INNOVATION WITH VALUES
Mohamed Ridza Wahiddin, PhD, DSc
Deputy Rector ( Research & Innovation)
FAQs: Let us start with several related Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) among the IIUM academics for context setting purposes. What is innovation? Can I continue teaching without doing research? Why must I do research when IIUM is not one of the research universities recognised by Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE)? What’s in it for me?
IIUM started as a teaching university in 1983. It was only about a decade ago when R&D is thrust into the limelight. Today, many IIUM academics are still resisting to embrace the culture of R&D or culture of innovation as sometimes it is known. Despite the not so encouraging picture above IIUM has been consistently sixth and not too far behind the five Malaysian research universities in the QS World University Rankings. In December 2014 IIUM has also been recognised as the Premier International Islamic Research University (PREMIER) by ISESCO. This is mainly attributed to the Pareto Principle where 20 percent of the IIUM academics had significantly contributed to the university innovation agenda. So what will it take to sustain the PREMIER status?
Innovation during the time of the Prophet SAW:Creativity and innovation have been shown by the Prophet (PBUH). For instance, not many Muslims and the enemy were killed in battles during his prophet hood. In fact, Islam quickly spread across Arabian Peninsula within ten years after the migration of the Prophet (PBUH) and his companions to Medina. This was a remarkable achievement because we often note from history many are killed from both sides of warring parties. The battles fought during the time of the Prophet (PBUH) do not leave a trail of mass destruction since Islam does not allow the killing of the weak and the destruction of buildings and gardens. Even the companions of the Prophet (PBUH) have practiced creativity and innovation. Suhaib Ar-Rumi was the one who suggested to build a trench in the Battle of the Trench that ultimately resulted in a defeat for the forces of the enemies of the Muslims. This technique was not known among the attacking Arabs then. A more detailed account of creativity and innovation demonstrated by the Prophet (PBUH) is given in .
Innovation in Malaysia:Malaysia economy has gone through three phases: resource based economy, labour intensive economy and currently knowledge economy. In k-economy intellectual properties are the dominating assets. The challenge is to effectively manage both explicit and tacit knowledge associated with knowledge workers. Creativity and innovation are the driver and enabler for Malaysia to compete in the global market. There are many initiatives and incentives that have already existed and existing to facilitate innovation in the country.
What is innovation?Creativity may simply be defined as making the connection between two things that have not been previously connected. For example, making the connection between piano keys and writing had resulted in the typewriter which today is the computer with its keyboard. Innovation is taking creativity to the next level. It is realising any creative idea to solve problem(s): a new process, method or process that adds value to the end user. Everyone can innovate provided they are interested to do so.
Conscience is the bedrock of innovation:In the film ‘Meet Joe Black’ billionaire media mogul William "Bill" Parrish (played by Anthony Hopkins) rejected a merger between his company and another media giant. The book ‘Excellence without a Soul’ authored by Harry Lewis, a Harvard professor for more than thirty years and Dean of Harvard College for eight; he lamented on how the great universities in the United States have abandoned their mission. The devastating catastrophe of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that resulted in 90 percent of physicians and nurses killed or injured; 42 of 45 hospitals rendered non-functional; and 70 percent of victims had combined injuries, in most cases, severe burns. Most of them died without any care to ease their suffering. Even those who came to rescue also died from the radiation. Einstein shortly before his death said “I made one great mistake in my life … when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made”.
What is the common theme in the three scenarios above? Conscience! Conscience is the voice of the soul (Polish proverb). “Without work, all life goes rotten, but when work is soulless, life stifles and dies” said Albert Camus 1913–60, French Nobel laureate novelist, dramatist, and essayist.
Let us now try to understand the link between conscience and action. When we wish to write our names it is first conceived in our hearts. The desire is then conveyed to the brain, and the form of letters takes shape in the thought chambers of the brain. These signals travelled through our nerves, and eventually instruct our fingers to move the pencil to trace out our names. It is inconceivable for a soul to allow its lower faculties to dominate the higher. Furthermore, if passion and resentment master reason, the soul will be ruined. According to Lao Tzu, a philosopher and poet (571-531 BCE) all streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. Humility gives it its power.
Innovation with values: We need to understand firstly, innovation is a new way of doing things that adds value to the end user. More importantly, what we need to drive home in this article is innovation without conscience or innovation without values is lame! It is therefore important for the innovator’s conscience to act as a guide to accomplish his or her innovation. It is natural to restore a balance between conscience, economic needs and technology needs.
Innovation in IIUM:It is clear from the preceding paragraph that innovation consists of two components: the tangible (new process, method or product) and the intangible (conscience driven purpose). Virtually all metrics today are based on tangibles. This is evident if we look at how annual KPI (Key Performance Indicator) are developed and monitored. The same applies to the many renowned university rankings. Finding the right balance between KPI and KIP (Key Intangible Performance) however is gaining popularity as highlighted in the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education); examples include it is now more relevant to talk about talent instead of human capital, and also the intention to roll out the integrated CGPA. The interested reader may refer to  to have a better picture of KPI versus KIP.
In order to nurture and sustain a culture of innovation with values in IIUM there has to be a strong commitment from the many stakeholders. The University Management Committee spearheaded by the Rector will need to walk the talk so that the followers will be able to emulate their role models. The academics will need to engage better their students through innovative means so that everyone understand no (wo)man should escape IIUM without knowing how little (s)he knows. The Board of Governors on the other hand is responsible to inject consciousness into the system for it to migrate from an arrogant, hierarchical and rigid mind set to a humility, networked and flexible one.
Recommended immediate action plan to realise the above: (1) intensive university wide awareness campaign on culture of innovation with values, and (2) setting up of a project management office (PMO) under the Deputy Rector (Research and Innovation) to monitor and manage IIUM ICT and Research projects without fear or favour.
Conclusion: Innovation with conscience is the way forward to address the various problems in the world today and in the future. There is a deep rooted difference between talking and communicating, between studying and learning, hearing and listening, and efficient and effective. These will determine whether we are human doings or human beings.
1. Adibah Sulaiman et al., “Creativity and Innovation in Islam: It’s Necessity in Islamic Education”, The Social Sciences, 10, 61-66 (2015).
2. Tajul Ariffin Masron et al., “Key Performance Indicators vs Key Intangible Performance among Academic Staff: A case study of public university in Malaysia”, Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 56, 494 – 503 (2012).