Prof. Ricardo Lim – Address at IITD Convocation

Dr. (Prof.) Ricardo Lim, Dean, Asian Insitute of Management , Manila, Philipines addresses graduating managenent students at IIT Delhi over web-link. Following is the transcript of his inspiring speech.
June 22, 2013

Good evening, everyone. Can you hear me? Please wave if you can hear me.
To the Honorable Secretary, Mr. Pankaj Agrawala,
To the Professors and teachers of IIT-Delhi,
And most special today: to you graduating students, your families, and Guests.
Good evening from Manila.

Thank you for inviting me. IIT-Delhi is a most respected institution, and Indians (sincerely) are my most respected kind of people. From my 20 years experience at AIM our Indian students have been eloquent, assertive, and surely among the most perceptive of my students, bar none.

I presume many of you here have had careers in technology. I identify with you: I myself am an IT guy. We technologists, you and I, tend to live in a clean, black and white world: in this world bits are on or off, engines run or don’t, bridges stay or fall with precise explanation. But like many of you today, I switched from technology to management, a necessary next step in a technical person’s journey. We have to do it, to go up the ranks. And like me, you will learn quickly that managing people, unlike machines, is anything but black and white. You come into grey, where people mean yes even if they say no. Where people half run and half don’t run (this is possible), and people’s explanations expectations are never precise.
It is a necessary journey for all techies to go to management, because our logical reasoning and rigorous training help us cope with a complex, vague world that is becoming greyer as we speak.
I understand you learned about creativity and innovation. Certainly Creativity & Innovation are key to managing the greyness, keeping ahead of the pack, especially in a intimidating market like India—imagine, a market of 1.4 billion people? If I told you 20 years ago, that each of your billion and a half people were all potential buyers of mobile phones, computers, and cars, you would have laughed at me. If I told you twenty years ago that a skinny 16-year-old named Sachin Tendulkar would own all the cricket records and ten Ferraris, you would have died laughing, too.
Today that is a reality. Anyone can afford a smart phone now. There are $ 20 Raspberry Pis. The Tata Nano! You would have laughed at me, truly, if I said these things 20 years ago.
But beyond one lakh cars Indians must innovate further—for your govt services to get better, for your rural poor to catch up with the urban, for food to be distributed faster and cheaper, for kids to be educated in quality ways.
You don’t have to go far to get the best book today on innovation. It is by Indians. That book of course is Jugaad: it is a well-written, practical manual on how you can innovate for your organizations. I won’t repeat its lessons, because you should read it yourself.
What I can contribute to you, to you graduates today— what I can contribute are four words for your own personal journey on innovation and creativity.

I choose four simple words for your journey. They are: failure, reinvention, truth, and wisdom.
First, failure. You must learn to experience failure, and embrace failure. Failure is a great teacher. Failure indicates than you are trying things, rather than playing it safe. At IDEO in California, the famous design firm, they have a motto: fail often to succeed sooner. This is now the mantra of lean start-ups and extreme programming, rapid prototyping.
Failure could comes from ignorance. But know that the out-of-the-box economist Albert Hirschman felt that creativity is the brainchild of ignorance. The trick, he says, is not to plan too much, to take chances, to venture into uncharted waters. Do not worry about thinking everything through.

Not thinking is anathema to us technologists: sometimes we are smart–perhaps too smart–and we scare ourselves into not doing things, because the things are too risky or too inefficient or “impossible.” Hirschman says that even when projects go awry, once faced with an imperfect plan and crisis, creativity and innovation occur. Better solutions emerge. Therefore here I say you must do the opposite of thinking: dare to do things that you have not done before. Risk failure, and if you fail, great! Your natural Creativity & Innovation will come out: you will learn to work around the problem.

My second lesson is reinvention. At 28 I got my MBA and moved from tech to management. At 31 I quit to become a teacher. At 37 I took my PhD. At 43 I became an administrator. At 51, I became the head of AIM. Two years from now? Another job? Another degree? I don’t know. Am I flaky? Yes, for my father’s generation. But for my and your and your children’s gen? Not at all. Reinvention will be regular. Look around at your 8–year-old cousin. In less than ten years that cousin will be more well-versed than you in some new technology, more adept at understanding a new language, more proficient with new concepts. He or she is your competition. This is why I say to my AIM students, after each five years of your life, reinvent yourself. This means, do something you never did before. Take up ballroom dancing. Learn French. Write a book. Get a new degree. Take singing lessons. Get a new degree. Take a new job. Move to a new country. With reinvention, you will find yourself a better person. To be innovative, you keep moving.

The third word I give you is truth. There is absolute truth. The problem is that it is very hard to get to the truth, because it is hidden under layers of information and myth and pasts and futures. If you are willing to ask questions, then you can unpeel these layers and go deeper, though you never quite get to the truth.

What was “truth:” 30-20-5 years ago may no longer be. For ex in early atomic physics, Electrons and protons were thought to be the most fundamental building blocks. Then by questions and unpeeling, they discovered the neutron. Then after a few more questions, the positron. Quarks and mesons and charmed spins, partons. And recently, the Higgs Boson, the God Particle. Layers, and we may not be done yet.
It’s the same for management as it is for physics. You might have laughed if 30 years ago I told you that an Indian woman would head Pepsi. Or that 1/3 of all techies in Silicon Valley would be Indian.

This is the dynamic state, that truth is hidden by layers. So therefore, when evaluating information or data, know that the truth is somewhere deeper in the layers. You’ve got to keep asking questions. No one has an absolute monopoly on the truth. Especially not you. Creativity and innovation come from knowing that you must keep asking questions and better questions in order to get to the deeper truth, but never finally.

Fourth, and final and most important: you ought to build wisdom. But what is wisdom? Knowing the truth? We already said that truth is in layers, and you may forever unpeel and not get to it. Is wisdom making the right decisions all the time? Far from it—we are human and we will continue to make mistakes.

Rather, wisdom is that state of knowing that you do not know anything. Put another way, wisdom is knowing the things you do not know. Logically, then, this means that you must be open to new ideas. You must be open to the idea that other people know more than you. Logically, then, to be open, also means you need to be humble to accept that you do not know it all. Humility comes hard, especially to educated techies. To be innovative, you must be humble.

In the end, like truth, you cannot ever claim to be terminally wise, despite feeling that you are wise. Isn’t that ironic? Rather, you must have eternal openness and eternal humility, that you can never be quite wise, in order to continue to be innovative.

Wisdom means that when possible, you rely on other people to give you the best advice. You cannot create by yourself. After you have reinventesd yourself, and when you have decided you can never get to the truth, and when you know you can never can become terminally wise, you go back to step 1. Oops, failure! And you start over again.

So there it is. Failure. Reinvention. Truth. Wisdom. A repeating cycle. Those are the words to keep if you want to be creative and innovative.

Better still, use those words in your love life, your home life. And what is nice is you can apply these four things equally to your relationships with your children, and spouse. – Failure. Reinvention. Truth. Wisdom. Those are the words to keep if you want to be happy with yourself.
Thank you for listening to me. I want to congratulate you on the hard work you have done. I wish you a colorful, creative, and innovative life to come. All the best, thank you, and good night.

Prof. Ricardo A. Lim is Dean of The Asian Institute of Management, Philippines. He is a faculty in innovation, marketing, operations, and quantitative analysis. Currently, the Chairperson of the Philippine Academy of Management, he is active in consulting and research. Prof. Lim received his Ph.D in Business Administration from the Marshall School at the University of Southern California and his MBA from the Darden School, University of Virginia.

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