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How Malaysia can embrace technological change the right way

A recent report noted that while we place a high value on antiques, in terms of quantity (financial worth) and quality, the opposite is the case in management. While antique paintings and etchings are priceless because of their antiquity, the inability to adapt to technological change in management would result in obsolescence.

In 1999, a Malaysian research institute organised a seminar that touched on how converging technologies would change the way we live and do things. The take-home message from that seminar was that technology is fast-changing to the extent that one day, all we need is just a device in our hands to get things done.

At the time, one had to dial a four-digit number to access the Internet and the best a mobile phone could do was to send simple text messages. It was not surprising, therefore, to see most participants in that seminar dismissing the message as a far-fetched dream.

Fast forward to 2018, one would find it difficult to imagine living without smart devices.

As a result of technological advancements, the world is becoming more interconnected and complex. Data is an invaluable asset. Barriers, such as physical distance, geographical borders or time zones, are irrelevant. Communication is in real time.

These changes demand that individuals and organisations respond quickly and adapt effectively.

In other words, they must be prepared to change with the times. This is what a famous author wrote in his book, which was published over two decades ago. He urged readers to equip themselves “with strategies to lead when the only rule is the change”.

It is imperative that at every level of management and society, technological changes should not be resisted, but be cautiously embraced with wisdom.

This means that we have to ensure that technological changes work for us, rather than against us. We must be wise in deciding what technological change is beneficial and what is detrimental.

It is necessary for leaders to map out strategies and skills needed to enable the creation of opportunities that arise from “destructive technologies”.

The author correctly pointed out that new leaders are those who benefit most from these changes, and that most of the changes are created by the new leaders themselves.

We can analogise these leaders as surfers who ride the waves of change, harnessing their skills and knowledge to make them go where they want. Instead of repelling change or surrendering blindly to change, they adapt it into their leadership style.

Today, people are talking about the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). The founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum outlined three key clusters that will see profound changes — physical, digital and biological.

In the physical cluster, technological changes can be seen in the development of autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, advanced robotics and the introduction of new materials that are lighter, stronger, recyclable and adaptive.

In the digital cluster, we have the Internet of Things, where people are connected with each other using technologies and platforms.

Rapid advancements in the fields of “omics”, such as genomics, proteomics and metabolomics, are driving changes in the biological cluster.

The challenge is not whether we are ready for change, as it is already here. Instead, what we should think about is how to tackle the changes brought about by technological advancements.

In the context of Malaysia, it is important for the country to identify niche technological areas that can be harnessed and developed. Realistically speaking, we would not be able to be involved in the development of everything under the sun.

In view of this, the Academy of Sciences Malaysia has identified five broad areas that Malaysia should focus on in the next three decades:

  1. Biotechnology;
  2. Digital technology;
  3. Green technology;
  4. Nanotechnology; and,
  5. Neurotechnology

The ability to learn, master, utilise and develop these technologies is crucial in ensuring that Malaysia is not left behind.

Leaders at all levels must realise that learning is a continuous pursuit and that adopting and adapting to technological change using wisdom is the key to success.

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