Sunday, December 28, 2008

When the mind, body and soul reflects...

I am back from a month's hiatus and I must say that this is the longest that I have ever taken...and what great wonders it has done in refreshing my mind, body and soul. Though there is never enough time for me to do all the things that I would want to do, nonetheless the past month has given me greater clarity in my thinking, in especially the areas that have been rather cloudy of late. The need for innovation, creativity and this niggling and constant desire for results sometimes do bug me a little, but I guess this is part and parcel of living it up in a competitive world.

It has been a soulful journey of sorts for me too, this past month. I am seeing things that I have never been able to see, looking at things that I have never been able to look closely, listening more than hearing and reflecting more than mirroring. "What have I achieved so far in 2008?", was one of the questions that kept creeping into my mind, especially as we near the tail end of it! "What possibly could I do even better?"...was the never ending voice that kept echoing into my innermost thoughts?

To tell you the truth, I am never sure about the things that I have done so far in 2008 being enough...I mean enough for me to say that I am completely satisfied about how things worked out eventually. But I do know that, being somebody who will never regret his decisions, and who is a perpetual optimist, I must say that for whatever reasons I do think that I have done whatever that I can to look myself in the mirror and tell myself that I have done good enough to warrant something good. Yup there were things that could be avoided, but I guess sometimes things that are uninvited just show up at our doorsteps, perhaps to test us, or just to show to us that no matter how good your plans are, there are always things that WILL go wrong!

How about the things that I would do differently in 2009? I guess changes need to be done over a period of time, but I am already putting in place plans that will lead me to an eventuality that is even more desirable than before. I have this big dream of starting up on my own, perhaps some form of a training consultancy firm that will enable me to share the joys of learning with others. Whether this will turn out to be a reality within the next 5 to 10 years is something really that I can't be sure of, but what I DO know is the fact that I am not just keeping my plans on the shelves. Learning more about people, about listening to what people really want, about sharing and making people seek their own AHA! moments...I guess I do enjoy looking at people rediscovering the joys of learning and knowing, more so than just knowing something for the sake of seeking a job r being sent for re-training...but more so about knowing something for the sake of really wanting to know it for a greater god-given purpose, whatever that may be!

Gosh, will it work out for me in 2009? God, I don't even know, but what I do know is that I am going to try to do even try, but I am sure going to do even more than that in 2008, in order to be a better person in this mortal world!

Monday, December 1, 2008

When your product is THAT good!

I went along with my future colleagues for a talk-cum-presentation by Google and came away impressed, not so much at the variety of products and aps that they are offering or going to offer, which is already quite substantial, but more so at the audacity of how some patterns of work that people like myself have been used to, can be changed because of how good their product is.

1 thing that I came away from the talk is the fact that Google has done a fantastic job in becoming a very effective search engine company. In fact, I was thinking it is so good at what it is doing that if you notice, for example, in their ubiquitous email offering, Gmail, there is no necessity for one to include an 'Add Folder' function, something that perhaps is a no-no for other types of similar application. I was in fact thinking it is because that their engine is so good, that is why the need for folders to organise your emails, much like how I used to do, is rendered now redundant! Is it not amazing how your work patterns changes when you have such a product offering. I guess this is what you call organise chaos!

Now if only they can come out with the micro robots from the movie 'Minority Report', the ones that were sent to hunt down Tom Cruise's character, and tasked them to be the search bots for some of us, like for example, my significant other..ehem, then I think life will be so much easier if we don't need to be organised and let these search engine micro-bots do the fetching for us! Hmmmmm.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

When design matters!

An interesting article comparing the design culture in Apple and Motorola, among others. Interesting to note how design have become the single ubiquitous decider of a product's success, or failure, in the consumer markets. Taken from here:

Product with great design becomes amazing customer experience
21 Nov 2008, 0346 hrs IST,

By: Robert Brunner & Stewart Emery

In 1997, shortly after Steve Jobs returned to Apple, Dell’s founder and chairman, Michael S Dell, was asked at the Gartner Symposium and ITxpo 97 how he would fix financially troubled Apple. “What would I do?” Dell said. “I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.”

He had no idea he’d be eating those words just ten years later when Apple’s market capitalisation surpassed not just Dell’s $64 billion ($47 billion as we write this), but IBM’s as well. In mid-2007 , Apple was the most valuable computer maker in the world. Its market capitalisation stood at nearly $162 billion, $6 billion more than that of industry heavyweight IBM. At that same time, Apple’s market cap was the fourth largest among technology companies, lagging behind only Cisco ($189 billion ), Google ($208 billion), and Microsoft ($290 billion).

The message: “Apple matters.”

The question: “What’s to learn?”

On the second day after Jobs came back to Apple, Tim Bajarin , recognised as a leading analyst and futurist covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology, was invited to meet with him.

One of the questions Bajarin asked Jobs was how he planned to get the computer maker back on the road to profitability. To his surprise, one of the foundational solutions offered was “industrial design.”

At the time, this made no sense. However, Apple soon introduced the headturning iMacs with their bold colours, which threw the stodgy industry and its boring beige PCs for a loop. Apple followed up with the introduction of the iPod, ever-sleeker iMacs, and the iPhone, hailed by PC Magazine columnist Lance Ulanoff as “the most important product of the still-young 21st century.”

Now the company is shaking up the notebook market with the thin, light, and stylish MacBook Air, and has taken on the video rental market with the Apple TV.

Apple has built a design-driven culture that knows how to connect with its customers in a deeply emotional way. Apple products are portals to an amazing menu of continuing experiences that matter to a lot of us. Over time, Michael Dell built a brilliantly designed computer manufacturing and delivery heavyweight.

For a long time (by technology standards), Dell was the 800-pound gorilla in the space. Times change. Pretty soon, other makers mastered supply-chain management, which is now the price of admission . The PC itself was relegated to commodity status.

What to do?

Become brilliant at using design to provide an amazing customer experience.

You know that design is on everyone’s mind — it’s almost a mantra. You see a new product a car, an iPod, or the latest cutting-edge cell phone, and you might think that a fairly straightforward process was involved in the product design. In some cases, this might be true, though often it’s not.

As a matter of fact, the process that delivers a good design — the physical embodiment of the product and how it looks and feels to a customer , which is so important for success — is often driven more by serendipity than by an integrated understanding of the design’s impact on the broader idea of a product and business. Serendipity is a good thing, but counting on it isn’t.

We think most people are prone to define design, particularly good design, more narrowly than they should. When you see an iconic product, such as an iPhone, for instance, that enjoys an initial runaway success, it’s so easy to overlook the big picture of how the product fits into the company’s future — and the future of similar products in general. We want you to consider a far broader view of the significance of design.

Consider, for instance, the case of Motorola’s Razr phone. Here is a product you might consider iconic. Historically, Motorola was an innovative company. The Razr has been a runaway success, although a bit of a fluke actually, because Motorola has never really understood what it had. Motorola just came up with a nice design and a nice form factor.

The Razr was thin. Designers sacrificed some footprint (height and width) for thinness. The design tied in with the naming, “Razr,” and it worked, the imagery around the product struck a chord in people’s hearts and minds. Motorola initially marketed the Razr well, but efforts since then have largely fallen flat.

The design did not transform Motorola’s culture. The company had only a single product, and now Motorola is back in trouble because it tried to repeatedly milk this one product over and over again. It hasn’t worked. The company tried to apply the veneer of the product to other products instead of saying, “What would be the next step in creating an experience that would resonate with people?”

It did not continue to grow, build on, and invest in what made the Razr successful. Instead, Motorola chose to imitate, not innovate . It repeatedly used the same language on different models and form factors. It added colours and used the same conventions, without life or soul. The company became stale almost overnight.

Motorola doesn’t have a design culture. It has an engineering culture that tries to be a design culture. But the company fundamentally failed to see this. The product development folks seemed to say, “We’ll make a cool thing, and that will be great,” but they didn’t develop the ability to consistently repeat it. On the operating system side, Motorola has never been able to design a great mobile phone user interface .

The user experience suffers as a consequence. Design goes beyond simply the physical form factor. A big difference exists between a good design and a great product. Motorola didn’t take the next steps to make the Razr the essential portal to people’s mobile experience and hasn’t been able to create consistent design cues across all customer touch points. Motorola might not even know that it matters — but it does.

Design establishes the relationship between your company and your customers. So the complete design should incorporate what they see, interact with, and come in contact with. In short, all the things they experience about your company and use to form opinions and to develop desire for your products . These touch points should not be allowed to just happen. They must be designed and coordinated in a way that gets you where you want to be with your customer — to where you
matter to them.

While teaching an engineering class at Stanford University about the emotional side of design, we asked, “Who cares if Motorola goes out of business next week?” One person raised his hand. We then asked, “Who cares if Apple goes out of business next week?” Most of the class raised their hands.

If you are the CEO of Motorola, this is not good news because you were just told that you don’t matter very much. If you don’t think this is true, check your stock price.

The message here is this: Really grasp this idea of design — or you die. And, oh, yes — your products themselves have to be great.

(Robert Brunner is a renowned industrial designer & Stewart Emery is a corporate consultant. They are co-authors of “Do you matter? How great design will make people love your company” )

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Of culture and identity (my top 10 peeve of being a Malay/Muslim Singaporean)

Most friends who knows me, or those who have worked with or under me, knows that I am not a racist, and neither do I subscribe to generalizations, or I do always try to avoid them, in as far as I can, because I do believe that ascribing a certain character trait or identity with one's race, nationality or religion is a rather skewed way of looking at things. But then again, having the label of a Singaporean Malay in my identity card does have its 'privileges', of the sort that sometimes is unwarranted, and perhaps at times, uncalled for! And just to get them off my chest, here are some of my pet peeve:

1) That all Malays watch soccer!
Non-malay friend: Eh, irfan, you watch soccer right, did you watch the match last night?
ME: No I don't watch soccer, not that I hate it, but I just don't watch it.
Non-malay friend: You MEAN you don't watch soccer, I thought malay guys always watch soccer!
... and that sure will put a damper in our conversation, not that I care. ;)

2) That all Malay guys can play soccer!
Non-malay friend: Eh irfan, you want to join us for soccer this Thursday evening?
ME: No, I don't play soccer. I can't kick the ball for crying out loud. But I can run.
Non-malay friend: So if you don't play soccer, then what do you take for CCA in school
ME: Errrr, something that involves running, like athletics (well, I was the fastest runner in my primary school, and the 3rd fastest in high school!), and I played rugby too!

3) That all Malays can't do Math
Hmmm, I got the end of this generalization stick when I was applying for the post of a tutor at the West Coast Recreation Centre way back in 1993. Back then, there was a tuition agency that runs tuition programmes for students and they were in urgent need of tutors. As usual, I went there with my credentials, including those that clearly stated my distinctions in mathematics at both the O and A levels. Sadly when the interviewer, whom I suspect is the owner of the agency, saw my result slips, the first thing that came out from his mouth was, "Wow, I didn't know Malays can get distinction for maths". Well, I didn't know how to react, but I think I was surprisingly calm for someone who can get rather hot-headed when dealing with idiotic nincompoos like him. I don't know how I did it, but I managed to get the interview completed, and tell myself that that will be the last time that I will set foot into that tuition agency again

4) That Malays are lazy
Errr, I didn't know that any character is inherent in any race, nationality or religion, and until that study is published with impeccable empirical data, then I guess that argument holds no water at all.

5) That Malays are artistically inclined
Funnily, I am living proof to counter that, though I don't think that this will have any bearing at all, whether its true or not

6) That all Malays who teach are teaching Malay
I was also at the receiving end of this when I was first introduced to some of my new friends, whether be it fellow colleagues in the teaching service, which is sad don't you think, and those who are working in the private sector. The first thing that come to their mind, after telling them that I teach for a living, was...'You teaching Malay is it?'. I think one of this days, if I can and I think I will, I will counter by saying, ....'So does that mean that Indian teachers teaches Tamil and Chinese teachers teach Chinese too?' I would love to see their reaction to this! ;)

7) That Malays like to live on lower floors of HDB flats
Now let me clear this up. I don't think this is the case! What happens usually when the Housing and Development Board (HDB) sets up a few new blocks of housing units is to invite members from the majority population to book or reserve their choice of flats or units first, before opening the rest to the others. This is part of the HDB plans to ensure that each housing block, and to a larger picture, the constituency, is appropriately apportioned with the correct racial proportions. Well, I guess you can understand that those in the front of the queue will definitey select the higher units first, where possible, and where it doesn't contravene some of their superstitious beliefs, like choosing the 4th floor with the door number 444, or something to that effect.

8) That Hari Raya Puasa is the Malay New Year
No, Hari Raya Puasa, or Aidilfitri is NOT our new year, in fact it falls on the tenth month of the Muslim calendar! So please stop wishing happy new year to us...just wish us Hari Raya Puasa will be sufficient

9) That green is our colour
No, I don't think green in itself is a Muslim or Malay colour per se, it has just been adopted as one so as to be part of this societal need for each group to be identified with something, a form of branding or identity perhaps

10) That a Malay can't be more than just a Minister of Environment (or of a similar capacity)
Errr, well I think time will tell, and the way I see it, I am pretty optimistic that one day, we will have someone that can hold at least one of the more important portfolios. Who knows, it might be sooner than I think! :)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

This thing about following procedures

I had a quick and light dinner earlier today, as both me and my significant other were rushing to our cousin's wedding in the evening. We went to one of the Big-M fast food restaurants and the conversation occurs as follows:

Customer Service Girl (CSG): Hi there, welcome to M.....
Me: Yeah hi, can I have one set of the Chicken Nuggets meal...
CSG: Upshize!
Me: errr...and one set of the McWings meal...
Me: (feeling a little flustered now)...errr, upsize for both, and can I change the drinks to Ice Lemon Tea for both
CSG: So the drinks for both change to Ice Lemon Tea, one Chicken Nuggets meal and one McWings meal, no upsize....having here?
Me: Yes, of course

I also remembered the other one that my significant other had when we ordered dinner at the famous chicken food outlet.

Significant Other (SO): Hi there, can I have two sets of the Spicy Chicken Tomyam meal, with the drinks change to Ice Lemon Tea and having here
CSG: Ok, your order is for 2 sets of Spicy Chicken TomYam meal, drinks change to Ice Tea...having here?
SO: Errr...yes
CSG: That will be $..... (can't remember the amount)
CSG: Will that be chilli and ketchup for ou ma'am?
SO: Err, will there be any difference, since you are passing to us the small containers and we will be the ones taking it? (for those not in the know, most outlets of the the local fast food chains are moving into self-service stations for customers to take their own straws, serviettes, chilli, ketchup, sugar, pepper, stirrer, etc)
CSG: Errrr...oh, ok (hands over two mini-plates to my SO, and then off to fulfill the order)

What I like to draw you attention to is not about the badness of having a standardised form of way in handling customers, but sometimes, just sometimes, it does pay to:
  • Listen to the customers' orders first
  • React accordingly
  • Review your standardised procedural greeting/handling in the light of your changing operational practices.
I guess, customer service in the local fast food outlets have still a long way to go! Sigh...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The root of OUR social evil

It has been eye-opening to be part of the gender that is accused of being the root cause of all social and family problems amongst my community here in Singapore, but then again, objectively speaking, I very much agree with that statement. It is interesting to note that while the male members of the community has been accused of such, no one would want to do something or talk about it, either from the accused, or the guilty party! Or perhaps this is a social taboo that someone that is culturally-unaware, like myself, is not supposed to be talking, or in this case, be blogging about.

But seriously, for what it is worth, I seriously think that beyond just the mere accusations and assigning blame to anyone in particular, I do believe that more can be done in order to reverse our social situation. Not that I am a social scientist, or someone who is well-versed in the social affairs of the community, but I guess one probable cause of this could be the seemingly double standards that society, and perhaps parents in particular, have placed over the upbringing of their child. I have seen numerous cases, in families of both within and out of my families, and perhaps in fact, even in families of which I am just a peripheral stakeholder, in which the male younger members are seemingly measured by a different level or standard of upbringing compared to the females. And I am not talking about exacting standards here, just suffice to say that it is a level of which these male members would not be able to live up to when they grow up and become the captains of their own ships, once they are settled down.

On this front, how many times have we seen the young male members being given additional leeways and their lame excuses being given more weight, once they falter. Or the the wide berth that they enjoy in terms of their social lives, or the nonchalant attitude towards actually learning and knowing the inner workings of how to 'run' and lead a family! Surely for what it is worth, and beyond just knowing how to make babies, the male members must be accorded and graded based on a higher level of standards than the other gender! What more with the emphasis that our religion places on the Man of the house being accorded a higher social status, shouldn't the community then be having a higher social standards on the male members of the community and placing social pressures on the 'man of the houses' to better themselves to be good role models, and then, perhaps, just perhaps, things would be better.

But at times sadly, it is the parents of these very families that are facing these social problems who would have the higher propensity to be the ones who are 'producing' such male members. But then again, to be fair, I have seen my fair share of those from a normal regular families too. I guess it is very much about the kind of values and upbringing practices that the parents practices as the child grows up that matters more! And surprisingly, these seemingly preferential treatment towards the young male members of the family are more pervasive amongst the...surprise...mothers of the family! Seriously how many times have we seen these boys being given more leeway by the mothers than the fathers. Yah...perhaps the fathers are mostly not around due to the fact that they are out working, but it is really times like these, when the child is growing up, that perhaps, the mothers can really emphasise these qualities of leadership amongst their sons, and perhaps expect from them a higher level of 'sonship', compared to their female siblings! Make them do their beds, laundry, and their own coffee...(which reminds me about the fact that one of my friends actually still have his mum make for him his coffee even when he was already 23 years old!..hmm, so who is to blame here!?) Expect from them a higher level of performance in what ever that they do, well actually, more so in their academic outputs, since the society here in Singapore is very much academic-results driven during their teenage years! And to top it all off, enforce in them qualities and virtues that will make them good leaders, of both their families, and on a larger scale, the community. For what it is worth, it does require a Herculean social shift in some of the thinking about how parents raise their children in order to reverse the trend, but again, i must add, though this is not a blame game, lest we fail to do something now, it will STILL be a blame game generations from now...the guilty party will still stand at the guilty dock, and nothing better would ever come out of it if nothing is done!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Hello open-Source Learning

An interesting and viable alternative to old-school learning, where knowledge is seen as more of a contextual re-aggregation of knowledge content that is already available in a cyber repository of sorts..somewhere, and mankind just the mere manipulators of these knowledge to suit their own needs. I also like the idea of what is happening in Iraq, and how the idea of 'cultural imperialism' is being brought up over there, and can be avoided through the use of such an open-source platform for learning. The original clip, taken from is here:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Product Presentation 4: Slideable Warning Sign

The last of the four clips that I have come out with for a Design Appreciation lessons package. Again, I do hope that the salient points that I have pointed out in this, and all the other previous videos will be helpful to all the design educators out there, especially to those that are dealing with students at the high school levels. Do write to me should there be any comments from any of you out there, I would really appreciate them. Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Product Presentation 3: Rotating Display Case

This is the 3rd clip of four that I managed to come out with within the last 2 weeks. Again, the artefact is only so-so, nothing impressive really. But I do hope that the things that I have pointed out in my video/s would be helpful in any future design lessons that is specifically targetted towards high school students, or even others! Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Product Presentation 2: Dynamic Donation Box

This is a second clip that I did for the Design Appreciation package. The artefact is so-so, but more importantly the ideas that I am trying to put forth should be good enough for a basic understanding of some areas of design. Hmmm, I think I am getting the hang of making my own videos now...perhaps I should try making more that perhaps can look at several other aspects of design. Hmmm. Anyway enjoy. Constructive comments are welcome too!

When the 'Flatness' spreads!

I had dinner with my significant other earlier today and was pleasantly surprised to be served by a non-local waiter at the dining place that we patronised. And in fact that was not the first time that I noticed the dining places over here using non-locals as part of their permanent staff. Seriously I got nothing against them, and in fact am lauding the fact that they have found a good place to earn a good decent living over here in Singapore. What does come to my mind however, was the book by Thomas Friedman, 'The World is Flat', in which he highlighted about the pervasiveness of outsourcing practices, especially in the IT sectors, and its related businesses.

What comes to my mind at that moment was not about the usual IT businesses, but more of the the usual practice locally for these food and beverage and retail sectors to be staffed by students, especially during the school holidays. Now it is already serious enough that these industries have a very high turnover rate amongst the locals, but it would be made worse when the students themselves realise that they would NOT be hired at all when their usual jobs are replaced by the more reliable, and I guess more skillful and dedicated non-locals. I guess with all the lecturing and nagging by my colleagues and other teachers on the need for our local students to buck up and meet the challenges of the new economy and the new world order head-on, what would be a lesson that my generation have faced only when we start work are already heading the way of my young charges even earlier in their lives, even before they are ready to contribute to the economy. It is a good lesson for them I think, since lecturing and asking them to read the book in itself would be an almost uphill, if not impossible task. My god, I really do hope that my young charges realise what they are up against, and are really prepared for it. That's my only hope...for now!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Defying Single Discipline Approaches - the case for a multi-faceted education

One of the things that I have always propounded is the idea that education in itself should move away from the traditional boundaries of a singular or silo-like nature of subject matter, and should evolve towards the integrative evolutionary approaches. No longer is an engineer just a mere tinkerer of technical specifications, much like a doctor no longer just be expected to make sense of symptoms and dispense medication to the sick. The world is constantly evolving, and if the subject areas that our future leaders are still being taught like those that had been imparted a generation ago, then I guess something should be done to make that education evolutionary change possible! I was pretty much inspired by this text of a speech given by Professor Yrjö Sotamaa, a Professor of Design innovation and the former Rector of the University of Art and Design Helsinki. Here is the full text of the speech, taken from here:

- Expanding the Creativity of the Nation

Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

The challenge today is not simply to evolve in a changing world, but to do so in a world where the rate of change is unprecedented. This acceleration has created a broadening gap between our traditional structures of knowledge and the nature of problems we are confronted with. We are also confronted with growing global competition.

How can a small country like Finland keep its position as a forerunner in the changing world? How can we build conditions for continuous sustainable success?

It is clear to us that without constant renewal we will not be the forerunners for long. We should not be blinded by the present day admirable rankings Finland holds in global innovation and competitiveness reports. They can fade away quickly as we all know.

The key instrument in addressing these challenges is the renewal of the Finnish Innovation Strategy, which was presented to you by Mr. Esko Aho, President of SITRA. The Innovation Strategy is a core element of Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen’s cabinets program and currently under preparation in the Ministry of Employment and the Economy. The Parliament will discuss it in a few weeks' time.

Addressing Internal and External Challenges

Besides the external challenges Finland has two fundamental internal challenges in the future. Finland is becoming gray faster than any other European society. In this respect Finland and Turkey are in a very different situation. The share of people in Finland over 65 years will be by 2030 over 25%, which is a 10% increase to the present situation. Thus, the labor force will shrink rapidly.

The other challenge is connected with the size and resources of the Finnish society. The total R&D investment in Finland is approximately 6 billion euro. This is in global comparison a very high share of the GNP, but very small amount in absolute terms. Many companies put more yens, dollars and euros to R&D than the whole Finnish society.

Our 6 billion is equal to the investment of companies like Ford and Pfizer. In this respect, too, Finland and Turkey are in a very different situation. We have to be able to use our resources more effectively, be more focused, more dynamic and have a better innovation capability than others in order to survive in the growing global competition.

Paradigm Shift in Innovation Thinking

When the young Finnish students demonstrated last spring loudly in front of the Finnish Parliament against the new Innovation University their slogan was “Make love, not innovations”. For them innovation meant only business, technology and product development.

Even if love is not the solution the students were right in one aspect. It is very true that in the past our strategy has been technology lead: turning technology into new products, services and businesses. This strategy has been a true success story.

Finland has grown from an importer of technology to a global exporter of high tech. The mobile communication giant Nokia is the flagship of this amazing story. It is a combination of visionary thinking, advanced technology, cutting edge design and excellent business strategy.

The new strategy aims at strengthening the core competencies of Finland through a radical university reform. And it is turning innovation thinking 180 degrees around to human-centric thinking. It does not lessen the importance of technology and business know-how, but in the future the innovation drivers are stronger tied to the needs of users and the opportunities on the market. The shift to user-driven innovation highlights the importance of design. Design has a huge and very new potential for innovation.

The new strategy promotes also the idea of open innovation systems, which would expand the innovation base by involving all actors in the society to the innovation processes. The strategy emphasizes also our connections to the global knowledge networks. Finland is actively developing at the moment research networks between the centers of excellence of several countries in nanotechnology, digital technology, energy, wellbeing, environmental sciences and functional materials. The strategy also wants to build a research and innovation environment, which would attract the best researchers, students, innovators and investors to Finland.

Global Hunt for Talents

In essence the new innovation strategy is very close to the thinking of the hottest international creativity guru Richard Florida. His formula of successful regions and countries is simple: attract, develop and retain. Attract the best talents, give them first class education and make them stay and contribute to the development of the society.

The City of Helsinki has also revised its thinking and is putting much effort in increasing the attractiveness of the city center. The Lord Mayor Jussi Pajunen talks enthusiastically of vivid student life and a creative urban culture. In the past students were only an expense and they were pushed to live on the outskirts of the city.

Richard Florida also claims that the most successful and competitive societies will be the ones, which can expand the creativity to the whole society, where everyone can use his or her creativity and contribute to the success of the society. In this respect the new innovation strategy follows Florida’s advice and the thinking of Finland’s President Mrs. Tarja Halonen.

The Finnish University Reform

Innovation is defined in the new strategy as “a knowledge-based competition advantage, which has been utilized”. In the strategy the application area in which innovations should be utilized is broadened from business, to societal applications and wellbeing. This aims at renewal of the whole Finnish society.

The key element of the strategy is the first part of the previous definition: we are preparing the society to knowledge-based competition. As the increase of our productivity cannot be based on growing labor force, the only way to grow is through advanced knowledge and human creativity. Therefore the university reform mentioned before has become the key project of the present government. It has been rightly called the “Reform of the Century”.

The reform is basically similar to what was done in Japan in 2004. Our 20 universities, which are all public universities and now government offices, will become financially and legally independent by January 1, 2010. The number of universities will drop to fifteen.

The reform gives on one hand greater autonomy to all universities and on the other hand it tries to strengthen their resources though mergers. The government has also promised to increase significantly the financial resources of all universities, which has not usually been part of similar reforms in other countries.

The spearhead project of the university reform is the innovation university. It has been named the Aalto University, according to the world famous Finnish Architect Alvar Aalto. The Aalto University is a foundation, which was established on June 25th, this year by the government and the industry.

The Foundation is an independent, multi-disciplinary arts and science community active in the fields of technology, economics, and applied art as well as other closely associated fields. For the first time both public and private bodies have joined their forces in education and research to secure success of our society. The active role of the industry has been important in pushing the reform forward.

The Aalto University will be formed through the merger of three existing universities all with 100 years of history. The University of Art and Design Helsinki, the Helsinki School of Economics and the Helsinki University of Technology. They are all leading universities in Finland with high international reputation in their respective areas.

Ambitious Goals, Investment and Schedule

The ambitions and schedule of the Aalto University are both equally challenging. It should grow in ten years to be one of the prime universities in the world and it starts operating in ten months time, in August 2009.

The government and industry will give the foundation an endowment of 700 million euro. This is not much compared to Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Oxford, Cambridge and many of the other leading universities, but in the Nordic context it is a very large amount and lays a foundation to the financial independence the Aalto University.

In addition to this, the government has promised to increase the funding of the annual running costs of the Aalto University by 100 million euro by 2012. This is a 60% increase to the present level. The size of the investments and the reform as a whole tell clearly of Finland’s will and its unique capability to implement radical reforms rapidly through good collaboration of different actors in society. That is one of the secrets of our success.

Dynamic Governance

The new university will get a dynamic governance system and is lead by a Board consisting of seven high caliber members all with a doctorate degree. They have extensive experience from research, education, business, management, society and culture. Three of the seven are women. Two of the members come from leading universities in USA, from MIT and the Boston University and one of them is Director of the European Science Foundation. None of the Board members are employees of the university.

The Board has just launched an international search of the first President of the University. If you know potential candidates, I hope you will pass the word to them.

The Chairman of the Board, Dr. Matti Alahuhta, and the CEO of Kone Corporation has said that art and design and their creative tradition make the combination unique in the world. This will turn the cultural assets and the great design tradition of Finland to key drivers of the new innovation thinking.

Aalto University is an Answer to the Big Picture Problems

The new innovation thinking in Finland connects us to the global grand challenges and also to the global opportunities. This thinking has been well manifested by the President and CEO Curtis R. Carlson of SRI International at Stanford University and the President of the University of Tokyo, Professor Hiroshi Komiyama in his book Vision 2050.

For Carlson and Komiyama the buzzword means breakthrough innovations, which change the world. How do we use our knowledge and skills to solve the grand problems we share: energy, climate, food and poverty? How do we turn the challenges into new opportunities and to a sustainable future?

The Aalto University is an answer to the “big picture problems”, which defy single discipline approaches. Our society has been served successfully by deep and narrow specialties, but the nature of today’s “big picture” challenges fall at the intersection of what we know. Not unlike cooking, the solution today is not in any one ingredient, but in the mix. The key idea of the Aalto University is build education and research on the synergy between design, technology and business.

Because the key decision makers cannot always see a complete synthetic whole, they are often blind-sided by the unintended consequences of their action. As an integrative human centric discipline, design is uniquely positioned to fill this strategic need. Therefore, design is one of the key assets of the new user-centric and need-driven innovation strategy and of course to the Aalto University, too.

New Opportunities of Collaboration

There are many well working university and research contacts between the best institution in Turkey and Finland. The Finnish university reform gives new opportunities to expand and deepen these contacts in key areas of knowledge. The renewal of our societies provides us exciting opportunities to share our experiences to build future success.

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this forum and the opportunity to present the actions Finland has taken to tackle the global knowledge and innovation challenges.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Product Presentation Clip 1: DiPlanta

I have just finished doing some video clips for my design lessons next year and beyond. This is the first of those clips. This presentation is on the artefact nicknamed DiPlanta by my student, an acronym for Display-A-Plant. It aims to present a more unique, creative, innovative, and some say, safer mosquito-free way of displaying your potted plants. I do think that this product does have potential, if some design fine-tuning is done. Nonetheless for the sake of design lessons, I do think that the student have learned enough to bring him forth to the next stage of his education journey. Enjoy...!

Monday, October 20, 2008

DESIGNERLY INTERROGATION: The third level of Design Quotient (DQ)

A quick summary of what has been covered so far:

  • Level 1: KNOWING - the semi- or full-conscious state of realising the superficiality of design
  • Level 2: MEANINGFUL REALISATION - the realisation of the functional state of the design realisation
  • Level 3: DESIGNERLY INTERROGATION - a state of designerly awareness that goes beyond the functional state of a design, but deeper into the realms of the why's of the intended designs

Someone who is at this state of level 3, in my humble opinion, would see the just beyond the mere 'story' of a particular design of a product, but goes deeper to understand then why it is DESIGNED a certain way. More than just about the technicalities of a particular design intent, at this state, one would question the underlying basis or ideas that were made to come out with such a design. Examples that I can quote are those that have taken an in-depth ethnographic study of the intended users, or those that perhaps adapts itself from the study of animalistic behavourial patterns or draws inspiration from nature, i.e. biomimicry. These are perhaps a state whereby the designer itself has looked at just beyond the mere realisation, but even deeper into why such designs exists, or can exist for that matter, in the contextual world that we live in. Perhaps an important consideration is that the design in itself has gone through a rigorous interrogation by the designer, as to finally make it to a state of existence.

I am assuming that there can be a level 4...or even more. Perhaps, this I can classify further as Level 4: Design Nirvana, that I would touch on in my subsequent posts.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Some nifty add-ons on Firefox

I am back on Firefox now, after trying out Flock for a little while. Can't make up my mind which one is better, but that is for another day for me to decide.

In the meantime, let me just share two pretty neat and cool add-ons that you might want to consider adding to your Firefox, to turn them on into real 'foxes'.

One is by none other than Google, the 'Notebook' application, which lets you work on the fly, especially people like me, who would like to have an integrated tool that lets me do my research work without the cumbersome use of more than one software tool. Show you a screenshot that I took with Copernicus (a freeware app for screen capture, for Mac, of course!).

The second neat tool that I want to share is this one called 'Your Reading List'. If you like to read lots of stuffs on the Net, but do not want to read them all in one go, or don't have the time, or don't like to have many bookmarks bookmarked, then this is the tool for you. Here's the screenshot.

Hope you find these useful, as much as I have find joy in using them.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The irony of the Peter Principle

In my recent discussions with some colleagues of mine, we had a discussion on the ramifications of the Peter Principle. For those not in the know, the Peter Principle describes a situation whereby one is promoted to a higher level in the organisational hierarchy, but need not necessarily become more competent at his new role or job. The short terminology for it is 'being promoted to a state of incompetence'.

Now relating it back to the local education system here, my colleagues and myself, do find a great degree of parallels within the system here. Because based on how the performance of a particular teacher is, those who are deemed to be performing better at his or her teaching, and henceforth given the chance to move up the management ladder, will find himself in a predicament whereby he is actually spending a significantly lesser amount of time sharpening his teaching skills, but more time on organisational administrative duties, of which, he might not be suitably capable or worst still, be incompetent in! So what does that leaves the remaining group of teachers who are still not 'moved up' the ladder? Does that mean that that they are not necessarily capable? I beg to differ on that, but seriously if you ask me, the sad state of affairs is that at times, we still do need these 'better-ability' teachers to stay around a little while longer, to sort of beef up the 'frontlines' before they 'sit back at their saddles' and start to orchestrate the 'war manouvers' from their mounts. Personally sometimes I do feel that nothing beats having a 'battle scar' here and there, as evidence that you have been 'through hell and back', the only way of which is if we were to hang around a little longer at these frontlines, and fight the battle in the classrooms, a battle of the minds that is. :)

On a more positive note, I do feel that it is not that bad a situation right now, I mean with the additional help being offered and the various schemes that is put in place, or are going to be put in place soon. It is just that sometimes, we really do need every 'muscle that we can muster, at the heart of the battle.'

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bluetooth possibilities...

I am in the market for a bluetooth mouse; I guess I just got sick and tired of the wired versions, and the much-touted wireless versions that have humongous and ugly-looking dongles sticking out like a sore thumb from the sides, and I have come to realise that it is still very much an early day for it. Looking at the versions available at most local stores, I realise that a bluetooth wireless mouse still commands a premium in all shops here, more expensive than the regular wireless versions here. I guess it will take some time for the prices to go down a little, and while waiting for that to happen, I just had this idea of what are the possibilities of this wireless technology, that I heard the first time waaaaaaay back in 1997, during my initial hunt for jobs right after my graduation.

1) Why not a bluetooth charging unit. I've heard news a couple of months back that there are currently research on some form of an electromagnetic charging unit, without contact, done at MIT. Hmmm, I can just envision the day when charging your mobile phones is easy, you just need to be in the transmission zones for you to be worry-free on how long your phones can go per charge!

2) An all-in-one hands-free earpiece, one that can sync with your iPods, mobile phones, home entertainments systems, Skype phones, and everything else in between, effortlessly. It is quite a hassle for you to be changing headsets for all the various gadgets that you have, wouldn't it be nice to just have ONE piece of headset that can intelligently know which gadget to sync with?

3) Perhaps a bluetooth-enabled cup and coffee-maker unit. The cup will inform the coffee-maker to start heating up or boiling the coffee when, say, the cup detects a low amount of coffee, or when say, it is turned over from its inverted position, signalling that coffee is needed pronto.

4) A bluetooth-synchronised clocks, where all the clocks in a particular housing unit or office, can be synchronised to only ONE timing, not a minute more, or less. Pretty much the problem that I have at home right now! :)

5) A bluetooth-capable car, where you can do diagnostics testing and stuffs like that with your car! It can even be 'wired' to you laptop, so that when it is time to for you to leave your office space, it is able to start the air-conditioning or the heater unit of your car, just in time for you to be cosy in it when you reach for the doors and enter the car.

Hmmmm, so far so good. What do you think?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

How to write a Design Brief?

A great article from I guess this can be used in the context of a high-school design education too, although with some tweaks here and there.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The 'Greening' of Design: William McDonough: The wisdom of designing Cradle to Cradle

One of the more interesting presentations from What I like about William's presentation here is the idea on the 'totality' of design, where design is not just about the here and now, not just about the experiences during the 'life-span' of a product. More importantly is the cradle-to-cradle ideas that he propounded, that is, at the very least something that humanity ought to start adopting, lest we become extinct within this century.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

MEANINGFUL REALISATION: Level 2 of Design Quotient

I have posted earlier about 'KNOWING' as the initial level of one's Design Quotient (DQ). It is about knowing that there is indeed something more than just the mere manifestation or superficiality of a particular product or object that is used. Following that, what transpires next would be a more 'MEANINGFUL REALISATION' that there is indeed more about the product that meets the eye.

For example a case in point, the regular toothbrush that I have quoted earlier. After one's realisation that there is something more about the toothbrush than he or she realises, what do follow, in the DQ context of things, would be the action of wanting to know that there is indeed something more than just a 'stick with nylon bristles'. It can be perhaps be seen as the deeper realisation that the stick does more than just a mere tool for holding, and the bristles are designed in such a way that it is much more than just becoming a brushing tool of sorts. This meaningfulness can be seen even further when one, having been enlightened further, would then want to know why things are designed or placed in a certain way. This perhaps would then be a precursor to Level 3 of my DQ theory: DESIGNERLY INTERROGATION, which I would touch on next in my next post.

Designing like it really matters

One of the challenges that I really relish is to come out with something new in the areas of teaching design. The challenge that was thrown to me this time round was in how the various areas of the arts, design, media and technology, can be convergently packaged and taught together with other altruistic values. Though I think it is not easy, but I don't think it is impossible. Certain ideas have already come to mind, such as:

* the fact that Singapore is becoming a greying city opens up various areas and possibilities in the field of geriatrics - the branch of medicine that focuses on healthcare for the elderly. I've see the set up of a model home for the elderly at a certain health care centre in the Western part of Singapore in my Innovation Protocol training (which I have blogged in earlier), and I do think that this would be a good starting point

* looking at the burgeoning industry of alternative fuels and alternative energies is another area of interest that I should be looking into. And in fact, I was thinking of tying up with various commercial concerns should this idea be successful in taking off

* Making the values that one would want to be taught to be the title of the design project, for example, a design project with the title 'RESPECT'. That would bring up some crazy ideas, but this might prove a little difficult as the final intent of the product might just be a little off from the actual intent of the project itself

* Be involved in a multi-cultural/religious/language immersion programme, something like those charitable projects that you see being done by volunteers to areas that are struck with disasters. Students can use those experiences not only to launch a physical project, but also be involved in a deeper understanding of the values that the project hopes to imbibe them in

* Environment: Another slant to the idea earlier is to see how the Green Revolution can be tapped even further to excite students to look at various processes that they can look at that has the potential to green, or even greener. Perhaps this can be parked under the theme of 'Design Sustainability' too

Hmmm, these are the ideas that I have managed to brainstorm at the moment. Any ideas from my blog readers are really welcomed. Doesn't matter to me whether you are a designer, a teacher, or even someone who cares about things that relates to design, all ideas that area passed would be seriously considered.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

When the designer is more important than the CEO?

I absolutely love this article..really. Shows how much design have impacted the bottomline of the most creative and design savvy firm in the world. Original article is linked here by Jason Schwarz:

"We've now had a chance to see the prototype G1 phone. Google (GOOG) is hoping to carve out its own niche in the cellphone market in much the same way Apple (AAPL) has recently done. Can we expect to see lines outside of T-Mobile stores when the phone goes on sale next month? Highly unlikely. Instead, Google's gPhone appears headed down the same path of irrelevancy as the Microsoft (MSFT) Zune. According to Walt Mossberg, "The G1 won't win any beauty contests with its Apple rival. It's stubby and chunky, nearly 30% thicker and almost 20% heavier that the iPhone."

I was prepared to delve into a detailed comparison between the gPhone and the iPhone but Mr. Mossberg's statement just put an end to any constructive debate that we might have had. When you try and tell me how cool the copy and paste feature is or how excited you are about the MMS photo function I'll just have to give you the look. The same look that I gave to Zune enthusiasts who told me how much better the large video screen was. I don't think so. It's on days like today, when someone comes out with a product like the gPhone that we remember just how dominant Apple has become. Aren't new product releases supposed to be better than the existing ones? Apple competitors are shamefully years behind and it's all because of one man, Jonathan Ive.

Senior VP of Industrial Design, Jonathan Ive, is the most important man in the tech world. He is more important to Apple than Steve Jobs. Have you seen what the Mac looked like before Ive came along? Do you remember where Steve Jobs was before Ive took over the design team? Jonathan Ive is the principal designer of the Mac, the iPod, and the iPhone. Not Steve Jobs. While Wall Street's busy watching Steve's weight we should be more concerned with Ive's eyesight. Jonathan Ive is the real Moses here, Jobs is just Aaron. In January the guy was rated the most influential Brit in America, ahead of Beckham. Those in the know praise his work. Read the following reviews that Ive received for his iPhone design:

* "He has an uncanny skill for imparting a device with simplicity, distinction, and inevitability. He could probably design a better triangle, and when he was done you'd realize that three sides were one side too many." --James Lileks, Minneapolis Star Tribune
* "The iPhone is something out of Tom Cruise's science-fiction film Minority Report, which is set in 2054." --Paul Durman, The UK Times
* "The iPhone is a typical piece of Ive design: an austere, abstract, platonic-looking form that somehow also manages to feel warm and organic and ergonomic." -- Lev Grossman, Time

Jonathan Ive should be the next CEO of Apple. Apple's software is good, their end to end user experience is great, but the look and feel of their products is what set's them apart. In the last few months, the world has quietly been experiencing a sea change. The market share tidal wave of Apple is coming and it's not all riding on Steve Jobs's shoulders. "

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

KNOWING: the first level of Design Quotient

I realised that it has been a while since the last time I have blogged about 'Design'. In today's post, and subsequent entries, I hope that I am disciplined enough to be able to give my views on the various levels of the Design Quotient (DQ), a schema of sorts that I hope would be able to spark various discussions on raising the design consciousness in the design domain of our cognitive capacity.

Firstly, my question would be how do we start to 'look' at design as a means to just beyond something that is a given. How do we, say, be appreciative enough about the design of everyday items that surrounds us, without looking or delving deeper into its various other technicalities of how it is made, or how it has added a great deal of benefit to out lives! I mean when we brush our teeth in the morning, are we really aware the amount of effort that goes into the design of the toothbrush and the toothpaste container? It is this very state of 'KNOWING', of awareness, at a certain level of 'design consciousness' is where I would put my theoretical viewpoint on the first level of DQ. It is this level of consciousness, of suddenly being hit by that AHA moment, of suddenly realising, as you held the toothbrush in your hands, and then suddenly realising how ergonomically well-designed the toothbrush is, how everything about it is so...well nicely fitted into what it is intended to function as.

It is at this state of knowing, of realising, of suddenly being awakened by the superficiality, beyond its tendency to connote negativities, of design in itself as a state of being that would help, or trouble us in one way or another. On the other side of the scale, the realisation that something is badly designed could also spark this state of consciousness, although one would somewhat be more overwhelmed with vulgarities of the verbal kind, more than being hit by a 'design awareness' moment, when bad design come avisiting!

So let's just state that the first level of DQ is:

KNOWING: the semi- or full-conscious state of realising the superficiality of design

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Abaya: When the context is deeper than the obvious

I read with interest Karl Albrecht's book on "Practical Intelligence: The Art and Science of Common Sense". I'm starting to read it a second time now, sure is surprising the nuggets of knowledge that one can sieve when reading it the second time.

One interesting information that Karl highlighted, and I would like to quote from the book here is the seemingly 'restrictive' idea that the Islamic Abaya outfit worn by Arab females seems to perpetuate, to both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

"(Taken from page 255) For example, many Westerners think of the veil, or the abaya...the head-to-toe garment that modest Islamic women merely symbols of represssion forced upon Islamic or Arab females. Yet when they are viewed in the complex context of family and clan relationships, as in Iraq, they are not isolated elements. The veil is an integral part of a larger gestalt of social rules and symbols, which many Westerners fail to grasp or appreciate. It cannot simply be abandoned or abolished without overturning other, centuries-old social dynamics connected to it.

In Iraq for example, and in many Arab countries, at least 50 percent of marriages are between first or second cousins. One effect of the veil, or any other form of modest attire, is to remove young women from the kind of social circulation that poses competition to their male cousins...the "marriage market". Not only does the veil have practical benefit for young men seeking wives, but many young Iraqi women are firmly comitted to marrying within the clan, and arranged marriages are still very common. Many of them see the modesty dynamics as perfectly natural and appropriate to the patterns of close kinship that shape their lives. The view of veiling as a form of a oppression is largely a projection of Western social values onto the members of a very different culture"

Now I am not an anthropologist nor am I an expert culturalist, but somehow or rather, the seemingly depth of explanation to the wearing of the Abaya as described above does have its validity. But at times, sadly or otherwise, even Muslim women that are not in an Arabic cultural context fail to see its contextual significance and have blindly followed its wearing. Not that I am against it, but I guess, I personally thing that there should be some deeper understanding of one's own assumptions about one's actions before doing something at all.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

When the creative wisdom of the crowds can fail

I read with interest the growing number of Malay-Muslim families and individuals seeking help from the Aidilfitri Charity Fund, a fund that was set up years ago to assist families who are in dire need of help, to get by with the festivities, and hopefully, beyond that.

What interest me is not so much the cause that they are set up for, in fact, it is something that I really believe in, i.e. where the members of the community who are abled and capable, chip in to help the less fortunate. But what is a concern to me is the rather ever increasing number of families who are seeking help. I mean shouldn't the overriding aim of setting up a charitable fund like this be the reduction or the socially (almost) impossible task of elimination of the poor and the destitute. Notwistanding the bout of inflationary pressures that are being experienced right now will surface families and individuals who are adversely affected by such an event, but shouldn't the fund in itself by somewhat of a 'root-cause' problem-solving tool, rather than something that would only be a symptomatic cure for what is being experienced by the community.

I still remember the voluntary work that I did over that last few years as part of the Yayasan Mendaki's Tiga M project (three 'M' here meaning 'Membaca' (Read), 'Mengira' (Count) and 'Menulis' (Write)) project. What really touched me is the fact that a greater majority of these participants are really willing to help themselves, though sometimes they are lacking very much in the 'Hows' and the 'Whens'...the 'Hows' because they are really at their wit's end as to how to go about to change the family around, and the 'When's' because they are really hindered by time as most of them would need to work instead of attending a training session, that might just be the tipping point to their family's living outcome. Nonetheless it was a humbling and enriching experience for me, and very much reminded me of where I came from.

But seriously, unless there is a deeper concerted effort to go about changing the situation and just applying the most of pills to just the symptomatic effects, the creative wisdom of the whole community, (of which we are quite well known for) will still falter in the areas of social re-engineering.

Friday, September 12, 2008

My top 10 Mac software must-haves

Having made the switch to the Mac OS platform just less than a year ago, I've done numerous experimentations with loads of software tools that can enhance my productivity on this platform. I'm happy to say that so far, the Mac OS has indeed exceed my expectations in terms of its usability, stability and trouble-free use! Here's a list of the top 10 Mac software must-haves, for me that is:

Not in any order of preference...

1) Adobe Lightroom: Good software tool, much like Aperture, for a photography amateur like me.

2) Copernicus: for screen capturing...a useful tool for me, especially when i need a tool to capture icons, without being weighted down by too many features!

3) Google Desktop: Useful tool for indexing your data on your hard disks

4) Google SketchUp Basic: I'm still using the free version at the moment, cos it is still sufficient in my current job capacity. Very useful for creating models for presentation or lessons

5) iTunes: What can I say, I'm a music buff too. Their newest version 8.0 has some pretty nifty interfaces too. I just realised only recently that some of the podcasts are freely available...coooool

6) Mercury Messenger: A nifty tool for those who wants to use the webcam on the MSN. Can be a little unstable at times, but generally its ok for far!

7) Syncmate: With an Windows Mobile handphone, you can never go wrong with having this tool for synching with your Mac lappy

8) Tooble: Cool software tool you to download your favourite YouTube videos and then directly into your iTunes

9) VM Fusion: I've tried Parallels, but prefer this one better. So far so good, but my advise to you is to use original versions of Windows for the other OS'es

10) Last but not least, Azureus...a bittorrent tool that helps me to...well should I say, provide the tools that can allow me the luxury of this experimentation.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

When there is no box to think out of?

I can't remember the number of times that the cliche 'thinking out of the box' is often repeated in seminars, talks and courses dealing in innovation, creativity, and the likes. But seriously, when I revisit some of these ideas again, I just can't help but to think aloud, 'Why have the box in the first place?'

I mean seriously, doesn't THE BOX in itself IS the very epitome of constraint, restraint, of non-barrier-free thinking!? Hence thinking out of it does somewhat also refers to the connotation that the possibilities should only be looked upon as those that lies outside of this box, beyond the comfort of whatever that is within the box, a little oxymoronic when one dwells into the question a little deeper, don't you think?

I would prefer very much the terminology, perhaps, something like, "Expanding the Universal set of thought", a reference to the basic terminology referred to in mathematical topic on Venn Diagrams. Or maybe as a means to paying homage to the ubiquity of the original phrase, let's try: "Unpacking the box of thoughts".

Would this phrase catch on? Hmmm, nobody knows!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The abusive minority

I am currently serving my 2 weeks worth of in-camp training right now, right in the midst of the Muslim's fasting month of Ramadan. It is nothing new for me to be doing this, as my unit have been called up for these duties in the past, right smack in the middle of this holy month.

What is interesting to note about serving the nation while serving God, is in the way things are rightfully (or wrongfully) perceived by surprisingly the very people who are practising the fast. I mean I would be most understanding if ignorance are demonstrated by the greater majority of those who are not of the faith and are not, then, fasting. But sadly, it is the very minority who are dutifully fasting, and at the same trying to show what fasting is all about to the others, who are failing at these very role. Sometimes it is perplexing at how people in general are somewhat able to justify their habits which are very much against the spirit of this holy month, but on the other hand, will play up this very 'minoritic trump card' (for lack of a better term) whenever the privileges given to him are seemingly being seen to be taken away! Sad, is it not, that the very act that will be rewarded by God himself, is taken lightly, and played around like as if it is just a normal act of just staying away from food and drinks ONLY, not including cigarettes! And about how fasting in itself seems to be an excuse for excusing onself from relevant physical activities. Sigh...if only they'll learn!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Teaching Design: The creeper plant and the bonsai

I did a small lesson plan on design with my rather young yet challenging charges a few days ago and one of the things that I observe is the depth, or lack of, in their ability to see things, most of the times, beyond the mere statement of a given problem. It can be challenging to teach them about the intricacies of design, and design appreciation at times, but what I do appreciate most, is their rather innocent way of seeing things at times, which I do find refreshing for someone who can get too technical in his teaching. What my charges do taught me is the fact that at times, we tend to try TOO HARD to imbibe in them OUR way of seeing things, without taking into account THEIR way of seeing the same thing! Interesting to note too about how sometimes, to them, design can be something that can get a little too cute, or even 'impossible' in terms of its practical realisation, but then again, if we are to let creativity and innovation start to take root, shouldn't we then allow these 'creativity growth' to spurt on then, ok ok, maybe not to an unhindered wild-like extent like the creeper plants, but I guess we can always be more gentle and guide their growth along, to something that perhaps is eventually capable of leveling up their cognitive ability, maybe perhaps like a bonsai plant!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

When too many cooks spoil the broth. (Designing a 'STOP' sign in a signless world)

An interesting video on the design process that one should avoid being involved in. Somehow or rather, I do have that niggling feeling that such a situation doesn't just happen in the design world context, but then again, this is just my cynical hunch...

The Least Favourite Child

I would like to share the following interesting article written by a local journalist, that sure have managed to elicit some solid responses from members of the public, majority of which are surprisingly mature and willing to understand the context of what is being written. Sadly majority of the points that are written I can definitely relate to directly...I do hope that one day, we will be colour blind, but until that day comes, as I have mentioned in my previous posts on my own personal experiences on racism and discrimination, the community, whether be it the specific minority, or the population in general, must be willing to put aside their differences in order to not undo generations of work that is happening now, i.e. to forge a greater and more lasting Singaporean identity, '...regardless of race, language or religion.'

Aug 10, 2008

Feeling like the least favourite child by Nur Dianah Suhaimi

As a Malay, I've always been told that I have to work twice as hard to prove my worth

When I was younger, I always thought of myself as the quintessential Singaporean.

Of my four late grandparents, two were Malay, one was Chinese and one was Indian. This, I concluded, makes me a mix of all the main races in the country. But I later realised that it was not what goes into my blood that matters, but what my identity card says under 'Race'.

Because my paternal grandfather was of Bugis origin, my IC says I'm Malay. I speak the language at home, learnt it in school, eat the food and practise the culture. And because of my being Malay, I've always felt like a lesser Singaporean than those from other racial groups.

I grew up clueless about the concept of national service because my father was never enlisted.

He is Singaporean all right, born and bred here like the rest of the boys born in 1955. He is not handicapped in any way. He did well in school and participated in sports.

Unlike the rest, however, he entered university immediately after his A levels. He often told me that his schoolmates said he was 'lucky' because he was not called up for national service.

'What lucky?' he would tell them. 'Would you feel lucky if your country doesn't trust you?'

So I learnt about the rigours of national service from my male cousins. They would describe in vivid detail their training regimes, the terrible food they were served and the torture inflicted upon them - most of which, I would later realise, were exaggerations.

But one thing these stories had in common was that they all revolved around the Police Academy in Thomson. As I got older, it puzzled me why my Chinese friends constantly referred to NS as 'army'. In my family and among my Malay friends, being enlisted in the army was like hitting the jackpot. The majority served in the police force because, as is known, the Government was not comfortable with Malay Muslims serving in the army. But there are more of them now.

Throughout my life, my father has always told me that as a Malay, I need to work twice as hard to prove my worth. He said people have the misconception that all Malays are inherently lazy.

I was later to get the exact same advice from a Malay minister in office who is a family friend.

When I started work, I realised that the advice rang true, especially because I wear my religion on my head. My professionalism suddenly became an issue. One question I was asked at a job interview was whether I would be willing to enter a nightclub to chase a story. I answered: 'If it's part of the job, why not? And you can rest assured I won't be tempted to have fun.'

When I attend media events, before I can introduce myself, people assume I write for the Malay daily Berita Harian. A male Malay colleague in The Straits Times has the same problem, too.

This makes me wonder if people also assume that all Chinese reporters are from Lianhe Zaobao and Indian reporters from Tamil Murasu.

People also question if I can do stories which require stake-outs in the sleazy lanes of Geylang. They say because of my tudung I will stick out like a sore thumb. So I changed into a baseball cap and a men's sports jacket - all borrowed from my husband - when I covered Geylang.

I do not want to be seen as different from the rest just because I dress differently. I want the same opportunities and the same job challenges.

Beneath the tudung, I, too, have hair and a functioning brain. And if anything, I feel that my tudung has actually helped me secure some difficult interviews.

Newsmakers - of all races - tend to trust me more because I look guai (Hokkien for well-behaved) and thus, they feel, less likely to write critical stuff about them.

Recently, I had a conversation with several colleagues about this essay. I told them I never thought of myself as being particularly patriotic. One Chinese colleague thought this was unfair. 'But you got to enjoy free education,' she said.

Sure, for the entire 365 days I spent in Primary 1 in 1989. But my parents paid for my school and university fees for the next 15 years I was studying.

It seems that many Singaporeans do not know that Malays have stopped getting free education since 1990. If I remember clearly, the news made front-page news at that time.

We went on to talk about the Singapore Government's belief that Malays here would never point a missile at their fellow Muslim neighbours in a war.

I said if not for family ties, I would have no qualms about leaving the country. Someone then remarked that this is why Malays like myself are not trusted. But I answered that this lack of patriotism on my part comes from not being trusted, and for being treated like a potential traitor.

It is not just the NS issue. It is the frustration of explaining to non-Malays that I don't get special privileges from the Government. It is having to deal with those who question my professionalism because of my religion. It is having people assume, day after day, that you are lowly educated, lazy and poor. It is like being the least favourite child in a family. This child will try to win his parents' love only for so long. After a while, he will just be engulfed by disappointment and bitterness.

I also believe that it is this 'least favourite child' mentality which makes most Malays defensive and protective of their own kind.

Why do you think Malay families spent hundreds of dollars voting for two Malay boys in the Singapore Idol singing contest? And do you know that Malays who voted for other competitors were frowned upon by the community?

The same happens to me at work. When I write stories which put Malays in a bad light, I am labelled a traitor. A Malay reader once wrote to me to say: 'I thought a Malay journalist would have more empathy for these unfortunate people than a non-Malay journalist.'

But such is the case when you are a Malay Singaporean. Your life is not just about you, as much as you want it to be. You are made to feel responsible for the rest of the pack and your actions affect them as well. If you trip, the entire community falls with you. But if you triumph, it is considered everyone's success.

When 12-year-old Natasha Nabila hit the headlines last year for her record PSLE aggregate of 294, I was among the thousands of Malays here who celebrated the news. I sent instant messages to my friends on Gmail and chatted excitedly with my Malay colleagues at work.

Suddenly a 12-year-old has become the symbol of hope for the community and a message to the rest that Malays can do it too - and not just in singing competitions.

And just like that, the 'least favourite child' in me feels a lot happier.

Each year, come Aug 9, my father, who never had the opportunity to do national service, dutifully hangs two flags at home - one on the front gate and the other by the side gate.

I wonder if putting up two flags is his way of making himself feel like a better-loved child of Singapore.

When all is not what it seems: The fisherman and the businessman

I do like metaphors, and one of those that I like is this one about the fisherman and the businessman. Sometimes, in life, you just have to withhold your judgements about the things that you see, until you get the fuller picture. Something perhaps my significant other can learn a thing or two too. :)

"One day a fisherman was lying on a beautiful beach, with his fishing pole propped up in the sand and his solitary line cast out into the sparkling blue surf. He was enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun and the prospect of catching a fish.

About that time, a businessman came walking down the beach, trying to relieve some of the stress of his workday. He noticed the fisherman sitting on the beach and decided to find out why this fisherman was fishing instead of working harder to make a living for himself and his family.

"You aren't going to catch many fish that way," said the businessman to the fisherman, "you should be working rather than lying on the beach!"

The fisherman looked up at the businessman, smiled and replied, "And what will my reward be?"

"Well, you can get bigger nets and catch more fish!" was the businessman's answer.

"And then what will my reward be?" asked the fisherman, still smiling.

The businessman replied, "You will make money and you'll be able to buy a boat, which will then result in larger catches of fish!" "And then what will my reward be?" asked the fisherman again.

The businessman was beginning to get a little irritated with the fisherman's questions. "You can buy a bigger boat, and hire some people to work for you!" he said.

"And then what will my reward be?" repeated the fisherman.

The businessman was getting angry. "Don't you understand? You can build up a fleet of fishing boats, sail all over the world, and let all your employees catch fish for you!"

Once again the fisherman asked, "And then what will my reward be?"

The businessman was red with rage and shouted at the fisherman, "Don't you understand that you can become so rich that you will never have to work for your living again! You can spend all the rest of your days sitting on this beach, looking at the sunset. You won't have a care in the world!"

The fisherman, still smiling, looked up and said, "And what do you think I'm doing right now?" "

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The 'Nadim' syndrome

I read with interest an article in yesterday's Malay paper regarding this syndrome that somehow have hampered the intellectual capacity of the community, but of which its findings, though anecdotal in nature, are inconclusive. Originated from story about Hang Nadim, a young boy who grew up during the early days of Singapore, when she was still under the Malay Sultanate. Schools of swordfish were constantly attacking the local beaches and the fisherman and the government then was at their wit's end as to how to stop the marauding fishes from causing hurt to both themselves and their livelihood. Hand Nadim, a small boy barely into his teens perhaps, suggested to the Sultan (King) that instead of using (the rather stupid) the method of using his soldiers' thighs as beach barriers to the attacking fishes, why not cut down the banana trees, line them up along the beach, and let the fishes get stuck onto them instead. Of course, this method is so much better and managed to contain the attack. But instead of being rewarded for his intelligence, some officials, fearing that the boy will get even smarter when he grows up and then usurp power, then devised a ploy and managed to convince the Sultan to kill him instead! Convinced, the Sultan ordered that he be killed and his body, weighted down by metal chains, dumped into the seas off Singapore.

Summarising, the article is interesting in its observation that perhaps intellectual capacity is something of a rarity in our community. Or maybe it exists, but somehow it is not celebrated in the manner that is befitting of its stature, or perhaps our community is just too 'shy' to celebrate or give adulation to those with the prerequisite 'gift' unlike their open admiration for performing artists. Well, I guess the community do need that time to appreciate intelligence for what it is! But then perhaps, they will never be. I guess than, when that will never happen, the 'Wisdom of the Crowds' will never ever be applicable. Hmmm...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

This thing about making judgements

Congratulations to myself on my 100th post so far! Hopefully I am able to make that little difference in this information-pervasive world of ours to my readers.

And now I just to like to bitch, yeah bitching about people who seemingly think that they have that right to pass judgements on anyone or everyone, based on their inconsequential and shallow interactions with their audience. I just came to know, through my future colleagues at my new place of work, about how a minority of the people at the 'higher-ups' do their evaluation and 'ranking'! My, my, what a worrying thing to hear when people up there are making and passing judgements on presumably their middle-managers based on just their 2 to 3 hour interaction time with them, rather than looking at their quality and quantity of work done beyond this 2 or 3 hours. And to top it all off, they have that audacity to say that the discussions that happens during that 2 to 3 hours are shallow! Hmmm, come to think of it, who is the shallow one here? And this coming from someone who perhaps had their last actual, real teaching experience YEARS ago? Hmmm...just wondering...

But to be fair, I do think that my current colleagues and bosses are nice fellas to work with. And I thank God for that.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Parable of the 2 Angels...

I love parables, and somehow or rather, it always strikes a chord with me when the message that it wants delivered is something that I can subscribe to at that point of time in my live. Being one who is always positive, and at times a little too positive, my weaknesses is sometimes my failure to see the bad in people. Seriously, why would I want to see that right. I guess not everything is what is seems to be. Here's one of my favourite, taken from a parable website:

"Two traveling angels stopped to spend the night in the home of a wealthy family. The family was rude and refused to let the angels stay in their mansion's guest room. Instead the angels were given a space in the cold basement. As they made their bed on the hard floor, the older angel saw a hole in the wall and repaired it. When the younger angel asked why, the older angel replied, "Things aren't always what they seem."

The next night the pair came to rest at the house of a very poor, but very hospitable farmer and his wife. After sharing what little food they had the couple let the angels sleep in their bed where they could have a good night's rest. When the sun came up the next morning the angels found the farmer and his wife in tears. Their only cow, whose milk had been their sole income, lay dead in the field. The younger angel was infuriated and asked the older angel, "How could you have let this happen? The first man had everything and was willing to share nothing, yet you helped him. The second family had little but was willing to share everything, and you let their cow die."

"Things aren't always what they seem," the older angel replied. "When we stayed in the basement of the mansion, I noticed there was gold stored in that hole in the wall. Since the owner was so obsessed with greed and unwilling to share his good fortune, I sealed the wall so he wouldn't find it. Then last night as we slept in the farmer's bed, the angel of death came for his wife. I told him to take the cow instead. Things aren't always what they seem."

Sometimes this is exactly what happens when things don't turn out the way we think they should. But, we cannot judge an event at the surface. Occassionally, sad events happen but there are important lessons or a hidden purpose behind them. Don't be too happy or too sad; no matter what happens for you'll never know the real outcome with certain."

The Majority/Minority Debate

As the submission deadlines for my young charges' project work comes to a close, it is interesting to see the attitude changes that one can see. You can see the 'kanchiong' kings and queens, the ones who had been slacking for the past few months, suddenly taking things into their own hands (and sometimes others) and can be seen to be laboriously working on touching up and finishing their projects. The smaller minority will be those who have laboured intensely for the past months or so, and is seemingly more relaxed and confident in their handiwork, since a lot of thought and sweat have gone into working on their coursework earlier. But what is worst of them all, are those who are seemingly in a state of constant delusion, about their own abilities, and sadly, are really in a dire need of some form of an intellectual and motivational dose of reality, laden with a little cyanide perhaps, to perhaps deaden them even further. Seriously when all things have been said and done, there is perhaps only so much that a teacher like myself can do to save, or to try to save, EVERYONE, because more often than not, we CAN'T.

I mean what can one do when there seems to be remotely NO hint of interest or for that matter, effort, to even have a little pride in their own handiwork. I don't know...seriously the things that goes through inside the minds of such students of mine! What kind of wake-up call will suffice to enable them to at least wake up to the reality that is hitting them, and at least still enable them to get them back crawling , at the very least, and then make them move again! I simply AM dumbfounded at the psychological and emotional absence that these students have about themselves!

But then again, seriously when the dust have settled down, we can only do so much to help them, no matter how hard we tried. I think, at least for myself, I have done whatever that I possibly can to at least save the majority from drowning, whilst losing those minorities, no matter how hard is it for me to accept!

And so life goes on....

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Apprenticeship of the Empirical Skeptic

Perhaps it IS interesting to note that as knowledge becomes more pervasive and easily obtainable, one's measure of intellectual capacity, and perhaps even their subsequent standing to offer solutions, theories and even predictions are very much sometimes more of a standardised commonality of opinions, rather than one that will really hit the spot! Seriously, the very antithesis of having too much knowledge, or sometimes information, is in fact stupidy! No...not of the idiotic kind, but more so of the fact that as the sum total of human intelligence and knowledge bank grows exponentially over time, Man, and very much the intellectual elitist, will become very much aware only of what THEY know, to make available their theories, without an afterthought to what that they DON'T know.

This enlightening conclusion is definitely something to ponder on, and I pay homage to the book entitled 'The Black Swan' by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a book that I am currently reading. I happen to pick the title of the first chapter of the book as my post today.

Nassim definitely made me sit up and think more deeply even right from the word 'GO', as he peels off some of his analysis of what are in his opinion, the 'impact of the highy improbable'. Definitely something that is worth reading, especially for those who often, out of sheer folly, or just plain quasily uninformed, have the tendency to make overgeneralisations, especially when one considers himself or herself as a self- or publicly-appointed 'generalised statement maker.' Hmmm...