Sunday, October 17, 2010

Where Ideas Go To Die

MORE than a year ago, our Science Ministry launched a website called MyIdeas. The thinking behind this is to get as many brilliant ideas, from all kinds of people, that can be implemented.

There are now some 6,037 ideas on the portal based on my last check yesterday. The very first idea posted on the website was "recognise and reward creativity and innovation at all levels through national and state innovation and creativity awards" by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

But if you click on the icon that says "ideas in action", which basically means what it says, it will tell you this: No ideas are in action yet.

That's a shame because don't tell me not one of the 6,037 ideas is worth carrying out.

Some ideas are quite interesting, like the one from Muhamad Zahin Shaharuddin who suggests having lockers at schools to deal with the problem of heavy bags. Nurul Syaza Sarkawi says the government should subsidise the price of bicycles so that Malaysians could cycle instead of drive to nearby places. Kogilavani Muniappan thinks young people should be taught or exposed to basic Internet laws or Copyright Acts, which would presumably improve society's awareness of piracy.

Author Frank McCourt in his book "Teacher Man" tells of how he had an epiphany of how to teach teenagers English during his days as a teacher in New York in the 1950s and 1960s. His students were resisting writing assignments but they were writing a lot of excuse notes, supposedly written by parents to explain why their kids had to miss class. Teachers knew these notes were mostly fiction. And that was when an idea struck him. He assigned them to write excuse notes for Lee Harvey Oswald (the guy who shot and killed a US president) and gangster Al Capone, among others.
McCourt's students loved it, the principal loved it and even the school supervisor loved it.
Is the MyIdeas portal a bad idea? No, of course not. But it needs to show results of ideas that have been or being implemented. Otherwise it will perpetuate the perception that we are a nation of planners and not doers.

One way to improve MyIdeas is to have a group of people that goes through all ideas and filter them down to the best 10. All of this must be communicated to users who obviously would want to know the progress and milestones of what they have proposed.

But we should not be thinking that just because MyIdeas is a government initiative, its implementation should be left to the government. Instead, some ideas could be carried out by the private sector, non-government organisations or even large charity organisations.

Although I have registered as a user of MyIdeas, I have yet to contribute anything to the site. The reason I registered was to check how the website was doing and whether there was a story in it. It turns out there was.

Good ideas are hard to come by, but even harder is to implement those ideas. But implementation is what gives ideas their value. A teacher, who carries out a good idea, would get students interested in knowledge.

So here is my idea. Universities should invite successful people to give talks at their graduation ceremonies. Malaysians, especially the young, could do with a little bit of inspiration. Steve Jobs, Apple Inc's founder, gave a good speech at Stanford University in 2005 and it's on Youtube. I highly recommend it.

Article written by: Shahriman Johari

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