Month: December 2008

A Lesson in Leadership

Strive towards being the change 

A lesson in leadership

Ikim Views
By IR AHMAD JAIS ALIAS, Fellow, Centre for Consultancy and Training, Ikim

Tuesday December 30, 2008

The leadership model motor giant Toyota uses to propel itself to the forefront of the industry can also be a valuable lesson for our national leaders.

I ATTENDED a talk by Dr Habib Siddiqui from Merck & Co, US, on Business Management Strategy, where he shared his experiences gained from the American industry, and how to maintain competitiveness in these challenging times.

The talk was part of the continuous professional development programme organised by the Board of Engineers Malaysia for its members.

In his talk, Dr Habib elaborated on the Toyota Production System (TPS) which emphasised the role of leadership in the manufacturing system. In TPS, the leader should implement three major tasks; i) to go and see, ii) to ask why and iii) to show respect to others.

According to Dr Habib, these were the key tasks of leaders in the manufacturing plants, and by implementing the system, Toyota has emerged as one of the market leaders in the motor industry.

Let us examine each of the tasks. The first was for the leader to go and see for himself the actual conditions, problems or issues faced by staff members and consumers. A leader should not place a barrier between him and the people, or try to avoid meeting those under his/her leadership.

This is indeed very true. A leader should not lose touch with his staff members. He should always mingle with them and try to understand and appreciate their predicament.

A leader should not shy away from the public, or create an exclusive environment in which he only meets or mixes with certain elite groups only. Pemimpin berjiwa rakyat is perhaps the Malay phrase which best describes this.

The question is, do our leaders today really emulate this noble attitude? Have the plight of the people really caught their attention? Or are they too busy with their efforts to garner votes and support to ascend the leadership ladder? ………………………..


What’s in a Word? – The World in Crisis

 Here we stand on the brink of a low carbon future, whether we plan for it or not, and we face a crisis of words and semantics.

The words and phrases that describe our symptoms are topping the list of the most popular words of 2009, but google for the words and phrases where our salvation lies ‘resource intensity’ or ‘resource efficiency’ and you will be sorely pressed to find a reference.

The other word that is conspicuous by its absence from the list is ‘Land’, another finite resource being much fought over this New Year.

The only thing the individual can do in 2009 is strive towards ‘Being the Change’


 Austin, TX, USA October 13, 2008 – In an analysis completed just weeks before the US Presidential Elections, the Global Language Monitor has announced that Change, Climate Change & Bailout stood atop the Top Political Buzzwords List released earlier today.

  PQI Oct 7, 2008 Comment
1 Change  No 1 for the entire election Cycle; good bet for Word of the Year
2 Climate Change Bigger than ‘Bailout’ bigger than ‘Recession’
3 Bailout  Not even on the radar 90 days ago
4 Recession World economy imploding but still not officially a ‘recession’
5 Experience  Obama’s experience questioned 2.4 X more than that of Palin
6 Gasoline Though prices are dropping, still No. 5
7 Sub prime How we got into this mess in the first place

The Resource Intensity of Society

 There was recently a series of programmes on the BBC about the work and education of barristers, and the comment below is taken from the Open University discussion forum for the programmes.

This raises an interesting and fundamental issue – the resource intensity of society in ‘resolving the problems which we all face in family life and working life.’ as stated.

Whilst a proportion of legal work is required for the smooth ordering of society, contracts etc., all the rest is the result of society’s failure to ‘to do the right thing, every time’; ‘quality of life’ failures which create a ‘loss to society’ in the form of human misery, social disintegration, financial losses and costs – vital societal resources and ingenuity squandered.

In effect, the ‘First Law of Sustainability’ could be rewritten, the numbers in the legal profession per capita in any society is in inverse proportion to the possibility of that society being sustainable.


It is clear from the programme that it is not exactly ‘easy’ to become a barrister. However, perhaps an interesting way of thinking about this issue would be to ask oneself whether, given the range of skills which barristers possess, a more extensive use of their services might make it easier for us to resolve the problems which we all face in family life and working life.

It could be argued that a civilised society depends on the ‘rule of law’, and respect for the law and  given that barristers, together with judges, enable the rule of law to become a reality, I would content that we need more of both of them rather than less.

Perhaps the real question should be – ‘How are we to we pay for the services of those who uphold the ‘rule of law’ and how could those services be made available to more people, with less expense?’

Ingenuity can do what leaders won’t?

In the article below it is argued that Ingenuity can create a changed world where political leadership is failing societies. Whilst in essence this is true, this Blog argues that to do this ‘ingenuity needs to be liberated’ to enable change and as there is an ‘Ingenuity Gap, it needs to be liberated in a focused way – to reduce the resource intensity of the goods and services we consume.

This requires political focus on our addiction to enable this transformation, through legislation, research and education. The portents for facing this reality do not seem good this Christmas.

As in this article and L Hunter Lovins’ article, Rethinking Production, the focus is also on the physical creation of goods, but much of our resource expenditure is in organisational management. At a systems level the two are interwoven and mutually dependent in quality theory.


Ingenuity can do what leaders won’t

Jo-Anne Schofield
December 23, 2008

……………………………………..In their upbeat book Cradle To Cradle, published almost five years ago, William McDonough and Michael Braungart argue in favour of human ingenuity. They remain optimistic about our capacity to bring about a new industrial revolution. They argue the last industrial revolution was built on brute force and plundering the planet, but the next one can honour “diversity, ecosystems, and societies”, by finding new ways of fulfilling our human desire to live good (and sustainable) lives.

L. Hunter Lovins looks at eco-efficiency in a recent essay, Rethinking Production. She gives the example of the chemical giant DuPont, which last year saved $3 billion by cutting its emissions by 72 per cent compared with 1991 levels, while reducing its global energy use by 7 per cent. “Every year,” Lovins says, “the world digs up, puts through various resource crunching processes, and then throws away over a half-trillion tons of stuff.” Stuff that costs money and scarce resources.

The clear message is that we need to invest deeply in new ways of doing things, with or without government leadership. There’s nothing to stop our workplaces and industries from having a sustainability plan – one where securing jobs and industry into the future is about protecting the environment and not just reliant on purchasing highly taxpayer subsidised permits to offset today’s old-style polluting ways of doing things.

Jo-Anne Schofield is executive director of Catalyst Australia, a progressive think tank.

L Hunter Lovins’ essay ‘Rethinking Production’ can be found in ‘State of the World 2008’ available for download at

The Chinese Word for Crisis – Opportunity out of Adversity

The article clip and link below makes clear the critical need for ‘systems thinking’ and our need to create opportunity out of adversity. We stand at the gates of a low carbon future but do not have the key to unlock them, critical thinking skills. We have not educated ourselves to understand that  our ‘quality of life’ depends on the quality of the goods and services we produce and consume, and the ‘loss to society’ created in the process.

We fail to comprehend that the One Planet Equation governs and overshadows our future possibilities, ultimately fixing the ratio of our consumption and its ‘resource intensity’ Frozen in the headlights of financial disaster, we are sleep-walking into the most massive ‘external failure’ of quality we will have experienced, our failure to ‘keep ahead of the oil curve’ and the resulting symptom of burning fossil fuels, Climate Change.

The possibility of satifying the One Planet Equation at levels of consumption the developed western economies currently enjoy is remote, as the WBCSD report, referenced in a previous post admits. Our only course of action is to identify those goods and services not ‘essential’ to our quality of life and reduce their ‘resource intensity to zero i.e. eliminate them; then work to continually reduce the resource intensity of those that remain, in conventional terms ‘improve their ‘quality’.  From a system perspective, quality is that which ‘maximises the ‘value to society’ resulting from the creation, use and disposal of products and services’, whilst working to continually reduce the ‘loss to society’ they create.’



………………….We are in a crisis. But it is useful to recall that the Chinese word for crisis consists of two letters: One signifies danger, the other opportunity. This crisis affords us an opportunity to both stimulate the economy and tend to our much-needed infrastructure backlog. And many of these jobs cannot be outsourced. The work is done in this country, adding to effective demand and providing a basis for sustained growth.

There are two potential hazards associated with large-scale infrastructural investments.

The first is that the money will be allocated in the usual pork-barrel fashion with powerful U.S. House and Senate committee personnel steering funds to their districts and states irrespective of the benefits.

In order to short-circuit the possibilities of future bridges to nowhere, we need a bipartisan commission that evaluates objectively the cost and benefit of major infrastructural investment. We already have a model that works.

The recommendations of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) cannot be cherry-picked by members of Congress. The recommendations are voted up or down in a block so that individual members cannot influence the fate of individual bases. A similar procedure for a National Infrastructure Commission is essential to reducing wasteful spending.

A second potential problem is that, just like with wars, we tend to fight the next one with the strategies of the last one. We must avoid building new infrastructure geared toward the needs of the last economic growth wave.

A National Commission on Infrastructure would need a mandate to build for the future, not just for the short term and the present. The interstate system was perfect for the car age coming into its own in the 1950s. What we need now is infrastructure that promotes smart growth and long-term sustainable economic growth. Building more bridges or motorways just because that is what we always have done is to build for the 1950s, not the 2050s. New and improved infrastructure should be directed toward more creative use of mass-transit systems, refurbishing our aged inner cities and inner suburbs and improving citizens’ lives, and laying the basis for a greener economy.

We are in a crisis. From the nation’s last great crisis we created the New Deal. We need a New New Deal, one that appropriately funds and fairly distributes infrastructure projects to states that lay the foundation for a smarter, greener, more competitive economy. We need a Metro Green Deal for a new infrastructure commission that allocates investments so that we can link public and private, city and suburb, rich and the poor in an America of and for the future.

Just a drop in the ocean or a lot of hot air?

UK Context

This post is not about the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, which is an excellent professional body, with which I am associated and to which links to new reports are provided below.

The fact is, however that our reductionist approach to problems has led to the fracture of the professions in the UK into specialisms (silos?) where each is vying to demonstrate leadership in ‘sustainabilty’, when in reality any progress in reducing the resource intensity of products and services is likely to come from ‘lateral thinking’ across sectors, rather than ‘vertically’ within a sector.

In 1999 I was asked by a cross-sector grouping of Engineering Institutions, part of a national initiative, named the PEI; in the North West of England to coordinate a ‘Sustainability Joint Venture’ but unfortunately the PEI folded and the Institutions went their own way. In the North West we produced a Professional Engineers’ Handbook for many years and in 1999 it included this short article of mine.


Sustainability – A Role for Engineers?


All of us trying to maintain our competence in today’s industry and society are aware of the incessant and ever increasing pace of change. To this has been added something that is barely visible at the moment, a drive for sustainability in the economic, social and environmental components of life.


A realisation that the resources of the planet are finite, especially the Global Commons- the things that are largely free to us all, but the responsibility of no one.


Many things are happening, driven by legislation, research and public pressure, which engineers need to be ware of, and by their education and abilities can make a positive contribution to.


There now exists a Regional Development Strategy and a Regional Sustainability Framework, both arrived at through wide consultation. The Region now has to deliver on these if we are to prosper as part of a sustainable world community.


More importunately it is doubtful if we can attain prosperity, social and environmental well-being without leading this transition to more sustainable products, processes and services. Engineers individually and collectively have the means to contribute most to this move to a sustainable community. This is not a debate, it is already taking place!


            Engineers by engaging in this vital task can attain the respect they deserve- engineers led the first industrial revolution and we can lead the second,.



Not just a drop in the ocean or a lot of hot air:  IMechE Energises the Renewables Debate

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers is setting the pace when it comes to campaigning for renewable sources of energy. We are committed to highlighting the complex challenges raised by climate change and the depletion of natural resources, and the innovative, world-class, practical solutions which are being created by our members.

In the past three weeks, we have published two new reports on renewable energy in the UK which have hit the national headlines, and have been picked up by government:

Marine Energy

Looking at the enormous untapped potential for marine and tidal power, the Marine Energy report argues that with its abundant natural resources, innovative funding proposals, political consensus, and world-class engineers, Scotland could pioneer commercial marine energy and become a global leader in this emerging source of renewable energy.

Read more about the marine energy report

Download the full report (PDF, 4Mb)

Energy from Waste

With the UK producing over 300 million tonnes of waste a year, and the impact of rising global energy prices kicking in, the Energy from Waste report advocates revolutionising the way we look at waste, reading it not as a problem to be ‘dealt with’ but as a valuable resource which could help us meet our national and regional environmental targets and commitments.

Read more about the energy from waste report

Download the full report (PDF, 2Mb)