Saturday, April 2, 2011

Thinking Big!

"The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it." (Michelangelo)

One of the most important aspects of leadership is the willingness to dream big. That is, the aspiration to overcome the impossible and thus in that process create a bigger impact in the environment that it function, if not the world. I believe it is Adidas that came out with the tag line:”Nothing is Impossible”.

Void of this component (thinking big), many organizations or individuals will find themselves trap in the mundane and not in the forefront of the value chain. Very soon, other competitors would be able to catch up and overcome that particular organization hence render it irrelevant.

To that end, it will also find difficulty attracting high-performance individuals and will only find those who are mediocre or non-motivated working for them, which is the final nail into the coffin really.

This chicken and egg dilemma in the long run will leave the organizational wasted and dysfunctional, if not as we have already guessed, not sustainable and perishable. This example may also work for any individual or society of people.

“Most of us are trap in doing what we know rather than what we need” according to a certain Haji Zaid Kamaruddin, the head of Jemaah Islah Malaysia during my visit recently to Kuala Lumpur.

To do something what we need requires the ability to look at things from a macro point of view. It requires one to understand the environment that it operates and identify the gaps that exist. In order to do that, one need to step out from the ordinary day-to-day administration mode and look beyond the horizon. This, I believe, is crucial for the leaders of today’s organization to be relevant.

During a presentation by the National CTO of Korea and the former CEO of Samsung Semiconductors, Dr. Chang-Gyu Hwang, I was impressed by the forward looking and sense-making (which I am sure was the larger element of the former) that Samsung significantly invest and later implement through development of its product that aims “to serve humanity”.

This is a case in point of the ability to look beyond the day-to-day and understand emerging trends thus positioning oneself in the value or supply chain. In doing that, Samsung is one of the leading manufacturing businesses to date. It is one of two corporations that have achieved a net profit of over 10-billion dollars so far. Looking beyond the monetary achievement, the success that Samsung has enjoyed so far is a huge lesson for any organizations that aim to create huge impact.

The underlying philosophy behind Samsung’s growth is according to Dr. Hwang the ability to look at the human need broadly as it adapts to the environment – and asking “what else”. However the engine behind that is (1) risk-taking (2) creativity and innovation (3) investment in human capital (4) and lots of hard work. The last point is my own observation but I suspect is potentially the biggest element.

Today, the well-funded R&D laboratories of Samsung are in the process of new products that will allow humanity to adapt better to society and addressing global issues (i.e. energy renewal, better human interactions, etc.). In other words, the Galaxy Tabs, and others is merely a tip of the iceberg. Not bad for a semiconductor company in its early days.

As a Muslim, I can’t help but to ask where are we in all this? Are the Muslims in Singapore well adapted and ready to be part of this value chain? The earlier Scientific Renaissance of the Muslim world highlights the non-aversion of Islam for science and technology yet today we find ourselves lacking in these very areas. Are we today still stuck in the polemics between schools of thought that that becomes the primary focus of the day rather than re-establishing our roles as “khalifah”(s) – not a world domineering totalitarian element but one that facilitates and adds value to humanity. Have we given too much credit to colonialist element of the pass (or remnants of it in the present) to render us still unable to overcome it? We are not impressed by the billion of dollars earnings (because our worldview celebrate success with a different yardstick) but the impact into society, and the ability for such and impact, that by default should be the role of anyone Muslim that, I believe, is sorely lacking today. Think big.

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