Friday, November 21, 2008

Innovation targets?

I found Ahmad Ibrahim's piece in NST Online rather consistent with the point that I've been trying to make in this blog. Unlike my nondescript self, Ahmad Ibrahim is a Fellow of the Malaysian Academy of Sciences. So, while Malaysia's economic managers can haughtily dismiss views offered by bloggers as little more than light flatulence, they should not ignore someone like Ahmad Ibrahim, part of whose piece I offer here:

Diversification has always been Malaysia's strong point in strategising the country's economic pursuits. In the early years, it was diversification in agriculture. Oil palm and cocoa were introduced to complement rubber in the plantation sector.

Later, manufacturing was brought in to cushion the impact of the volatility of commodity prices. The plantation sector also ventured downstream for added value as part of the sector's diversification strategy. The rubber industry invested in rubber products; the palm oil industry in oleochemicals; and cocoa in chocolate products.

All such moves contributed to Malaysia's healthy economic growth in the last 50 years. Will the same recipe work for the next 50 years?

Not likely. Economists now agree that Malaysia can no longer compete on the basis of the country's traditional low labour and land cost advantage. Continuing with such a strategy may even spell doom for the economy. Instead, there is wide consensus that innovation is the only way forward if Malaysia is to repeat the country's economic success of the last 50 years.

But do we have what it takes to capitalise on innovation as a way to create wealth and promote socio-economic well-being? Can innovation work in Malaysia? The call to embrace innovation is not new, but we still do not have anything to really show for it, except perhaps some early achievements in rubber and palm oil.

You really have to read the entire piece here.

While reading this piece, I found out to my amusement that there is even a National Innovation Council. It is chaired by the Prime Minister. Did you know that?

And did you know that the National Innovation Council endorsed a National Innovation Model? What is a National Innovation Model? I have no fornicating sightless deer (no eye deer. Get it?).


Kama At-Tarawis said...

Light flatulence? Heheheh.. I like the analogy! (Somehow I'm always drawn to matters of the wind...)

de minimis said...

I know! Your post on the subject of gaseous excretion at the least expected moments killed me with mirth :D

walla said...

ALlow me to say a thing or two on this matter of innovation for Malaysia.

There are two things which must be done which are at the heart of the whole matter of how to prime innovation in this country.

One,the very bodies en-charged to prime innovation must first themselves be re-innovated.

Second, not just for innovation but in all other aspects of priming that type of national development that is at the forefront of creating change enablers, socioeconomic engineering practices should take second place to success creators.

Innovation is not just coming out with another blueprint made of a comb-bound document enhanced with a bunch of power-points. Neither is it just a speech, a seminar, a committee, a report or an office to distribute glossy brochures.

To promote innovation, resources must be made mobile and incentives must be aligned so that the essence of the innovation process - finding the right balance between corporate strength and entrepreneurial dynamism - will be given full latitude to seek out the most efficient way to capture value and transform it into commercialisable success.

Innovation works best in fluidity. It needs capital and support resources. These the corporation provides. But the retardants against innovation in corporations are many: bureaucratic structure, internal friction, fixed job scopes, silo communication.

On the other hand, the entrepreneur can drive the creative process in innovation faster because what he does mirrors better the complex contending forces at play in an innovation cycle. For instance, it is normally so that he runs a small and nimble outfit that usually has vague alignments, overlapping terrains, uncertain authority and intense lateral communication. His flips are however equally apparent: lack of scale, capital and resources, dissipation of energy into non-creative activities that drag time, poor management acumen. In many cases, the trigger for innovation in an entrepreneurial setup is sheer serendipity - a chance meeting at Starbucks or a coffee shop between two or more peoples fired up by some common idea or observation.

The people who hold the remits to promote innovation in this country must therefore first understand this calculus of the innovation process. For that, they must know what is going on in the corporation or entrepreneur setup in each industry. Each outfit has its own basic characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. Personalities are also different, as are their needs, knowledge and networks. And each entity has its own approach on innovation which in the final analysis is really a process of recombining ideas, components and designs in such a way as to meet a niche need or to create a new need by creating something which is acceptable, affordable, available and awareable.

So it remains to ask why hasn't innovation taken off in any remarkable way in this country? The readings below provide their respective perspectives which can be amalgamated into answers. Suffice to say, by reading between the lines in them and in conjunction with other findings elsewhere, you will only conclude that it is because the incentives have been steered away from the real success factors from day one. One can only surmise that in this country, that can only happen by the weight of cronyism given license by the weight of the ubiquitous socioeconomic engineering policy. These are counter-productive factors. They are in fact organizational anti-bodies which must be neutralized for the innovation virus to spread. If you can have viral marketing, so too viral innovation.

Let us say we put everything aside and start with a fresh slate. What needs to be done?

- get the metrics right upfront; one of the readings said that Malaysia needed over 280 days to open a factory. How about 1 day=24 hours to start a business? Let that be an opening benchmark in every state in the country. From go to handover of key, seal, articles, bank account, certificates, cards, office fixtures and stationery - all tomorrow, same time.

- see things from the funds applicant's point-of-view; in most cases, the guy is the only gatekeeper, champion, protector of the project; he doesn't even know what is a national innovation model or where the national innovation council's secretariat is? in fact he's in the transit lounge smoking a cigarette when eureka popped in his head just as an Air Asia stewardess walked by. Let's say he's the NIC chairman. What - do - next?

- get all the bureaucratic red-tape minimized; parallel process everything; if there are twenty four sequential steps, cut down the data duplication and stagger them to cut down the time if not miscommunication; look at it from the viewpoint of the applicant again; his idea is hot but his resources are few; he has to earn a living and can only slot in two hours a day to realize a dream; get him to the gate of that dream double quick.

- finally, no more lip-service; which citizens of any country would vote for any government which only pays lip-service? if it is the SMEs which are going to be the country's backbone of innovators, and if they have been neglected up to now on grounds of socioeconomic planning, screw the socioeconomic planners and get them up.

If even ten percent of this cohort which forms ninety percent of Malaysia's enterprises make innovative products whose time has come, the tax collected, the employment increased, the branding and reputation enhanced, will be more than enough to pay for a hundred socioeconomic plans of the future.

As it is, their contributions are already needed this very minute. Which is about thirty years too late.

They have a lot of alignment and resource mobilization issues. But the first things they must have are (a) to know they will be dealing with no-nonsense, pragmatic, efficient and dedicated professionals, and (b)a higher level of success in their applications for funding shorne of counter-supportive terms; in other words, give openly, not just to put on a show while insert terms to discourage uptake.

Once these two things are out of the way, all the other things can come in - injecting more methods into their innovation process, helping them to assemble the right team and organizational construct, putting them to the right marketing channels, brand creation experts and legal IP protectors, even helping them to help the local venture capital industry put its own sorry business together for mutual angel benefits.

Seriously, when the current state of our 'national', 'innovation' 'development' is as it is until no one knows what is the 'national innovation model', one can be excused to think it's another one of the hair-brained, flim-flam, concoctions that some guy with a tag puts together on a hot afternoon.

I am ever reminded of two things from old days. Once, an office morning at a sec-gen's office here - the secgen's family was there, running around barefooted on the plush carpet in the office when the official was nowhere in sight. Two, in one of the departure lounges at Changi, the elderly foreign couple was given a warm personal send-off by the investment promotion officer, uniformed in tie and all. At two in the morning.

If we want to do something, do it well, do it right the first time, and do it for the country in name, objective and result.

Otherwise we might as well save up the crumbs for the last charge of the light brigade.


agnos said...

i only came to know of the National Innovation Council which is under MOSTI when they co-organised a MOSTI-IBM Innovation Forum on September 15, 2008 call "Innovating for the future."

The Innovation council is heaed by someone from MIGHT. (

Possibly becos they started in 2007 that's why none of us have ever heard of them..

the speaker says his team and him have spent some time oversee to study other countries innovation - what is the outcome and how it is to be use in Msia is still a question mark.