Innovation begins at home, say 2nd Merdeka Award Roundtable panelists

28 NOVEMBER 2011, BY Merdeka Award
Panelists at the 2nd Merdeka Award Roundtable television talk show held on Thursday in Kuala Lumpur, say that innovation must begin at home and it must start with the individual.
“Innovation must start with you.  Let’s start with doing one innovative thing a day (and from there it will grow),” says Professor Dato’ Dr Zaini Ujang, Vice Chancellor, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia and the 2009 Merdeka Award Recipient in the category of Outstanding Scholastic Achievement.
The 2nd Merdeka Award Roundtable featured the topic “Cultivating a Culture of Innovation in Challenging Times”.  The lively discussion, aptly held at the historical Carcosa Seri Negara, featured three outstanding personalities known for their spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship – Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, Group CEO of Air Asia Berhad, Founder of the Tune Group and Chairman of football club QPR Holdings Ltd; Tan Sri Datuk Augustine Ong Soon Hock, President of the Malaysian Invention and Design Society (MINDS) and former Merdeka Award Nomination Committee Member; and Prof Dato’ Zaini.
Prof Dato’ Zaini says that when it comes to broadening the horizons of innovation in Malaysia, students should be encouraged to be more adventurous and mobile.  “If you want to change people, let them go outside their normal routine. We must allow them to experiment; innovation occurs when you allow people to deviate. And you must let them fail (we can learn from failure).”
“Education,” says Tan Sri Tony, “is the one idea that will help instill the culture of innovation among the post-Merdeka generation.  The language of innovation is English.  We have to be brave because language is key.  We also need to bring back art, culture and sport; it will change the way our kids think.”
Tan Sri Ong concurred, saying: “We also need to think about where we have a niche we can own. One of the possible areas is (indigenous) flora and fauna – we have such diversity in this country but we haven’t even done a proper inventory (of it). We should identify an area like this where we can bring results.  And we should focus on areas where we’re good at.”
“We need disruptive thinkers,” says Tan Sri Tony.   “And that stems from two things – family and the education system.  We must allow people to dream, we must allow people to have ideas, and we mustn’t be afraid to fail. We have to create the environment, and it starts with us. We must allow our kids to experiment, we must expose them to as many things as possible and then let them go where they want.  If you have a successful education system, we will find the best for each child.”
He adds that Malaysia also needs to address what he calls the “brain exodus”.  “It’s a globlised world, we have to fight to keep our thinkers.  And it starts at home and it starts with education,” he says.
Cultivating a culture of innovation is to create eco-systems, Tan Sri Tony adds. “I think (innovation) is so critical for the development of the country.  It is not something you can teach; it is not something you can programme.
“You have to create an environment for innovation, you have to create the family, the education system.  I have lots of issues with the system now – it’s very focused on books.  There’s not enough playing, interacting.  Education for me is about bringing out the mind, creating the thought,” he adds.
Tan Sri Ong adds that just about anyone can be innovative.  “At MINDS, we have chefs and salesmen coming up with ideas. When we started in 1989, we had 50 inventions brought to us; this year the number is 720.  I believe that if you throw the challenge to people, they will respond.”
The discussion then moved on to the importance of implementation, with Tan Sri Tony saying, “There is no point in innovating if you’re not implementing.”
 “What is important is the intrinsic value that you put into the system, and how you value ideas,” says Prof Dato Zaini.  
The academician, who has written several books on innovation, argued that the global education system must evolve to remain relevant to the needs of a rapidly changing world. “The problem with the academic structure, not just in Malaysia but all over the world, is over-specialisation.  The walls we’ve created in academia don’t help us innovate,” he says.
He espouses the concept of new academia – where learning environments are not just limited to academic environments, but at businesses and workplaces, and where education is not just taught by lecturers, but also by businessmen, inventors, policy makers, entrepreneurs and practitioners. 
In citing personal experiences, Prof Dato’ Zaini says his approach to innovation stems from looking at the negative components of an issue, and seeing the positive from it.  He says his work on waste water, which earned him the Merdeka Award in 2009, came from first looking at waste water as a resource, and then looking for the opportunities that resource presents.
While discoveries and breakthroughs are crucial, recognition is just as important in motivating the young. Tan Sri Tony says: “I fully sympathise with young kids in the country. It’s important we praise their ideas, their successes.  We don’t hear enough about these great ideas.  And we need to show that the commercialization of these ideas have come to fruition.”
To this end, he says that AirAsia will be creating a social entrepreneurship fund, to drive innovations amongst younger Malaysians. “The biggest challenge is how we bring these innovations to the marketplace.  We need to focus on market-driven innovation.”
The 2nd Merdeka Award Roundtable will premiere on Saturday, December 10, 2011 at 830 pm on ASTRO Awani (Channel 501).  Repeats will be carried on:
  • Sunday, December 11, 2011, 5.30 pm
  • Monday, December 12, 2011, 3.30 pm
  • Wednesday, December 14, 2011, 11.30 am
  • Sunday, December 18, 2011, 9.30 pm
The Merdeka Award Roundtables
The Merdeka Award Roundtables, produced in partnership with broadcaster ASTRO, was launched in August 2011 in an effort to inspire debate and discussion about key issues of interest to Malaysians.  
The Roundtables bring together leading figures from Malaysia’s corporate, academic and social spheres to discuss issues which are critical to the future of this nation, with each event featuring a topic for discussion that is current and timely, and one that resonates with Malaysians, especially the post-Merdeka Generation.
The discussion and debate of the topic through the Merdeka Award Roundtable brings to life the true spirit of the Merdeka Award – that of the liberation of mind and spirit, and the pursuit of excellence.  The inaugural Roundtable, broadcasted in August 2011, featured the topic “The Spirit of Merdeka: Inspiring a Nation of Visionaries.”
Watch out for the next Merdeka Award Roundtable that will be held in early 2012.


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