Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Leapfrogging innovation

By now there is a consensus that Malaysia is in a middle-income trap. Too expensive for foreign investors seeking Third World sweatshops. Not skilled enough to create world-beating goods and services. No Blue Oceans. Just the threat of wallowing in a hole that we have created for ourselves.

As with many concerned Malaysians, I have shouted myself silly about the matter of declining standards of our primary, secondary and, most certainly tertiary education standards. For too long, we have mollycoddled mediocrity. There are glimmers that our nation's policymakers are stirring from their long slumber. Even Rip van Winkle eventually woke up. The main problem with this late stirring is that the climb back to better education standards takes a long, long time. Perhaps a generation.

Even if the chaps and ladies at the Education Ministry has an epiphanic fit about how low our education standards have become; even if they suddenly decide, in unison, to get off their backsides and work industriously to start training Malaysian teachers, educators and lecturers to attain higher teaching skills; even if the fiscal allocation of resources is augmented in favour of Education - the climb will be steep and arduous and, worse of all, it will take TIME.

Time is not on Malaysia's side in the international competitive stakes.

But, proceed we must.

The foregoing being a long preamble, I want to lead on to the matter of innovation. This is a matter that I have also blogged extensively about although, I must confess that whatever I have blogged about can hardly be more than me standing on a river bank after a torrential monsoon thunderstorm to describe the water to a drowning man in the river. It hardly ripples the surface, so to speak. And, it certainly won't save an economic life, let alone economic lives.

Never mind.

In the matter of innovation, I wish to invite your kind attention to possible leapfrog strategies. I realise that the choice of phrase is a bit tongue-in-cheek against the backdrop of Malaysia's political landscape in recent days. But, Hey!, you can't blame a nondescript blogger for wanting to catch the attention of a less-than-a-minute Net surfer, can you?

Okay, back to the business of leapfrogging...strategies, that is.

The proposition that I am pushing is that Malaysian manufacturing entrepreneurs need to be made aware of what is available out there in the world.

Instead of waiting for indigent Malaysian genius to invent things, there are resources in the World Wide Web that provide connections to new inventions, new innovations and new products that have not been commercialised as yet. There are geniuses, product innovators and solution-providers around the world that have conceived of products, services and solutions that may be ready to go to market.

One such online resource is provided by the good people at They have been kind and generous enough to have added me to their email listing. So, for some months now I have enjoyed being alerted to new products, innovations and services that are added to their considerable resource-base.

In particular, there is an intriguing webpage entitled, 7,482 Technologies or Patents for Sale or License. In that webpage is an alphabetical listing of various categories of inventions, products and services that are available for the intrepid Malaysian manufacturing entrepreneur to consider.

Have a look, just as I do all the time. You never know. There are opportunities in there waiting for the Malaysian entreprenuer who is prepared. I'm taking a close look at some of the stuff in there. You never know, you might beat me to market!

This is a better form of leapfrogging, don't you think?


Eyes Wide Open said...

There is an immediate strategy to regain Malaysia's competitiveness than can be implemented immediately and the effects can be felt perhaps within as early as 5 years:

Abolish all unfair business policies, run amok on corruption, restore the integrity of our courts and law-enforcement agencies, unshackle the media and pass a FOI Act, and demand excellence from civil servants with commensurate salary revision.

Even if 10% of the Malaysian diaspora returns home to a new and fair Malaysia, their numbers should be enough to create a "buffer generation" of high value professionals while the school system catches up.

But that seems like such a pipe dream...

donplaypuks® said...

"For too long, we have mollycoddled mediocrity."


But it seems to me that even though they realise our education system needs a complete overhaul, they can't bring themselves to do it. They are afraid of competition and would rather wallow in mediocrity than lose face!

Here's another place for ideas:

Unfortunately for M'sia, besides leapfrogging, we also have kangaroo strategies!

We are all of 1 race, the Human Race

walla said...

If this scenario is considered chilling, it's not because it has been in the chiller. It's out here. Pause the fag, stir the coffee and look afar with your mind's eye. Credible?

What recourse then? We can't find a recourse by recusing ourselves from reality, arrived. But looking at the lack of real developments around, the only thing holding up is spin.

The bottomline is it might be too late so better create alternative channels. What these be remains to be discussed.

This post, just some stale food for some quick thoughts.

walla said...

So where are we? A plausible scenario may be painted now. Net FDI zero to insignificant over the next three years. Net oil importer by 2012 latest. Inflation up by twenty percent across full basket of essential goods by same time coinciding with a desubsidization policy and a net oil bill which means higher energy costs which means higher cost of business and production. Meanwhile GST adds to inflation in an unforeseen manner but cannot be retracted without bringing the economy to a grinding halt, paradoxically coinciding with reduction of income tax rates which won't matter because incomes will dwindle by then. At the same time, the exodus rate is still 300,000 per year, despite immigration tightening overseas which means they take more brains than brawns from here, the very thing needed to read, understand and assimilate patents on top of providing supervisory savvy which thus drops quality in the services sector, affecting everything from tourism to business management. While all that is going, Indonesia comes up and BRIC becomes BRICI. Our neighbour's middle-class group equals the entire population of this country. Thus the centre of gravity crosses the straits of malacca. However we will still have millions of foreign workers and that dampens incentives to automate our production lines. Since to sell to an increasingly discerning world consumer market, electronic products will have to be increasingly sophisticated and complex, sweatshop labour will play a decreasingly important role in the chain of decisions where money is to be invested. Which means our prime income-generating industries, foreign-owned at that, will hollow out completely. Which means their local suppliers will also say bye-bye and move to the PRC, mostly to Guangzhou and Shanghai where nightlife is more interesting compared to our cities which will be dead by six. And by the time we realize all that, our garments industry which should have absorbed IT leveraging has been overtaken by those in the Pearl River Delta basin. Which means Johor will be back to pineapple canning, since the iskandar corridor turns out to be another industrial estate. Because of social tension outcome from economic disparity and household difficulties, crime spikes, unrest rears, and investment nosedives, sucking down property prices which knocks the socks off the bourse which results in the govt using the EPF to keep the GLCs from having to renege on their share-pegged loans which would have caused a local financial meltdown. Meanwhile treasury empties as political-linked scandals sprout coinciding with an increasingly explosive political situation. The govt runs out of money even to pay pensioners. The entire civil service takes a pay cut. Many in the middle-class especially the urbanites drop into the poverty group. Teachers moonshine by the entire staff roll and education standards drop like a stone with more students pontenging classes causing politics to artificially shore up grades resulting in our certificates degraded for overseas admissions causing parents to raise hell, especially when the ringgit sub-pars on exchange. The only things holding the economy up are tourism and plantations. But because of unrest, global warming and the haze, both sectors are affected. By that time, the debates and acrimony reach a climax in both mainstream and alternative media. There is an exponential increase in police reports filed and the courts are swarmed with cases. The crowds get restless, their mood gets ugly. By that time only prayer stands in the path of anarchy but then again much of the modernizing world has gotten less religious because their generations Y have become even more cosmopolitanized by WYSIWYG fads. As a result, the whole country gets disconnected from the rest of the world. It becomes one of the has-beens and is branded semi-irrelevant in the scheme of things that matter in the global stage.

walla said...

Innocentive is also another web-based brain-brokering system.

The thing to note about such innovation match-making services is the IP rights; since both seem to be west-based, the rights are either owned by or surrendered to them.

And that is the telling lesson about the need to constantly remain at the cutting edge of things. If ever any real benefits can accrue from practising a rent-based business, it must be something one owns from special brain effort put in which ultimately brings in a regular income stream from all over the world. That's the sort of buffer we need against the vagaries of economic discontinuities.

As a nation we missed seeing that for over half a century. We could have done something positive about it thirty years ago but focus was diverted to other things including unsustainable policies propped by a
resource curse perceived as money manna.

hishamh said...

Things are improving - much to my surprise:

Still a little too slow for my taste. And there's a massive difference between patents applied for against patents granted.