Tomorrow’s mind today

July 23, 2011 11:06 am 0 comments

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Tomorrow’s mind today


We cannot shut down the new world order that demands a new approach. We can have meaningful outcomes when our minds are open to realities of the day.

THE name Leonardo Da Vinci would swiftly have us visualise the masterpiece oil paintings of Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, amongst others. But Da Vinci’s legacy was more than the Mona Lisa. He spent more time sketching engineering inventions than he did painting.

The Houston Museum of Natural Science exhibition had assembled 50 models of his engineering drawings, including full-size reproductions of a hang glider, a parachute and a 2.1m-long catapult.

He thought of these inventions before there were materials available to build them, never mind the minds that would herald them to reality. Da Vinci woke up with tomorrow in his head. It made him great as a result. He created many “Rembrandts” consequently.

Today, five-year-olds can work Facebook. Eighty-year-olds have succumbed to the seduction of Twitter. The many more cousins of the social network and cloud computing are no longer a phenomenon nor are they avant-garde to the rural folks in India or Ethiopia.

The provocation today is not about what social media and/or technology platform to use, rather what the roles of these mediums will be in the next leap of national and global growth.

What is the role of technology in foreign policies and free trade agreements? How can technology strengthen security in a world where that very technology abets terrorism and global crime? Where does technology stack in sustaining economies, optimising energy consumptions and managing carbon footprints? Can technology balance sound institutional building and protect individual interests at the same time? And how do we place technology in innovation?

The history of the world has always seen a leading civilisation carving the benchmarks of progress and human growth. From the Byzantines to the Romans, the Ottoman to the Greek Empires, and from the British to the Americans.

Each of these civilisations led and carved the footprints for human growth and success for their times. Much has been said, not least written, on who leads the world today.

Are we living the Asian Century with the evident rise of Chinese and Indian consumption abilities? Is it the moment for the fast growing population nations of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) economies? Has America lost its leadership abilities in this new order? Or will Europe ever regain the glory of industrialisation? So whose turn is it to say grace at the dinner table today?

Fareed Zakaria, the CNN anchor of Global Positioning Square, in his book The Post American World wrote:

“Thirty years ago, Americans made up half the draw of the 128 players selected in the US Tennis Open. In 1982 for example, 78 of the 128 players selected were Americans. In 2007, only 20 Americans made the draw.

“Millions of pixels have been devoted to wondering how America could have slipped so far and fast in just 25 years.

“In the 1970s, only 25 countries sent players to the US Open. Today, about 35 countries do – a 40% increase. Countries like Russia, China, South Korea, Serbia and Austria churn out world class tennis players with Germany, France and Spain training many more players than they ever did before.

“In the 1970s, America, Britain and Austria dominated tennis opens. Today, the final 16 can easily come from 10 different countries. In other words it is not that the United States has declined in the last two decades, but rather everyone else has learnt the game and is playing it as well, if not better.”

This hypothesis can be extrapolated into many other examples.

The British introduced football to the world, as they did badminton. Today, they are struggling to keep pace in the quarter-finals in a World Cup match and can easily lose to a Spanish team (Barcelona) in the Champions League.

Equally, a Malaysian is able to win an All-England Championship in badminton. Have the British forgotten how to play good football and badminton or has the world simply learnt the game just as well?

Take the competitiveness rankings by the World Economic Forum as another example. In 2001 and 2002, WEF ranked 58 countries. Today, it ranks over 130. In less than a decade, the participants in competitiveness have almost tripled simply by numbers, never mind their core abilities by way of capital, talent and technology.

Modernisation is no longer synonymous with Westernisation. When Britain led the world, we read literature, heard of Shakespeare, spoke English, drank tea with scones, crazed cricket and were taught government bureaucracies.

After World War II and with the rise of the United States as the leading global power, we saw modernisation associated with McDonalds, wearing jeans, direct talking, drinking Coca-Cola and listening to rock music.

The dynamics of modernisation today wears a different coat. Some say it is like a Bollywood movie. Shot in Western capitals, but with the Asian emotions and family drama.

Today, you could easily mistake Japanese and South Korean songs to Bon Jovi, Aerosmith and Def Leppard beats. Middle Eastern songs have Indian choruses.

This was never done before, never mind heard. And so I dare say that MODERNISATION is imprinted by a patchwork of many and all who make today’s reality.

It will be defined by those who make progress worthy and sustainable. It will be spoken by a language understood in Cairo through the rural areas of Ethiopia across New York and Kuala Lumpur.

Simply put, modernisation will have a dime placed from all parts of the world. It will no longer be owned and associated with confined Western civilisations.

A world defined by ALL brings with it challenges and problems that would belong to EVERYONE.

In the 18th, 19th or 20th centuries, wars were simply that – wars. Tanks, boots on the ground, fighter jets and navy vessels. International crime is usually flanked by tangible crime scenes.

But today’s world order carries no flag bearers to crime and terrorism. Just as Facebook, Twitter and Flickr have given us such leaps of progress and connectivity, these have also been used as a platform to innovate perils and menace globally.

We no longer need to house our servers in huge buildings of central command centres. Today’s command centre doesn’t need palpability.

Your local Starbucks outlet can be your command centre. Myspace and Yahoo can be your post-box and courier service. Google and Bing can be your intelligent tool box. Wikipedia can be your fact check pad.

So in short, welcome to the new world of technology “Tescos” and “Walmarts”. Just walk through the front door (or just login) and you will get all you need for the family and the pet!

The brutal reality of this development is that we cannot shut down this new world order. This new order demands of us a new approach. It seeks an approach able to respond to a world where the power of sovereign nations is far more diffused than ever before. This new order serves us a world where everyone can feel empowered.

Historian Philip Huang wrote about farmers in the Yangtze Delta and Britain, both the richest regions in China and Europe in the 1800s, respectively.

The Chinese were able to make their land highly productive by assigning more and more people to work on a given acre. Huang calls this “output without development”.

The English kept searching for ways to improve their productivity in order that each farmer would produce more crops. The ultimate result was that a small number of British farmers were able to farm huge lands.

By the 18th century, the average farm size in England was 150 acres; in Yangtze Delta it was about one acre.

I highlight these examples to put to you that a high-income environment is not attainable if we continue to throw unlimited resources to achieving undefined results.

Results emanate from ingenuity, agility and nimbleness of the mind. They do not in numbers and excess! Inflation breeds when remuneration increases without production. Inefficiency grows in the beds of inefficient utilisation of resources.

We cannot command high income if we are not able to wake up with tomorrow’s minds! We cannot demand high income if we bring yesterday’s solutions to today’s problems.

With some 1,247 online services now available through the myGovernment portal, we need to take a step back from our achievements and reflect if every one of these services is still relevant. Just because it is e-something, it doesn’t make it relevant for all times.

Similarly, as we move into the third wave of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) implementation, since its establishment in 1996, MSC Malaysia must do soul searching to ascertain its achievements. MSC has many reasons to be proud of its achievements, including its creation of 111,367 jobs up to 2010.

But we need to ask ourselves if the companies and services registered thus far will catapult Malaysia to compete in a world of seven billion people. Our ring of competition is no longer confined to the 28 million population here.

In a world that is increasingly unruly and audacious, where everyone is rising and we face enormous economic challenges and rising global competition, what we deliver must be meaningful.

Meaningful outcomes emerge when our minds are not impervious to realities of the day. They emanate when we wake up with tomorrow’s mind and deliver for it today. Meaningful outcome gushes in delivery when we recognise the quantum of results is not directly proportionate to the quantity of hard resources invested.

Permit me to leave you with the story of Play Doh. Yes, Play Doh!

It was originally created as a wallpaper cleaner and came in one colour – white. In the 1950s, Joseph and Noah McVicker began testing the product in schools by introducing new colours, and a hugely successful product launch ensued.

The brothers became millionaires and Play Doh remains a great tool for children’s education today, some 50 years on.

This gain didn’t require huge technological ground-breaking investment. It didn’t require fanfare and spectre. It just needed a small mental adjustment. It needed someone to wake up one morning with tomorrow in his mind. What will this mean to someone tomorrow?

Every service, every technology and every delivery is one small adjustment away from greatness.

In Play Doh, that shift was adding more colours. And just like Play Doh, we have the opportunity to remould our service deliveries and make them great, with a small adjustment sometimes.

Often, that adjustment lies in us opening our minds to see tomorrow today! It sometimes takes a small adjustment to how we see life itself.

(Excerpts taken from the keynote address of the National ICT Conference on July 7.)

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