Your 10 Questions for Datuk Dr Kamal Jit Singh

  • Business
  • Saturday, 07 Apr 2012

How do you find Malaysians' receptiveness, especially the younger generation, towards innovative ideas at this moment? S. Sivaletchumayah, Puchong

The younger generation is very receptive, but they don't know the “how” of innovation. If there is any resistance to innovation at all, it is simply because people don't know how to do it. When people say “It can't be done”, they more often than not mean “I don't know how to do it.” If we get past that, give people the skills to innovate and create an innovation culture, then we will probably see more people embrace it as part of their lives.

While we have some successes, by and large, we do not seem to be making any significant progress in making Malaysians innovative, for example in the technical field. What are our weaknesses? Is it our school system, our society, where failures are usually severely punished or is it because of an ineffective/incomplete innovative ecosystem? Or do we have to be more patient before we can see any results? Lai Weng Kin

Our weakness is that we have not learned to innovate. Innovation does not happen by accident it is a structured, disciplined process infused with creativity and it needs to be cultivated. Countries that innovate are those that have in place a sustainable policy on innovation, which provides the right environment. They also provide attractive incentives and allocate resources that contribute to the process. The root of innovation is a questioning mindset. Every assumption must be questioned. The more sacred it is, the higher the chance that it is either false or irrelevant today. Our present education system does not encourage a questioning culture. The lack of an innovation policy and questioning culture are the factors that have led to a broken innovation ecosystem, which we aim to address through the National Innovation Strategy. On your question of whether we have to be patient, the answer is no. Malaysia does not have the luxury of time. Other nations are innovating at a rapid rate to keep up with changes in the world and we cannot be patient any longer we have to embrace innovation now.

How do innovative thinking and creative ideas help develop Malaysia and what strategies can we create for innovation in work and life? Bulbir Singh, Seremban

Innovation is a vital mechanism for coping with change and for achieving advancement. If the world remained at status quo, there would be no need for innovation, but the reality is that our world is evolving at a rapid rate. Malaysia has to innovate, otherwise we will be left behind and that's an alarming thought. The strategy for innovation hinges on one simple question that each one of us has to ask ourselves: “How can I change what I am doing so that it creates better value?” If you take that question and extrapolate it to a higher level, you get a framework for innovation for the different sectors.

What is the most practical method to plug the brain drain once and for all? Mohd Noramin Md Isa, Taiping

There is no single magic bullet to address brain drain. It is a global phenomenon, brought about by the age of innovation. People go where there are better prospects. To plug brain drain, we need to first understand why highly-skilled people leave Malaysia for good. There could be many reasons: better career opportunities for themselves, better education for their children, a feeling of social injustice perhaps. One way to plug the brain drain is to create multiple magnets of opportunity and education that will tempt Malaysians to remain here.

Given that Unit Inovasi Khas (UNIK) in the Prime Minister's Office is totally new, what kind of difference/impact does UNIK hope to bring to corporate Malaysia and what would be some of the criteria to measure and track progress? Hari Prasad, KL

UNIK was set up to plug the gaps in the innovation ecosystem. Our aim is to spur the creation of a conducive ecosystem to propel the development of innovation in Malaysia, including promoting it in the public and private sectors and education system. We identify best practices and methodologies and see how best to adopt them to suit the Malaysian context while meeting investors' innovation needs.

For corporate Malaysia specifically, we are bringing new business opportunities to the table through the Wealth Creation Factory, where we will take viable intellectual property from universities to the business world, and through strategic impact projects, such as waste-to-wealth, which involves turning oil palm biomass into high-chemicals. Please download the National Innovation Strategy from to see the direction Malaysia will be heading in. Among our objectives is the generation of additional revenue and contribution to Malaysia's GDP.

What is the difference between inspiration and motivation? How can we better tap into or utilise our innovations to lead us to much greater inventions? Bernard Gideon Lim, Penang

Inspiration is finding the way to succeed or do something better in a unique way. Inspiration requires a certain gestation period you have to sleep on an idea before you get the inspiration on how to act on it. Motivation is the desire to succeed, the “fire in the belly”. Motivation is the key. It leads to everything else. To answer your second question, you need to distinguish between innovation and invention. An invention becomes an innovation when it can create commercial or societal value.

As a parent I would love to help my children to be creative and innovative. Perhaps, nurturing the young ones for innovation can begin at home. How do you reckon we can do this? Adia Aki, Shah Alam

You have to invoke curiosity in your children this is the source of all creativity. Start a questioning culture at home. Children are natural “question-askers”. Encourage them to ask, don't stop them. Another thing is to let them experiment without imposing our paradigms on them. For example, there is no reason why an elephant cannot be purple, is there? So let them colour their elephants purple. At a later stage, introduce critical thinking skills as a “reality check”.

If there are three simple things we can do daily to prompt ourselves to think outside the box, what would they be? Hayley Khoo, KL

Begin by questioning all the assumptions you have taken for granted. Ask, “Why am I doing this? Isn't there a better way?” Next, look for what others cannot see. Most of us look at an object or scenario and see the same thing. An innovator looks for what is present but not obvious to the masses. This is called “separating the signal from the noise.” Finally, whenever you encounter a certain situation, ask yourself two questions: “What does this really mean?” and “How can I benefit from this?”

What sectors or fields in Malaysia do you think need more innovative people? Jasmina, PJ

All sectors need innovative people with the ability to pull ideas from different fields and assemble them, like Lego blocks, to create new products and services. But I must stress here that one field where innovation is crucial is design. A good product or service that is badly designed will not be as appealing as a well-designed product that does not have full functionality.

Are there any innovations Malaysians can be proud of but don't really know about? Qi Shern Choong

Well, there is a software security product that is used by the Pentagon in the United States, an algae technology being used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and electronics enhancements used by many multinational corporations in their products.

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