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Driving Impactful Change through Innovation: Key Lessons for Malaysia

By Rahul Gupta, Regional Managing Director, Head Business Development & Growth, ASEAN, General Electric (GE)

Whether it is early man’s first use of fire or the birth of the space shuttle, innovation has always been the major catalyst behind the success of mankind. Some of these breakthroughs brought about immediate change, while others humbly laid the groundwork for important developments down the road.

At GE, innovation is at the core of our existence. We have been driving innovation for more than 140 years; from the day our founder, Thomas Edison invented the light bulb in 1879. During this period, we have observed that the key factors for successful innovation are having the dare to fail attitude by managing the risk and reward equation, being able to pivot and persevere and forming collaboration in innovation.

No doubt, individuals or businesses should try to prevent failure by being prepared and conducting thorough market research and risk assessment analysis for their products and ideas. Ultimately however, innovators and entrepreneurs need to follow their instincts and passion in turning ideas to reality and launching new products and services.  If they fail, they should not be disheartened. Instead, the actors for failure should be analysed and the key learnings used to try again. Sure, we have all heard of and been inspired by the many success stories that have emerged from Silicon Valley such as Facebook, Twitter, Airbnb, Netflix, Snapchat and more. These successes are often romanticised, even coming across as instant and overnight. Yet, what many fail to realise is that for every global success story, nine more have failed in its place. In fact, recent reports indicate that in 2013, the failure rate in Silicon Valley reached an all-time high at 93%.

Nevertheless, this should not discourage anyone with a vision to innovate. Due to the speed at which technology develops today, the cost of starting out has been greatly reduced and the innovation cycle has become shorter. Thus, the financial risks involved can be mitigated by learning to fail fast. This will ensure that they can get back on the bandwagon quicker and come back stronger than ever with that new winning idea. As GoPro billionaire founder Nick Woodman discovered after failing twice in the course of a few short years, the third time’s the charm.

Another crucial factor towards success in innovation is the ability to pivot and persevere. Today’s fast-paced market means that there are more opportunities. At the same time, success has become fleeting and uncertain. While passion and conviction in one’s pursuit are admirable qualities, it is also important to put emotions aside and evaluate plans and progress objectively. For example, if you know that there are competitors out there with better products and solutions than yours at the time of development, you will have to decide whether to alter your plans to face the competition or abandon your ideas for a different pursuit. This can be done effectively if you have the right support system within your organisation, regardless of whether you are a start-up answerable to venture capitalists or a large company accountable to shareholders.

At GE, we believe that there is no one set formula or path to success in innovation. Nor is there only one set of ideas that make up innovation. Innovation can be gradual and incremental like the jet engine. It could be sudden and disruptive like the Internet. It is important to understand that innovation is not always about an idealistic young person coming up with the next big idea to take the world by storm. It can be something as simple as adopting a different approach to processes within an organisation to drive better results and efficiency. Regardless, at the core of these developments are two things; embracing the innovation culture and forming collaborations in innovation.

By embracing the culture of innovation, organisations can develop a more effective innovation strategy that will spell out it’s mid to long term growth plans. This will of course require innovation enthusiasts within the organisation to act as the key protagonists who will drive the next level of innovative products and services within a company.

Likewise, by forging the right collaborations, individuals and organisations can scale their solutions and balance between what they want to create and what the market needs. At GE for example, our worldwide collaborations have allowed us to identify the commonalities and shared needs of many countries in our core business areas such as healthcare, aviation, power generation and more.  Common linkages and needs often emerge across geographies from South East Asia to Sub Saharan African to Latin America and more.  From there, our solutions are then scaled and modified for the market’s needs, such as changing the user interface of our GE Vscan Pocket Ultrasound device to the local language to enhance user experience while retaining the core functions of the technology.

I sincerely believe that Malaysia is at the precipice of an innovation breakthrough. In my many visits to this country, I have seen how the conversations around innovation have been ramping up, fueled by efforts from the government and the private sector. Malaysia is also starting to enhance interest in innovation amongst the younger generation while providing more opportunities for existing and aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs. Such initiatives will serve to boost the ecosystem and eventually result in Malaysian innovators driving impactful change not just locally but also around the world. This is something that Malaysia is ready for as it prepares for the final stretch of its journey towards becoming a developed high income nation. I am personally excited by this prospect and I hope that GE will continue to be Malaysia’s partner in turning these aspirations into reality.

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