I suppose I should have remembered that the best place to hide something is in plain sight after my wife managed to get her new coat into the home without me noticing it by wearing it!
I have just come back from a holiday in Malaysia and, as is my wont, I was looking around for innovation and entrepreneurship. Having been very impressed with Malaysia as a country, I was beginning to show disappointment that this aspect of life appeared to be lacking.
While there were a plethora of small businesses wherever one went, there didn’t seem to be anything new or innovative. Indeed, many businesses seemed to have been handed down from generation to generation. But then, I have always believed that ‘if it isn’t broken don’t fix it’!
I was becoming increasingly confused as much of what I was seeing harked back to the past and yet integrated with modern cities and towns. Eventually I was forced to look deeper and suddenly realised that the seamless integration of modern innovation and traditional life has created the Malaysia that I was beginning to love.
Simple innovations such as the free buses that move around the central destinations in a town have removed much of the traffic and have become a boon to the high volume of tourist trade that Malaysia relies on.
This is further enhanced by a transport system that integrates cheap bus and light railway travel with an efficient and clean train service the length of the country. The train service even links with the decades old ferry service to the island of Penang.
Other transport innovations mean that people can check in for flights in Kuala Lumpur at the central railway station and then take the express straight into the airport. The central station also acts as the hub for the many light railway services across KL so that airport travel is quick and avoids traffic.
Where there is heavy traffic, highways are speeded up by the use of automatic tolls with two options. There are fast automatic lanes for those in a hurry, whilst others can use ‘touch and go’ which is slower but offers a discount.
You also notice that the use of the Internet is all pervasive. Whether it is free internet in shopping malls to get your email address to continue to send you offers and announcements, to restaurant booking apps that can send you details of restaurants that are likely to fit your profile; Malaysia’s version of UBER called GRAB; and automatic ticket booking and dispatch to Smart phones, it is impossible to survive a day without contact.
At the same time, they also like to ensure that Facebook addicts do not disturb events. So theatres have a person with a laser high up that spots potential infringers and points them out to ushers to halt it before it starts. For the first time in ages I was able to attend a symphony concert without being interrupted by flashing screens.
One of those restaurant-booking apps did lead me to a truly innovative experience. My wife and I went to a restaurant owned by top chef, James Won, to experience his Tapestry Malaysia.
This restaurant experience seeks to give you an experience that utilises all of the senses. Not only is the menu an amazing fine dining experience from representative foods of Malaysia, it is accompanied by sights, sounds smells and the use of touch to enhance the experience. It is achieved through360 degree projection that includes the table as well as all of the walls. Imagine eating the fish course from a table with water projected on it and fish swimming all around you through wall projection.
Given the restaurant is the only one in the world apart from one in Shanghai; I think it can be called innovative.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have taken so long to see the contents of my new book of Entrepreneurship in 21stCentury manifesting itself in Malaysia. I blame it on relaxing too much on holiday; or perhaps residual Western arrogance!
By the time I left, I had realised that Malaysian entrepreneurship is a happy partnership between the old and the new, with innovation solving real problems whilst recognising the importance of existing skills and industry. I saw much more of integration between private and public enterprise and much more of a synergy between the old and the new, along with less gee-whiz for the sake of it.
Perhaps the phrase for the 21stCentury should be ‘Go East young man, go East’!