In the case of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), this moment happened on Jan 24, 2008.
What Chief Secretary to the government Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan said was simple: “Challenge the status quo.” Though what he said was straightforward, its impact was liberating! But implementation is not simple because — for the longest time — the mind has been shackled and breaking out is difficult.
The mind is shrouded in fear — fear of being different. The herd mentality is so strong that we do not even realise the negative consequences that it has on a person, a group and an organisation.
Moreover, challenging long-standing rules and procedures is not for the faint-hearted because humiliation may be in store.
Doing things differently is not about being unethical, dishonest or corrupt which, on the contrary, seems to be the status quo! It was indeed a breath of fresh air to listen to Mohd Sidek expound on what he said more than three years ago.
The guest-of-honour was addressing some 5,000 new students at the welcoming ceremony on Sept 8 at the main campus.
The address was broadcast simultaneously to the branch campuses. It was also webcast.
Mohd Sidek was as passionate as ever on the subject of challenging the status quo, which is generally regarded as taboo. Indeed, in many instances, there are prerequisites to move ahead and improve the prevailing archaic situation. The fact that the “taboo” resides in the mind makes it inherently more difficult to think of anything different, let alone break out.
Mohd Sidek cited Steve Jobs of Apple Inc. as a shining example to emulate.
He witnessed a “Challenge the Status Quo” project in action.
The initiative was conceptualised two months after his pronouncement on Jan 24, 2008 in close consultation with him at an intense meeting on March 25.
It was in recognition of his commitment to the project that he was accorded the honour to launch the Centre of Chemical Biology (CCB) at USM. CCB@USM, as it is referred to, is a template for challenging the status quo within a short timeframe of less than three years. Its leading edge research has blazed trails internationally (more about this is later columns).
Research includes unravelling the first Malaysian human genome, which will be announced by the end of the month.
The approach to establish the “world’s first” initiative, as opposed to “world class”, is another attempt to upset the status quo because we want to innovate our own playing field and set a benchmark for delivering excellence.
And Mohd Sidek has managed to ignite the university’s courage with the simple meaning-laden phrase “challenge the status quo”!
- The writer is vice chancellor of USM
Source: The NST Learning Curve 2011/09/10