30 October, 2011

The Legacy of Innovators


Every so often, the world is changed by the vision of one individual. Would air travel for ordinary people have turned out differently had Juan Trippe not seen the potential of airplanes beyond its use in military and commerce? Without the vision of Akio Morita, co-founder of Sony Corporation and inventor of the Walkman, would we have seen the potential for portable-sized electronic products? The world takes huge leaps forward thanks to the vision and innovation of such individuals.

And their passing is always felt strongly by the world that had benefitted from their innovative thinking.

The sense of loss was felt once more on the 5th of October with the passing of Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple. The developing and developed world had been affected by his innovative thinking. It was not just high-performance computers and smart mobile devices that he brought into the homes and lives of millions. His innovations spurred other innovations, such as a diverse and steadily growing supply of mobile applications, focus on clever minimalist design, and even the way the tech industry evolves.

The legacy of Steve Jobs as well as Juan Trippe, Akio Morita and many others gave me pause for thought. There is much to be learned from visionaries and innovators like them. Below, I would like to share just a few of the lessons that I gleaned from these brilliant minds who changed the world, and I hope you find them as valuable as I do.

Innovators believe that inspiration can come from anyone and anywhere. Learning for them is not confined to the classroom, but takes place in every interaction with people and other living and inanimate entities. It is the sense of curiosity and wonder that fuels their desire to create better products and systems.

To be innovative, you must dare to take risks. Rather than follow in the tracks left by others, an innovator blazes new trails. They keep an open mind to unconventional views and see opportunity where most people see problems.

It took Thomas Edison countless attempts with different materials before he successfully lit an incandescent lightbulb for 40 hours using a carbon filament.

Innovators don’t hit on a successful formula at the first try, but they persevere and don’t stop trying. Like Edison, they view the unsuccessful attempts as steps towards the eventual triumph. In fact, Edison summed it up perfectly: “Genius is 1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration”.

This is perhaps the most distinct difference between an inventor and an innovator. Over the centuries, millions of people have produced billions of inventions, but only a small fraction has affected the world with their ideas. This small fraction became innovators because rather than trying to be the first to create an item, they sought to create a version of the item that best serves the larger public.

What have these innovators taught you? There are more lessons to be learned and it is my great hope that one day we will be able to add Malaysian names to the annals of history as people who have changed the world with their innovative thinking. As it is, Malaysians like Professor Dr Halimaton Hamdan, Phua Khein-Seng and Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes have brought innovative ideas and approaches to how we view our modern world in terms of ­nanotechnology, data storage and air travel.

It is with this hope that I announced 2012 as the year of National Innovation Movement, with several strategic initiatives such as MyCreative Venture Capital and C1PTA, as well as an allocation of RM100 million in the 2012 Budget. Will we see more Malaysians blazing new trails in the future?

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