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Believe in our own innovative spirit

Corporate honchos (from left) Dr Lee, Lo Kien Foh and Jeremy Gwee, with student moderator Isaac Liu
Corporate honchos (from left) Dr Lee, Lo Kien Foh and Jeremy Gwee, with student moderator Isaac Liu

SINGAPOREANS ranked themselves among the lowest in their ability to innovate, according to a recent business survey, says Dr K C Lee, CEO of SIM Global Education, in a dialogue with students on “Innovation for Survival or Success”.

The session in the evening of October 6, 2015, at SIM campus, was attended by both students and alumni. Two other corporate honchos – alumni of SIM Global Education – also share their thoughts and insights on this vexing subject: Lo Kien Foh, managing director of Continental Automotive Singapore and Jeremy Gwee, chief operating officer of Hong Kong Bank Singapore.

“We should believe in ourselves, have more confidence that we can innovate,” Dr Lee urges. He offers three tips to executives so they don’t lose out in the marketplace:

1. Stay young – learn from young people who have energy, spirit and enthusiasm even though they may not have much experience. There are companies that have “reversed” mentorship initiatives where the CEO or senior executives have young employees as their mentors.

2. Stay close to your customers – they keep you honest with their feedback on what’s wrong with your company and how you could change. Without customers’ feedback, the company is heading for disaster no matter how clever management think of themselves.

3. Stay diverse – have people of different backgrounds, education and mind sets in your team so that you are more likely to develop innovative solutions.

“Competition is not a dirty word,” Dr Lee stresses. “The world is competitive, so we should regard competition as an opportunity. The bad thing is when competition becomes one-dimensional, and the rules are skewed.”

Innovation creates value

To Kien Foh (picture above) as an experienced player in the automotive accessories market

To Managing Director Kien Foh (picture above) as an experienced player in the automotive accessories market, innovation means to create value, which in turn, creates growth. In his company, there is a culture of innovation and creativity, known as “Contivation” (word play on Continental and innovation). Employees have the freedom to act to conceptualise new ideas that may eventually be commercialised.

Kien Foh lists the factors that contribute to the success of a company’s innovation drive: (1) a culture of innovation, (2) an eye for opportunity, (3) a conducive environment, (4) the market that is ready to accept the new product, (5) a well-developed strategy, (6) the process of turning ideas to reality, and (7) commercialisation, when the product or service is finally offered to customers.

Every factor is important. Consider factor no.4, the market, says Kien Foh. Driverless cars were already developed 20 years ago but the market wasn’t ready then, and this innovation was abandoned.

Commercialisation, the last factor, is where an invention is transformed into an innovative product that consumers buy and use. That’s the difference between an invention and an innovation.

Don’t re-invent the wheel

From the more conservative perspective of the banking and financial industry, the innovative spirit should be tempered by a strong sense of responsibility, says Jeremy, an experienced banker for several decades.

“Innovation is not to do different things but to things differently,” Jeremy says

“Innovation is not to do different things but to do things differently,” Jeremy says (picture above, leaning forward). In effect, there’s no need to re-invent the wheel, just build a better one.

He notes that many Singaporeans suffer from the Cinderella Syndrome – they disappear the moment the clock strikes 5 or 6, the end of the workday. The spirit of innovation and creativity is difficult to nurture, by watching the clock.

The annual CEO Dialogue is organised by SIM GE student leaders. It is a learning experience open to all SIM GE students, alumni and staff.

– posted online, October 9, 2015