Firdaus Zulkifli
 Project Maestro, Genovasi



The first thing that comes to mind when I was asked to write about this, is to reflect on how I started my journey with Genovasi. Therefore, to answer the question of ‘Why Design Thinking’ let me share how I started with Genovasi. Rather than throw facts such as  “Economic Strategies Committee’s recommended to prepare the workforce with design thinking capabilities for productivity, competitiveness and sustainable growth” (that’s our neighbours down South by the way).  I prefer to tell a story of how I started..similar to the style of Andrew Stanton, the ‘Toy Story’ filmmaker.

At the end of 2012, I was in the market for a new challenge and at that time it was the height of GE13.  Back then, if you remembered, browsing Facebook was so depressing, there were so many people complaining and arguing over everything. Entertainment for some, but for a father like me, who has got 3 girls who will be growing up in this beloved country, it was a great concern. What can I do? I put a lot of thought into it and tried to apply for a position at “The Driver”, my background experience perfectly suited what they were doing and I wanted to do something positive for the country. I went through the assessment and 2 rounds of interview so things were looking rather promising.  While at the same time I had a call from an ex-colleague asking if I would be interested to join this new startup called Genovasi. I have always loved working in startups, my first ever company was a startup, so the thought of being part of a company in its infancy still excites me. Furthermore Genovasi was also trying to contribute to the country; suddenly I had a pleasant dilemma to deal with.

Genovasi recommended me to come for the trainer’s assessment first so that I would understand what it is really about – this Design Thinking that they were doing. Just like you, when I first heard about Design Thinking I thought that it was a Designer’s framework or tool. The more I learned about it, the more I realised it had nothing to do with pure Designing and even Thinking …it was actually more Doing and Making. I managed to understand the concept but the first time I had to coach, it was a total disaster, lol. Thank god one of Genovasi’s twelve commandments was fail early and fail often. Fail early I did. Though my first experience coaching Design Thinking was challenging, I was able to understand the framework mainly because for a majority of my career, I played the role of an analyst or consultant whose role was to fix problems by bridging the gap between the solution team and the client, i.e understanding their problems and coming up with solutions. It was not an easy task, this picture described perfectly the challenges:



Therefore, I really appreciated the ethos of Design Thinking, in terms of how its structured process while simple, was so effective at managing risk while delivering solutions that encourages creativity and teamwork. All the elements that have been recognized to be important, yet people easily take for granted.

Firstly, just take empathy. If you think about it, it is rather obvious that it is fundamental when faced with any problem. Then again we neglect it, as we have been conditioned to always come out with the answer the moment we are faced with problems. For this reason we love to adopt solutions that worked excellently for others but for some strange reasons do not yield the same results.

Eric Ries the author of ‘The Lean Startup’ pointed out, “In the old economy, it was all about having the answers. But in today’s dynamic, lean economy, it’s about asking the right question”. Which is why in Design Thinking, empathy is crucial and that is how risk is managed. Rather than assume, we minimise the grey areas by inferring through stories that we discover on to the ground, exploring and researching. Continuously seeking the right question to answer before using creativity to answer it.

Another aspect was how Design Thinking heavily emphasises on Teaming and Collaboration in a multidisciplinary environment. A method that’s proven to mitigate risk in projects, in Harvard Business Review on Managing Project (“Why Good Projects Fail Anyway”) one way to address “White Space Risk” (risk that cant be ascertain in advance) is by going vertical where cross-functional efforts are required. Almost similar to multidisciplinary team where differences in background and skills are not a hindrance but are embraced.

So when I completed the assessment, it was such a breath of fresh air and to think that it is part of an initiative to help youth to improve and contribute to a better Malaysia. I felt that it was a really good programme and how could one go wrong if he was to contribute to society through education. Then again career wise, never in my wildest dream would I think of becoming an educator, so I was still hopeful for “The Driver” to give me a call. I really thought I had a chance there but the call did not come. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed but today when I reflect…it happened for a reason. Serendipity, rezeki, fate …whatever you call it, I truly believed I was meant to be at Genovasi. It helped when I saw the people who were part of Genovasi were those who have proven to deliver in whatever they do.


So I made the decision. It turns out to be the best decision I have made in my life so far. It was truly a blessing. One should realise that anywhere you go, there will be problems and anyone can complaint. Either you want to be part of the solution or just the problem. I chose Design Thinking because I want to be part of the solution and that is my answer to the question on “Why Design Thinking?”

Firdaus Zulkifli

Project Maestro, Genovasi