Firdaus Zulkifli
Firdaus Zulkifli is part of a team of change makers at Genovasi who aspire to make Malaysia a better place through education and design.


We should move ahead instead of arguing over who gets the bigger slice of the pie.

WHY do you want to join us? Asked this question at my last job interview, I replied: “It is quite depressing reading the complaints about the country on Facebook. I want to be part of the solution and not just part of the problem.”

I honestly do not know if that got me the job but I can still remember my answer because it came from deep inside me.

This was in 2013 around the time of the general election and everybody had an opinion on the polls. Every day, people posted their comments on the elections. What bothered me the most was the amount of negativity surrounding it.

At that time, we had just had our third daughter and as a father, you cannot stop thinking about your children’s future. You ask yourself, what is to become of the country and what is to become of their future. The amount of whining on the Facebook wall was overwhelming although we were all entitled to our opinions. It was a time when everybody commented first and only thought about what they had written after hitting the “Enter” key.

It worried me because there was a lot of complaining and many of us were finding faults and pointing fingers without offering any constructive ideas or solutions.

Was this the kind of environment that we want our daughters to grow up in? An environment where people were constantly blaming each other and focusing on themselves? We were no longer moving together but instead, moving apart.

It was then that I decided I wanted to pursue a career that would have an impact and contribute towards the betterment of the country. While it sounded idealistic, it was a decision I made because I wanted to take action, in a positive way. Ultimately, fate brought me to Genovasi, a transformative learning institution.

At Genovasi, I was introduced to Design Thinking, where one of the main foundations was empathy. Everybody knows about empathy but it is interesting how a lot of us take it for granted. It never fails to amaze me how difficult it is for us to teach empathy and it is even more amazing to see the positive behaviour shift once it is internalised.

The more I learned about it, the more I wondered if this is one fundamental aspect that Malaysians have forgotten. More and more, we see extremists making the headlines; and we are sometimes guilty of becoming part of it. Could the extreme personalities, who are mushrooming, be a result of our current environment where the people are concerned only about achieving their own personal, racial and party goals?

We no longer think about others, we no longer want to listen to the needs of others or put ourselves in their shoes? As they say, context provides content.

Another fundamental of Design Thinking is developing multidisciplinary teams – in other words, you need to work in teams of people with different backgrounds. This was another eye-opener for me. Here, in at Stanford where creativity and human centred innovation are the cornerstone of Design Thinking, you can see it in action. You hardly see one person working alone. Everyone recognises the importance and value of diversity. Look around the Silicone Valley and you will be surprised at how diverse the environment and the people are. You can even find tempeh (fermented soy patty) served in Stanford. Yes, that is how far they have come.

Over here, you cannot help but notice how infectious the growth mentality and attitude are towards collaboration. It is not by coincidence that this positive culture is the breeding ground for innovation and entrepreneurship. Problems are being solved and wealth created. Here you see people with design, engineering, medical, arts and business backgrounds working together. Most impressive is that it is not just multidisciplinary but also multi­cultural. It is an environment with a lot of diversity surrounding it and one can see how constructive tension and differences can lead to great possibilities.

A number of people think that maintaining one’s cultural identity is a hindrance to Malaysian unity. We should in fact embrace this difference in a positive way. Provided we look at each other as positive contributors for a better Malaysia and not as another person or entity who is going to take away the things that he or she is entitled to.

The entire world is progressing at a blistering pace; we are constantly learning to work with one another to create things that will contribute to human society. As Malaysians we should ask ourselves, do we want to move ahead and catch up with the pace or do we still want to argue over who gets the bigger slice of he pie?

Ever since I learned this, I told myself I want to share it with others. I want people to realise that there is always a way to solve things positively. I happen to have Design Thinking as a tool and I am sure there are other ways that are equal or even better to improve our lives. I would say use it and share it with others. Nothing bad ever comes from sharing knowledge.

There are a lot of things to love about this country and our diversity is one of them. We just need to rediscover our ability to empathise with one another. Empathy can be taught, I truly believe it.

I recently watched a documentary called A Class Divided, a story about a teacher who ran an extreme experiment to teach empathy as a way to address racism, and was so moved by it.

Watch it, then reflect and ask yourself, do you still want to think about your own gains or do you want to move forward together?

Originally published on The Star on Sunday February 8, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM

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