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Can Asians innovate?

Zafar Anjum | May 30, 2014
According to Kishore Mahbubani, this is Asia’s moment in history and waves of inventions will transform Asia.

Mahbubani gave many examples to illustrate his point. Most of them were around the increasing ownership of cellphones among the Asians. Four years ago, there were about 70-80 million smartphones in Asia. Today, we have 800 million smartphones in Asia. That is a ten fold rise in numbers. It will have huge implications, he said. This kind of connectivity is going to provide the platform for innovation in the next coming years, he predicted.

Similarly, he said, quoting a researcher in China, that what's happening in the Chinese Internet world is more innovative than what's happening in the same space anywhere else. What's baffling is how is this innovation happening in a closed society like China, he wondered.

The East vs. the West

However, innovation is not a zero sum game, and on this both Jefferey and Mahbubani agreed. "We will all be learning from each other," Mahbubani said, emphasizing the opportunities that both the East and the West have in front of them.

For example, talent goes from Bangalore to Silicon Valley and vice versa, cross-pollinating the culture of innovation in Asia and the USA. "In the last 30 years we have seen more change than in the last 300 years," Mahbubani said. "We will see even more change in the next 30 years."

Even though Mahbubani is a great admirer of Steve Jobs and Elan Musk, he said Asia differs from the West in terms of leadership. Asians believe in collaborative innovation. He gave the example of Apple and Samsung. Everybody knows that Apple is Jobs' baby but who is the father of Samsung? Have you heard of any Steve Jobs in Samsung? How come you haven't? Actually, there aren't any Jobs like figures at Sumsung and yet, they are able to compete successfully with Apple. This is an example of collaborative innovation. "The American strength is in individualism," Mahbubani said. "Asians are much more collaborative."

Mahbubani also discussed the education system in Asia in relation to the education system in the West. "Our children are exam smart but not life smart," Mahbubani admitted. "Asians will continue to learn from the west in creativity."

Mahbubani also commented on the surfeit of information that we have subjected our lives to. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? How do we deal with it? "We have too much information," he said. "Our capacity to step back and look at the data and make sense of it will determine our success."

Invention by Design and Inventing ecosystems

Mahbubani's session was followed by two panel discussions. The participants were Edward Jung, founder and CTO, Intellectual Ventures; Susmita Mohanty, CEO-India, Earth2Orbit (E20); Raj Thampuran, MD, ASTAR; and Wong Meng Weng, co-founder and chairman, JFDI.Asia. 


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