China then laid dormant for centuries until we started educating our people on the value of IP 20 years ago. I think it may take one or two more generations for us to build a society that lives by the IP culture,” he said.

He revealed that his office, the Trademark Office under the State Administration of Industry and Commerce and the National Copy-right Administration were amending the Patent Law, Trademark Law and Copyright Law to give more tooth to enforcement and judiciary agencies to carry out their duty.

Under the amended patent law, damages will be calculated based on the illegal gains of the party which infringes the owner’s right rather than the owner’s actual loss. This is because the act of infringing one’s right is relatively easy compared to the act of protecting and maintaining it, he said.

He warned that as Chinese companies reinforce their IP development, they should be on guard to face the so-called “patent trolls” which tend to buy patents at low prices and go around taking action against those infringing their rights.

“These ‘patent trolls’ did not involve in any R&D and innovation. They are a byproduct of IP development sidetracking its real spirit.

“Piracy and IP infringement exist everywhere in the world and cannot be totally wiped out. But investors should be confident about doing business in China as its government is resolute in addressing the problem.”


Why Is Creativity More Important Than Capitalism?

Haydn Shaughnessy, ForbesContributor

Creativity (Photo credit: Mediocre2010)

Do you know your creativity quotient?  Creativity sounds a little weak, a touchy-feely topic, but it turns to be one of the most important memes of the past 100 years, and very definitely ranks alongside concepts (or ideologies) like capitalism in the pantheon of big ideas.

I admit to being a creativity sceptic. When it came into vogue thirty years ago I cringed. Creative? What’s wrong with busy? Or dedicated. Or hard working. But creativity’s rise – measured by the use of terms “creative” and “creativity” in Google‘s nGram database – has been relentless for over a century. It is NO fad.

For those that don’t know it the nGram database contains roughly 4% of all books ever published, in the case of this data in the USA and Britain.

The problem of creativity – how to manifest it in disciplined environments – hasn’t changed much during that period.

But if you look at the chart below you can get a sense of its importance.  The use of “creative” dwarfs terms like technological progress and scientific progress.

In fact digging a little deeper I found out:

The use of the language of creativity is increasing when people write about scientific progress. Progress itself is a term in declining use, seemingly replaced by the idea of creativity, at least in the sciences. You can’s see that from the chart – to get to that data I examined the use of a variety of terms over the period 1960 – 2010.

The best Google nGram data goes up to 2000 but I checked search interest in these terms, post 2000, and the patterns continue.

The use of creativity is increasing in business and management literature, declining where people write about religion and education, and of course rising when people write about cities.

Jonah Leher’s book Imagine underlines the slacker nature of creativity but also it’s importance. Let’s face it the quest to be more creative as a society is as old as (modern) business.

Creativity is big in entertainment too, naturally, if entertainment is taken to include art and music but surprise, surprise the use of the term in entertainment declined in the period 1981 – 2000, while it increased in association with business and management.

Is all this just a reflection of publishers pumping more books out? No, all data is normalised.

Is there anything to conclude from the data?  The themes of creativity have been pretty consistent down the years – how organizations stifle it, how necessary it is, and how it creates risk.

The one lacking ingredient seems to be a creative answer to those problems, though I think we may be on the cusp of one (more of that later in the week).

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War for Talent! How to win it for Malaysia?

Winning the war for talent


Are hefty paychecks and good career prospects the only aspects talents look for in a base country? The answers may be the key to a country’s success in bringing its best brains home.

THERE is a global war being waged as companies and countries struggle to keep their best within their borders while they try to woo the world’s brightest.

And if salary perks and benefits offered by countries like Qatar, China, Singapore and Malaysia for returning experts and expatriates are anything to go by, the “War for Talent”, a term coined by research giant McKinsey & Company in 1997, is still going strong despite the global economic slowdown.

But 13 years after the term was coined, the landscape of the war has greatly changed. Most notably, the “weapons” used to attract talents have changed.

While salary packages and fringe benefits used to be one of the most powerful magnets for talent, it may not be enough in the current human resource climate.

Dr Tan: ‘When you have the brains or energy, you want to go to the best place to learn from the best’

David Lee, author of the Insights: The Journal of the Northeast HR Association article titled “Becoming a Talent Magnet: How to Attract and Retain Great Employees”, says that competitive pay and a good benefits package although important are not enough to attract and retain “the best of the best”.

Quoting a study by another US consulting firm Kepner-Tregoe of Princeton, Lee, an executive coach and founder of US consulting and training firm HumanNature@Work, points out that 40% of the employees surveyed felt that increased salaries and financial rewards were ineffective in reducing turnover.

Hence, the vital question for most human resource managers and national talent development organisations is “What are the world’s best looking for?”

Lee says the proverbial carrot lies in the intangible, such as pride in where they work and what they do, appreciation from their managers, opportunities to learn and grow as well as respect.

Interviews with Malaysian diasporas and experts who have returned seem to support the trend.

Although many of them acknowledge that salary packages and career prospects matter, it is often not a deal breaker when it comes to their decision to remain abroad or return home.

Wong: ‘If Malaysia wants to attract talents, it must be able to provide a conducive environment’

One of the main attractions for talents is the environment for them to develop and excel in their fields of interest.

When Kuala Lumpur-born consultant psychiatrist and analytic psychotherapist Dr Tan Eng-Kong left for a sabbatical in Australia in 1976, he knew he would get to work with some of the best psychiatrists in the world.

“At that time, Australia invited the best of American and British psychiatrists to its country, and I was lucky to be able to take a sabbatical from lecturing in Sydney,” says Dr Tan, who was in Kuala Lumpur recently.

As he found greater opportunities to practise his field of interest psychotherapy in Australia, he chose to stay there and build his career.

“In those days, the field of psychotherapy was not developed yet in Malaysia. So, I had to stay back in Australia just to practise,” says Dr Tan, who has now spent over 30 years building a successful career in Sydney.

While psychotherapy is currently gaining popularity among local mental health professionals, Dr Tan still feels it is more popular and better received in the West.

“When you have the brains or energy, you want to go to the best place to learn from the best,” says Dr Tan, who still visits Malaysia regularly to share his expertise with local mental health professionals.

Dr Lam Wei-Haur, who has just come back under the returning experts programme (REP) after spending six years in Britain and two years in China doing research in ocean renewable energy, shares a similar experience.

“Funding for research at a post-graduate level was limited when I finished my undergraduate studies in 2001. I was lucky to obtain a scholarship to further my studies in the UK,” says Lam, who is now an associate professor in Universiti Malaya’s department of civil engineering.

Although the tax cuts and benefits made the transition back to Malaysia easier, I came back because I felt I could contribute more to my field of research back home. – DR LAM WEI-HAUR

“However, after six years of research in the UK, I wanted to learn about the system of research and development in China,” he adds.

Lam, who is in his 30s, says he came back because he felt he would be able to contribute more to the field of ocean energy in Malaysia.

“Although the tax cuts and benefits such as a permanent residentship offer for my spouse made the transition back to Malaysia easier, the reason I came back is because I felt that I could contribute more to my field of research here, back home,” he explains.

There may be more established research institutions and teams overseas but having the opportunity to work with researchers in a developing nation such as Malaysia is like “sketching on a white piece of paper” for him.

On worries that Malaysia may not have sufficient funding and infrastructure for research, Dr Lam says researchers have to look for opportunities themselves.

“Our Government is now very supportive of scientific research and there are a number of sources researchers can go to for grants. We must understand that opportunities do not come to us if we do not make an effort to ask or look for it,” he stresses.

While Dr Hood Azlan Mohd Thabit, 35, is determined to return to Malaysia to continue his research in endocrinology (specifically in diabetes) after his post-graduate research in Cambridge, he agrees that the base country of a scientist or researcher is of marginally less importance compared to the research network and collaborations he could forge with other researchers around the world.

“It is very difficult for an individual or group to do research on its own, not just because the world is more globalised now, but because it is so easy to collaborate through the Internet, they have no excuse not to,” he says.

While certain countries have established infrastructure for research, others have the human resource and expertise, he adds.

“Personally, it is really for the satisfaction of doing what you do. And coming home, for most people, is about whether they can continue their work in a meaningful way,” says Dr Hood.

For corporate social responsibility (CSR) consultant Wong Lai Yong, who hails from Penang, the location of her base country does not matter as long as she is able to contribute to society from where she is.

Since she first volunteered to read to the blind in primary school, community service has been in her blood. Today, she continues to serve the people around her by spreading her knowledge on childcare development and social entrepreneurship based on her experiences in Japan.

“I’ve always realised that education is the best way to bring people out of poverty, so I think about the ways I can help bring education to people who have no access to primary education. That is why I have never confined my contributions to Malaysia alone,” says the cheerful 39-year-old.

She does not plan to return to Malaysia in the near future but even so, she visits regularly to share her knowledge.

“If Malaysia wants to attract talents, it must be able to provide a supportive and conducive environment for these talents to perform and contribute,” she says.

“We might not be able to compete with many developed nations in terms of salary and benefits, but we can offer Malaysian diasporas the comfort of home and the company of their family members.”

Malaysian transplant

Carol Lamb calls herself a transplanted Malaysian, having settled down in the United States in the 1980s. Lamb, who now runs communication firm Fantastic International Inc in Atlanta, says she is often asked in social circles where she is from.

“How do I convey that I am from a country surrounded by glistening islands with white sandy beaches, tropical rainforests with unique animal and plant life, cool mountain ranges with quaint villages, tall skyscrapers with world-class shopping, a fusion of Asia and British rule? I decided to build my own website and affiliate with one of the biggest online travel booking engines on the Internet,,” she tells.

With the help of Tourism Malaysia and its New York office, she travelled back to Malaysia and wrote about exciting tourist attractions and sites. The concept of medical tourism caught her attention and she is now helping to promote Malaysia as a health tourism destination among Americans.

“The number of Americans going to Malaysia is small. This is the reason why I created the Global Marketing Network’. I promote medical facilities that are in Malaysia at exhibitions around the US.

“Malaysian medical facilities need to be seen. Malaysia also needs to be on the lips and minds of people thinking about having surgery abroad. What better way to do this than participating in exhibitions?

“Additionally, most Americans do not know that Malaysia used to be a British colony. They are also unaware that English is widely spoken, the country has great infrastructure, fantastic beaches, awesome hotels, scrumptious food and is multi-racial and multi-cultural.

“Who better to explain all this face-to-face than a Malaysian who knows the country well?”

 Weaving a win-win web

BUILDING a global Malaysian diaspora network might seem like a colossal task but after the encouraging response entrepreneur Winston Choe received for the first diaspora meetup he planned in Silicon Valley, he is convinced that it may not be as difficult as it seems.

He had put out the word on the meetup he planned to link Malaysian technology companies with professionals and investors in the US in December, and was pleasantly surprised when he found over 80 Malaysians in the San Fransisco Bay Area, many of whom he had not met during the years he lived there.

“What I did was send the word out over the Internet through Facebook pages, LinkedIn groups and e-mail lists about the meetup. Within two weeks, we had to increase our initial cap of 30 people to 50,” said Choe, a Petaling-Jaya born CEO of his own business networking software company in Silicon Valley.

In fact, the meetup sponsored by Talent Corporation Malaysia (TalentCorp) that features the topic “Malaysian Tech Sector Opportunities” has attracted 80 interested participants, but Choe had to limit his audience to ensure quality interaction.

“I am greatly encouraged by the initial feedback and am confident that the next one will easily attract at least 100 people,” he said via Skype.

The idea of a meetup in Silicon Valley came up when Choe was in Malaysia in October for a workshop organised by TalentCorp.

“This meetup is a follow-up to the workshop we did in Kuala Lumpur in October,” said Choe, who is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs build their businesses.

“My goal is to allow professionals (in Silicon Valley) to explore cross border opportunities between the United States and Asia,” he added.

Before the meetup, held at the Intel Santa Clara campus, Choe had selected four MSC companies and coached them to make a 15-minute business presentation to Silicon Valley professionals and investors. At the meetup, he also presented a win-win model for Malaysian diasporas to contribute to various sectors in Malaysia.

“After the workshop in Kuala Lumpur, we realised that what Malaysian start-ups need most are funding, market access and global partners,” said Choe.

The win-win model he suggested is focused on enhancing these three aspects for Malaysian companies as well as professionals and investors abroad.

In terms of funding, Malaysian diaspora with successful business ventures can introduce Malaysian companies to investors in the West, and Malaysian companies can reciprocate by introducing them to investors in Asia.

“While Malaysian diaspora can help Malaysian companies access the US market, Malaysian companies can serve as a gateway for them to access the Asian market.

“What we are trying to do now is to build a global (Malaysian) diaspora network with physical meetups, workshops and also online social tools, and our objective is to accelerate various sectors in Malaysia, starting with infotech,” he said.

As a result of the meetup, Choe made eight qualified introductions between professionals at the workshop and three MSC companies that presented that day.

A LinkedIn group has also been set up to connect participants of the workshop.

“A few participants have expressed interest in helping me organise more of such meetups,” said Choe.

With their help, Choe’s goal in 2012 is to organise similar meetups across the world in cities such as New York, Toronto, London, Sydney, Melbourne and even Singapore.

“This represents about 80% of the Malaysian diaspora population, and we hope that they can take this platform and replicate it,” said Choe.

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