In the old order of manufacturing, the higher rungs of upper management were reserved for the most creative in the crop.
The traditional line that determined individual positions on the rungs of the corporate ladder was that those who were able to roll out ideas stayed at the top, and others stayed on the shop floor to heed the commands from the higher floors.
This meant that designs, specifications and corporate planning were mostly discussed among a select minority, while the majority were left to only wonder why they had to do things in a certain way.
The most competitive nations or organisations at that time were those with or had access to cheap labour. In order to maintain this competitive edge, many governments from the countries with lower standards of living used their cheap labour as a commodity.
However, the commoditisation of cheap labour posed a few risks.
Firstly, foreign direct investment have to be managed in order to ensure knowledge transfer of which filure would leave a nation in a dilemma to maintain competitiveness by keeping living standards low.
Secondly, a high dependence on cheap labour commodity desensitised a large portion of the workforce – simply put, a workforce that is highly dependent on instruction can suffer when there is a lack of direction, and will also be risk-averse to newer and unfamiliar business and job opportunities of higher value.
Perhaps, in a time where most business operations are labour intensive, the separation mentioned above bears little risk.
Today, things need to move in a different approach. In a time when artificial intelligence poses a likely disappearance of numerous future jobs, we need to rethink the strategic workforce planning.
For example, the emergence of accounting software – one that automatically calculates your profit and lost, balance sheet, taxes and payroll – is taking over most of the accountant’s job. To remain relevant, accountants can no longer play a submissive reporting role, but must possess the creativity and acumen of an entrepreneur from a financial standpoint.
For this reason, organisations must instil and inculcate creativity and innovation in their entire workforce. We can no longer specify everything, while business direction is important, the world has become interconnected and we must build a dependable workforce that can independently deliver tasks with their own creativity and innovation.
The most advanced nations today are those who own creativity, and outsource non-creative tasks to labour commodity markets. The reason is simple – creativity is the new hot commodity.
While it is easy to lament the rising cost of living, we must not forget that the cost of living of advanced nations are much higher, perhaps fivefold, than that of our nation.
It’s simple – we must live within our means. A cup of Starbucks is cheap in the United States, but for us to have similar purchasing powers, we must look at changing the “means”. We must look at opportunities to enhance our value, so that we live within much better means.
Let us create space to be creative. As individuals, it is important to be fair to facts and decisions. The best results usually come from those who have analysed all sides of the coin.
To business leaders, allow and encourage new ideas and management freedom, judge your team by their results and not their time.
If you succeeded in achieving this challenge, please accept my heartiest congratulations. However, if you need help, the government is ready to help your team with creative and innovative needs.
The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive Institute.