Published: Monday February 25, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Saturday April 20, 2013 MYT 5:31:54 PM

Malaysia’s vanguards

SIMPLY put, Design Thinking produces creative solutions to solve complex problems. In other words, you have to be creative to be innovative. But can one learn creativity or for that matter, innovative skills?

Yes, if you believe David Kelley, the design thinking guru and founder of global design firm Ideo and the School of Design Thinking at Stanford University.

“So many people think that it’s kind of in your gene – you’re a creative person or you’re not. I don’t buy it,” says Kelley in Design & Thinking, a documentary on design thinking by San Francisco-based One Time Studio. Kelley argued that human beings are naturally creative (just observe kids!) and you just need to rediscover your creative confidence to crack open the door to innovation. The process of design thinking is a “scaffolding for creativity” as design thinking advocate, Tim Brown of Ideo, calls it.

Hence when Genovasi was initiated by the Government to produce “innovation ambassadors,” the organisation settled on design thinking methodology to cultivate these innovators.

“We wanted an approach that would instil a sense of curiosity for technology and entrepreneurship among youths. And any innovation that derives from the approach should include empathy towards the needs of people,” says Datuk Seri Dr Kamal Jit Singh, chief executive officer of Unit Inovasi Khas (UNIK) which manages Genovasi.

“Design thinking fits these criteria perfectly as it offers a human-centred approach to innovation.”

Under the Innovation Ambassadors Development Programme, participants go through a 10-week programme to grasp the nuts and bolts of design thinking and apply their know-how to solve real-life problems posed by project partners. To date, project partners include The Millennium Project, an independent, non-profit think thank, and RSA (The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), a London-based charity committed to finding innovative solutions to today’s social challenges. Upon completion of the programme, these “ambassadors” may go on to create startups or find placements in Genovasi’s partner organisations like government agencies, GLCs or corporations.

“These Ambassadors are expected to bring positive changes to three core areas: improve public service delivery within government departments, ministries and agencies; improve the quality of life in rural and local communities and create new economic wealth through entrepreneurship or industry game-changing efforts,” says Dr Kamal. Genovasi’s plan is to produce a minimum of 5,000 Innovation Ambassadors over the next five years.

As collaborators, the Hasso-Plattner-Institut (HPI) School of Design Thinking in Potsdam, Germany, not only helped develop the programme for Genovasi but also conducted strategy and trainers’ workshops and assessments.

“It was really great to see there are a lot of Malaysians who are keen to do something under the innovation programme,” says Dr Claudia Nicolai, the general programme manager of HPI D-School. Nicolai was in Malaysia to help set up the programme. “People are extremely open-minded and willing to work together.”

“Malaysia’s advantage, compared to Germany, is that you are so diverse. You have influences from different ethnic cultures, customs and religions – that’s an advantage to generate truly creative ideas.”

The D-School in Germany did not copy and paste Stanford University’s D-School model but instead adapt it to the European environment.

“Genovasi’s programme is basically an Asian version of what we are doing. It puts a new flavour in design thinking,” says Professor Ulrich Weinberg, HPI D-School’s director.

“You have the chance to build on the experiences of Stanford and HPI,” he adds. “You can build something which is the next version or reinvent what we’re doing.”

The Innovation Ambassadors Development Programme (IADP) is open to university students or entrepreneurs up to the age of 35. Students and experts from all disciplines are welcome to apply. The programme is free for Malaysians. IADP’s second intake starts from May 27. Closing date for application: March 31, 2013. For more info, go to

Related Stories: Grooming innovators

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, Lifestyle, Lifestyle, design thinking, Genovasi, HPI Germany


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