TEDxSingapore Founder on the Importance of Innovation

TEDxSingapore Founder on the Importance of Innovation

Published 14th February 2018
Sara R Moulton

Editor of HQ Asia

Published 14th February 2018

HQ Asia speaks with Dave Lim, serial innovator and TEDxSingapore founder, about the intersection of ideas and innovation.

When we spoke, Dave Lim referenced Singapore's history, specifically that she used to be a hub for manufacturing in-demand goods like clothing and electronics. Now, most of us would not look to Singapore as a manufacturer, but rather as the business headquarters and place for ideas and innovation in Southeast Asia. 

A mind-set shift

"We need to move from making for people to creating and celebrating our own original and creative ideas," Lim explains. In the context of work, he states that most idea generation tends to be done in silos, which needs to change. This is because it impedes thinking of radical new ideas. "When an architect meets an environmentalist, new ideas and synergies emerge. Get out of your silo," he says.

"We need to have a Renaissance and place emphasis on multi-disciplinary ideas. Let's celebrate entrepreneurship," Lim says.

When asked for an example from Singapore, he shares the story of Singapore Airlines (SIA) and how they evolved the experience of flying. "It took the same innovative thinking that Elon Musk does for his companies, that Steve Jobs did for Apple. To stand out from established airlines, SIA radically innovated to offer free drinks, headsets and blankets, and stewardesses dressed in kebayas rather than the usual military-looking uniforms" explains Lim.

Every venture he has built or invested in has focused on radical new ideas and value. Lim has worn many hats—venture capitalist, member of the leadership team for Singapore's Singularity University (a Silicon Valley venture exponential technologies), entrepreneur hired as part of the "Google X" of Coca-Cola. Lim was brought in to build  radically new businesses for Coca-Cola. Each opportunity required a collaborative approach and openness to ideas.

The two types of innovation

Radical innovation is where there is non-linear challenge to your core business. Airbnb is an example of a radical innovation that has far-reaching impact on the hotel industry. Lim says as much as 20-30% of hotel revenue has been diverted to Airbnb. Now, hotels are forced to adapt, and even partner, with Airbnb. 

"There is no definitive answer for what the company needs, which is why leaders have to be involved in the innovation process and not outsource understanding," explains Lim.

Ask yourself: Can you identify the radical innovations emerging in your industry? Are you the disruptor or the disrupted?

Adaptive innovation is incremental change in a business. An example of regulated innovation is a company moving from using a paper brochure to a website. Most companies have less challenges with linear and adaptive innovation, explains Lim.

Ask yourself: What incremental innovations can your company undertake to better serve your customers?

Also, innovating is metaphorically like being a chef: imagine you are cooking up a new dish. In order for the dish to be successful, you need to have all the right ingredients. Lim says that many ventures fail because one key 'ingredient' is missing. Maybe the venture requires insight into how people behave and therefore needs to bring a social scientist onto the team.

Lim shares this advice for how to incorporate innovative thinking into your organisation:

1. Figure out the type of innovation

"Get external inspiration but be involved in the process," Lim says. If your company is looking to do radical innovation, it likely needs to come with outside elements and involvement. In addition to being involved in the innovation, Lim shares that "management needs to spend time outside of office. Advise them to join an entrepreneur group, mentor start-ups, reverse mentorship from younger employees, or even begin a habit watching TED talks".

Resources that Lim turns to for advice or ideas:

  • The Innovation Paradox, Tony Davila and Marc Epstein
  • Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
  • Buy-in: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down, John P. Kotter and Lorne A.
  • White head
  • TED Talks: The Official TED guide to Public Speaking, Chris Andersen

2. What to avoid

While you can seek consultation or advice, Lim advises that leaders be hands-on with the process and implementation. This means that a company can engage a design thinking firm like IDEO, but the company needs to be driving the change. During Lim's time at Coca-Cola, he and his team member had the mandate on what to build in order to break into the realm of more radical innovation, but still involved the senior management.

Walking the talk

Lim founded TEDxSingapore eight years ago, which has grown into a community of 250,000 comprised of even attendees and social media followers. "It is a group of people who value ideas and want to build a better future for us all".

While TEDxSingapore has grown tremendously, Lim does agree that not all innovation is successful from the get-go. "From the beginning, expect to not succeed at first, but you need to persist". He likens this to learning to ride a bike as a child—you never get it right the first time, but with enough practice, eventually we learn to balance.

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