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.”

MADE IN CHINA
By CHOW HOW BAN

Why Is Creativity More Important Than Capitalism?


Haydn Shaughnessy, ForbesContributor

Creativity
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

By LIM WEY WEN wwen@thestar.com.my

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, Hotels.com,” 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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Milky Way home to billions of planets


Milky Way teeming with ‘billions’ of planets: Study

Billions of Alien PlanetsNew methods have allowed the Kepler space telescopeto discover billions more planets in the galaxy.

WASHINGTON: The Milky Way is home to far more planets than previously thought, boosting the odds that at least one of them may harbour life, according to a study released on Wednesday.

Not long ago, astronomers counted the number of “exoplanets” detected outside our own solar system in the teens, then in the hundreds. Today the tally stands at just over 700.

But the new study, published in Nature, provides evidence that there are more planets than stars in our own stellar neighbourhood.

“We used to think that Earth might be unique in our galaxy,” said Daniel Kubas, a professor at the Institute of Astrophysics in Paris, and co-leader of the study.

“Now it seems that there are literally billions of planets with masses similar to Earth orbiting stars in the Milky Way.”

Two methods have dominated the hunt over the past two decades for exoplanets too distant and feint to perceive directly.

One measures the effect of a planet’s gravitational pull on its host star, while the other detects a slight dimming of the star as the orbiting planet passes in front of it.

Both of these techniques are better at finding planets that are massive in size, close to their stars, or both, leaving large “blind spots”.

An international team of astronomers led by Kubas and colleague Arnaud Cassan used a different method called gravitational microlensing, which looks at how the combined gravitational fields of a host star and the planet itself act like a lens, magnifying the light of another star in the background.

If the star that acts as a lens has a planet, the orbiting sphere will appear to slightly brighten the background star.

One advantage of microlensing compared to other methods is that it can detect smaller planets closer in size to our own, and further from their hot-burning stars.

The survey picked up on planets between 75 million and 1.5 billion kilometres from their stars — a range equivalent in the Solar System to Venus at one end and Saturn at the other — and with masses at least five times greater than Earth.

Over six years, the team surveyed millions of stars with a round-the-world network of telescopes located in the southern hemisphere, from Australia to South Africa to Chile.

Besides finding three new exoplanets themselves — no minor feat — they calculated that there are, on average, 1.6 planets in the Milky Way for every star, Cassan told AFP.

Whether this may be true in other galaxies is unknown.

“Remarkably, these data show that planets are more common than stars in our galaxy — they are the rule rather than the exception,” Cassan said. “We also found lighter planets … would be more common than heavier ones.”

One in six of the stars studied was calculated to host a planet similar in mass to Jupiter, half had planets closer in mass to Neptune, and nearly two-thirds had so-called super-Earths up to 10 times the mass of the rock we call home.

Another study published the same day in Nature, meanwhile, showed that planets simultaneously orbiting two stars — known as circumbinary planet systems — are also far more common that once supposed.

There are probably millions of planets with two suns, concluded the study, led by William Welsh of San Diego State University in California.

Make Mandarin a compulsory exam subject


Chua: Make Mandarin a compulsory exam subject

KUALA LUMPUR: The MCA will push for Mandarin to be made a compulsory Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) paper for students in Sekolah Menengah Jenis Kebangsaan (SMJK).

Party president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said making the subject compulsory was important because there should be a minimum level of language proficiency for those wishing to teach in Chinese schools.

He added that the boards of SMJK nationwide were unanimous in their decision to request that the language be made a compulsory subject.

Dr Chua, however, said there would be a shortage of Mandarin teachers to teach the subject.

The party has directed its Youth chief Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong, who is also Deputy Education Minister, to look into the matter.

Dr Chua hopes to see more students from independent Chinese schools joining teacher training colleges once the institutes begin accepting Unified Examination Certificate students.

He said this at a press conference after a meeting with representatives from the 78 SMJK school boards yesterday.

Dr Chua also urged the Education Ministry to look into reintroducing English Literature in schools to strengthen the command of English.

“Learning Science and Mathematics in English is good but as far as MCA is concerned, there is a need for literature to be reintroduced.”

On the criticism levelled against MCA’s forum on hudud on Dec 4, Dr Chua said: “There is nothing wrong in educating my own members. We don’t believe hudud will not affect the non-Muslims and we are holding this to educate them.”

He added that there were many educated people asking for more space for discussion.

“Why are they upset when we do a closed door forum? Does DAP or PAS have something to hide which makes them want to prevent MCA from holding its own forum within its own premises?” Dr Chua asked.

The forum will be held at Wisma MCA and is open to the public, although it is organised for party members.

Moving to the next frontier of space programme


China astronaut Zhai Zhigang. Taken at the Chi...Image via Wikipedia

MADE IN CHINA By CHOW HOW BAN

CHINA is moving in the right direction to build a 60-tonne space station around 2020.

On Nov 3, the unmanned Shenzhou 8 shuttle docked with Tiangong-1, which is China’s first space lab module, after travelling 343km in orbit.

The shuttle separated from the target spacecraft after 12 days and carried out its second docking on Nov 14. Two days later, Shenzhou 8 left Tiangong-1 and returned to Earth as scheduled.

News from the China Manned Space Engineering Office is that Tiangong-1 has continued its voyage at a height of 370km smoothly and transferred into a long-term operational mode.

The space lab module will wait for docking with the manned Shenzhou 9 and 10 sometime next year.

According to the office’s vice-director Wang Zhaoyao, during the flight of Shenzhou 8 its general biological experimental device functioned normally and 17 samples of Sino-Germany cooperative space life science experiments were recovered after the shuttle landed at the recovery site in Inner Mongolia.

He said Tiangong-1 had also carried out a series of experiments and tests as scheduled, including space-to-earth remote sensing exploration application experiment, space materials scientific experiment and space environment and physical detection tests.

“This space rendezvous and mission has fully realised its objective of ‘accurate entry into orbit, precise docking, stable assembly operation and safe return’.

“It marks a critical breakthrough for China’s space technology and set a milestone for our manned space development,” he told a press conference recently.

Wang said Tiangong-1, launched into orbit on Sept 29, was designed with a lifespan of more than two years and it would be well maintained until its following docking operations next year.

Under China’s space programme, after completing its first round of missions, Tiangong-1 will return to earth in 2013. It will be replaced by the larger Tiangong-2 and Tiangong-3 modules which will conduct more sophisticated space probes.

Tiangong-3 will probably be a 60-tonne full-size space station to be manned by astronauts.

The China’s Manned Space Engineering Office maintained that China is not working on the space station development alone and the country always welcomed other nations.

“We emphasise independent development but never said we want to develop in isolation. The development and operation of China’s space station are open to foreign colleagues and experts in the field on the principle of mutual respect and benefit, transparency and openness,” Wang said.

China has had fruitful space cooperation with Russia, Germany, France and other nations.

China would like to be involved in the building of the International Space Station together six other space agencies but because of various reasons, China remains excluded from the programme, he added.

He also refuted claims that China’s manned space programmes had military functions.

“We can say that none of the eight Shenzhou missions had direct military applications. But, we all know that space-related technological developments can be used in civilian and military sectors.

“For example, a communications satellite can be used for TV broadcasting and military communication. So it depends on what you use it for,” he added.

Wang hoped that critics would be responsible and fair when criticising China’s space programmes.

“The United States and some media have been criticising our space exploration programme and development saying is not transparent enough. First of all, they have to be fair in their comments.

“Last year, I accompanied Nasa administrator Charles Bolden for a tour of our space programme facilities, laboratories and launching centres in China. He was pleased on how transparent we were,” he said.

China’s space programme consists of three stages. Phase 1 saw the historic launch of the unmanned Shenzhou 1 shuttle in 1999 for missions to conduct space experiments. It was followed by the launch of Shenzhou 2, Shenzhou 3, Shenzhou 4, Shenzhou 5, Shenzhou 6 and Shenzhou 7.

The Shenzhou 7 mission, China’s third manned spacecraft, was the most historic when Chinese astronaut Zhai Zhigang became the first man from China to do a spacewalk on Sept 27, 2008. It marked a successful extra-vehicular activity (EVA) mission for China.

Phase 2 began with the launch of the Tiangong-1 space module. One of the main missions during this phase will be the docking of a manned space shuttle with the space lab.

The space programme administration will decide between Shenzhou 9 and 10 which one will be manned by China’s first female astronaut next year.

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Recipe for innovation


AirAsia CEO and others give you recipe for innovation

By LIZ LEE lizlee@thestar.com.my

KUALA LUMPUR: What fosters the spirit of innovation? The answers point to an encouraging environment and putting Malaysia into context, there is much to be done at the home, education and corporate levels to create an environment fertile for sowing the seeds of unconventional thinking.

That was the main take-away from the second Merdeka Award Roundtable last week, featuring group chief executive of AirAsia Bhd Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, Malaysian Invention and Design Society president Tan Sri Dr Augustine Ong Soon Hock and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Zaini Ujang.

The award was founded by energy companies Petronas, ExxonMobil and Shell in 2007 where award recipients will receive a certificate and RM500,000 cash award for each of five categories.

“(Innovation) is not something you can teach or programme. It is creating a lot of little ecosystems to make sure (the environment is right) and culture does play a part in this,” Fernandes said, kicking off the discussion on “Cultivating a culture of innovation in challenging times.”

Sharing ideas: (from left) Zaini, Ong and Fernandes at the second Merdeka Award Roundtable. The discussion was hosted by Astro Awani’s Norina Yahya

Of the education system, Fernandes said the focus on books had overwhelmed the development in other areas that build thought leaders.

“When we look at some of the great leaders, they are all rounded. Our schools have lost a lot by focusing on academics only,” he said.

Fernandes believed that while the Government should foster innovation as well as trust the people and allow ideas, education is the key to take Malaysia to the next level. He opined that bringing back arts, culture and sport would change the way the future generation thinks.

“A successful education system should be about bringing out the best in children and giving them the ability to experiment and try all sorts of things and turn that raw diamond into a polished diamond,” he said.

As a parent, he believed that it was important to “expose the children to as many things as possible and allow them to go where they want.”

At the corporate level, he added that there was also a culture of subordination in Malaysia that hampered creative output: “When you go against the norm in Malaysia, you can be whacked. It’s sometimes seen as insubordinate or questionable when you challenge the norm.”

“That’s the culture. Malaysians are an innovative lot but sometimes we need to praise innovation by creating the environment,” he said, adding that the success stories of Malaysian innovation were not sung often enough.

“We don’t hear enough of the success stories. A lot of our technology came from Malaysians and we need to show that the commercialisation of these ideas have come to fruition,” he said.

During the discussion, Fernandes also revealed that the flat structure in AirAsia’s management was the “secret weapon” for its success in the industry. He said that communication flow relied on organisation structure.

“If you have a hierarchical organisation, the people who have ideas are sometimes too scared to speak up. (But) it’s all right to give ideas, it’s all right to talk,” he said of the potentially stifling hierarchical organisation structures in many Malaysian companies.

“I always say I would rather have 9,000 brains working with me than just 10,” he said, adding on that “if you create an environment where everyone feels equal and there’s freedom of expression (among all levels of employees), that provides a very powerful machine.”

However, innovating per se should not be the end goal too.

Ong, who is also a former member of the Merdeka Award Health, Science and Technology Committee, said there needed to be market-driven innovations to encourage worthwhile creations.

“When you have innovation for a market that is not ready for it, that becomes a problem,” he said.

“We should also look at what our country has a niche in. We should concentrate on areas where we already have good industries going on where innovation can bring some results,” he added, saying that foreign areas like nuclear energy may not be an ideal area to innovate since the country had yet to develop its know-how and infrastructure.

In terms of getting academicians engaged with market-centric needs, Zaini said UTM had a professorship scheme with Proton Holdings Bhd where professors were positioned at the company to spur on-the-ground projects with the staff.

“We target to have 100 patents under Proton per year from this industrial PhD,” the former Merdeka Award recipient said, highlighting the university’s market-relevant endeavours through the reverse flow of ideas from the market into academia.

The roundtable will be broadcast on Astro Awani in early December.

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