Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Imagination, creativity and innovation

2010 is earmarked to be Malaysia's Innovation and Creativity Year. Not a surprise given the number of times the word "Innovation" was mentioned in the 2010 Budget. The challenge for us is how do we get things into motion and transform ourselves into a creative and innovative society?


Before we rush to the science labs and start cracking our heads, we need to appreciate that innovation is not just about scientific discovery. In their book Imagination First, authors Liu and Noppe-Brandon argue that imagination, creativity and innovation are interrelated.


According to them, imagination is the capacity to conceive of what is not, creativity is doing something with the initial conception and innovation is when creativity advanced the form.

Therefore, innovation could be applied to many areas such as business process, business models, new products or services and anything that makes our life or business better.

If imagination is the driver of innovation, it is time for us to reflect how this is encouraged in our society, perhaps in our own homes when we nurture and educate our own children before they even start schooling. Are they allowed to think and imagine constructively?

Do we welcome their questions on what we think is right and given; and engage them in meaningful dialogues or we simply shut them off because we, the elders, know everything and they should take our words as the only truth?

This reflection should also cover our schooling system as well as how young and bright Malaysians are groomed to be future leaders at our institutions of higher learning.

We may also want to ponder why the leadership of our universities need to be involved in student elections? Don't they have more critical issues to resolve and leave the students to imagine and sort things out for themselves?

If our students at that level could not be allowed to freely decide on how to solve their problems, how different would they be once they join the workforce and the real world?

For the corporate sector, innovation could be derailed by two attitudes. First is "We Know Everything" where the leadership or those who are in the position to make the difference feel they have enough brainpower to dissect the market and bring out solutions to all problems.

Such an attitude would certainly discourage alternative futures to be articulated, especially by those at lower levels.

The "Not Invented Here" syndrome is where only in-house innovative ideas are welcome. Such thinking is totally opposite to the present practice where any bright and smart ideas are even sought outside of the corporate borders.

Efforts such as InnoCentive which acts as the platform to match ideas from all over the world with corporations which see value in them has created huge value to the world.

This was initially started by Proctor and Gamble which had thousands of scientists under their payroll but was still hungry for ideas and new thinking. They understood then that there are more smart people out there than those who were under their payroll.

We have a number of initiatives which support collaboration among Malaysians to nurture bright ideas into winning global products and services. An example of this is the InnoXChange project by the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT).

It provides the platform for inventors to make their ideas visible and create a community of experts and other stakeholders who are interested to bring those ideas forward.

It would be great if this ready platform is used by budding entrepreneurs as well as research institutions and commercial organisations to invigorate the innovation landscape in Malaysia. As innovation is about brainpower and people, clusters which represent special interest groups should be encouraged.

Other institutions which are involved in innovation and entrepreneurship should use this as the platform to value-add to the community that they serve.

One issue that needs validation here is our innovation sphere. Are we only interested to nurture ideas from Malaysia for Malaysians or we are willing to nurture ideas from outside our country, provided Malaysia benefits in one way or another.

If we really want to move up the value chain, the thinking behind how we create and nurture value needs to be challenged. We need to be innovative in this area as well.

Land and natural resources would continue to be important in creating wealth. However, brainpower is now the real driver of value creation. As the saying goes, our key assets have legs and they can decide not to return once they leave the doors of organisations.

While we have beliefs and understandings from the past, those may not appeal to intelligent brains that have to face different issues and challenges at present and in the future.

If they are not treated in ways which are relevant to them, these talents will just walk away. We may still have the land and natural resources but without the brains, the value to the society will not be optimised.

Perhaps innovation could be very liberating to those who apply it in their lives. Innovation could be very scary for some of us who wish the world to stand still and let the happier days continue. It is time for these people to imagine, create and innovate themselves!


This article was also published at the Edge Malaysia website here:

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