If I had to use one word to describe myself, I would choose 'epistemophilic'. If I were to choose a word to describe my vocation, then I am a 'Generalist'. I believe I can do many things. My strongest trait - tenacity. When I'm onto something, I will not give it up easily.
I grew up being curious about how the world works and I became passionate about seeking the truth.
When the Internet came to Malaysia I wanted to be one of the firsts to get online so I can access the Arthur Andersen Global Best Practices remotely. It helped me stay ahead of my colleagues and clients. I became fascinated with business systems and processes.
Processes are modelled to make success repeatable. They are know-hows that involve the interplay of many disciplines. Economics, environmental science, industrial design, engineering, human psychology, statistics and sociology are stacked up together to create value. There is a terminology for this multidisciplinary science. Its called 'cybernetics'. Norbert Wiener invented the word cybernetics at the first Macy Conference in 1941.
I left Andersen after 5 years and started my own internal audit firm at the age of 25. During that time, Asia was facing a serious financial crisis and I wanted to help clients from the inside. As pioneer professional internal auditor, I had exported Malaysia services to Hong Kong, Japan, mainland China and Singapore. At one time, I was the chief internal auditor for 30 public listed firms concurrently.
The clients that impressed me most was Warner-Lambert and Pfizer. I had to deal with their SVP who was the President of IIA Inc. in the US. That's the Godfather of the entire internal audit profession. I was still in my mid-20s and learned that American companies were at least 30 years ahead in management applications. China is catching up today.
I became absorbed in the theory of knowledge. Why is Malaysia so far behind? We could lead instead of follow.
In internal auditing, we had to perform basic risk assessment to prioritise areas to focus on. Higher risks warrant more attention. That's when I connect the concept of risk back to the science of probability. The environment around us is dynamic. Their events and causalities pose threats to business processes. They are risks that can be managed.
Risk management has existed for a long time in the banking industry. Banking risk concepts, whether market, credit or operational risk, are meant for capital charge; reserves. 'Capital charge' is a way to set aside sums for rainy days for the banks. It cannot be applied to treat risks across operations like quality and product design. Financial contingency methods cannot predict the likelihood of structural damages in engineering. And it cannot tell us the most likely cause of a pollution disaster for example.
I took the opportunity to design a universal risk management software that can be used for any industry. This is before ISO 31000 came into existence. We used Bayesian statistics to predict causalities with limited data and incorporated machine learning to gradually improve accuracy. This was artificial intelligence in 2008. I personally funded the development and it was the biggest tech rollout for risk management outside the banking industry. Despite the successful implementation, the market just wasn't ready.
Risk management needed to go beyond basic identification and assessment. They need proper scientific treatment and systematic methods to solve them. Innovation makes a perfect match. Systematic innovation is an itinerary-based process that can be learned by anyone. Risk treatment cannot be confined to tightening controls.
I delved into design thinking and TRIZ (Theory of Inventive Problem Solving). Going deeper into innovation projects made me realised that Malaysians are actually creative. But they are solving problems that don't sell very well. Innovation means making creative products that sell.
But why aren't there many game-changing innovations from Malaysia? It dawned upon me that we need to understand the way of life and the dynamic workings of society to innovate successfully. Way of life influences consumption trends. If we understand "culture" (way of life), we would be able to design innovative products.
My quests to understand culture led me to the arts. Arts span across music, literature, performances and fine art. I picked fine art because it is more abstract. If I could understand how fine art operates, I would be able to hack the science of creativity. I interviewed 300 art-people within a year, organized the National Arts Symposium, conducted 25 forums, founded the Art Appraisal Society and developed an art appraisal and valuation standard. I gave them all back to the art community.
Art is a medium of expression. The success of art is measured by their social traction. It is about how well an artist can transform his medium into a media of expression. One can be the most talented artist in the world but if no one is interested to understand him, the artist has failed.
So what are the sources of inspiration in producing arts? That was when I learned about social sciences and cultural anthropology. I became fascinated with the Honing Theory of Creativity by Liane Gabora.
A few years ago, I figured Malaysia's underlying problem is economic rationing. Public policies that were introduced to induce the fairer distribution of wealth instead created inequities. How is this possible when Malaysia is rich in natural resources, our backyard is a world-class sanctuary for biodiversity and our strategic location in the East-West maritime trading route? We could have been one of the most advanced and prosperous societies in the world.
The answer is weak planning and leadership. Hence I am embarking on a journey to gather clear thinking and magnanimous Malaysians to backup and complement our leaders in addressing socioeconomic issues.