Celebrating Steve Jobs, we ask: Where are all the Asian tech mavericks?

Steven Paul Jobs (1955 – 2011): The Crazy One

In my own tribute to Steve Jobs, just published on Groundviews.org, I raise some pertinent questions about nurturing discovery and innovation in Asian societies.

Here’s an excerpt:

We might admire – even revere – mavericks like Steve Jobs from afar, but few Asians have any idea where mavericks come from, or how best to deal with them. Our conformist and hierarchical societies don’t nurture mavericks. Our cultures tend to suppress odd-balls and iconoclasts. That’s probably why we don’t have enough of our own Steve Jobses, Richard Bransons and Anita Roddicks.

Mark Twin said: “The man with a new idea is a crank – until the idea succeeds”. The question is: do we Asians hush down our home-grown cranks even before they have a sporting chance? Are we culturally too biased against individualism that propels useful – and potentially transformative ­ mavericks?

As a ‘maverick spotter’ and cheerleader for all types of innovation, I often worry that we are. I have come across bright young men and women who were ridiculed in the classroom (‘freaks!’) or scorned at home (‘losers!’) for not wanting to be doctors, engineers or lawyers.

This is the central argument in my latest op-ed, a tribute to Steve Jobs and a reflection on individualistic tech innovation in our own Asian societies.

Read full essay on Groundviews.org: Goodbye, Steve Jobs; Long Live Mavericks!

A ‘Greek’ among Geeks and Greens…

Asking questions. Connecting the dots. Explaining matters.

These actions sum up what I have been doing in the spheres of communication and development for over 20 years. They form the cornerstone in my attempts to make sense of our globalised world and heady times.

As a journalist, I was trained to look for what’s New, True and Interesting (‘NTI Test’). Early on, I went beyond just reporting events, and probed the underlying causes and processes. With experience, I can now offer my audiences something more: perspective and seasoned opinion.

I look back (slightly) and look around (a lot) in a half-hour, in-depth TV interview with media researcher/activist and fellow citizen journalist Sanjana Hattotuwa. This was part of The Interview (third series) produced by Young Asia Television, and broadcast on two Sri Lankan TV channels, TNL and ETv on May 8 (with repeats).

Watch the full interview online: Sanjana Hattotuwa talks to Nalaka Gunawardene

Nalaka Gunawardene from Young Asia Television on Vimeo.

I have always worn multiple ‘hats’, and dabbled in multiple pursuits rather than follow narrow paths of enquiry. I see myself continuing to oscillate between the ‘geeks’ and greens, and where possible, bridging their worlds.

I sometimes feel a strange kinship with the ancient Greeks, who first asked some fundamental questions about the universe. They didn’t always get the answers right, and neither do I.

But it’s very important that we question and critique progress – I do so with an open mind, enthusiasm and optimism.

Note: I was also a guest in the first series of this show, in February 2009, which led to this blogpost.

A Greek among geeks: Importance of asking the right questions…

Ask, ask and ask again....!

Ask, ask and ask again....!

Contrary to a popular perception, I’m not a geek. If anything, I’m closer to the ancient Greeks than geeks.

This is how I summed up my own self when talking to a group of media tycoons and senior journalists in Colombo earlier this month.

I explained: I keep asking more questions than I can answer. The ancient Greeks did the same – they were the first to ask many fundamental questions in philosophy and science. They didn’t always get the answers right, but started quests that lasted for millennia…

As Ed Johnson recently wrote: “We have so many things to thank the Greeks for, from philosophy to democracy. They were the ones who established the first civilization, governed by free citizens. Individual liberty has been the basis of civilization ever since.”

It so happens that I recently completed 40 years in this business of playing the Greek. As I recalled a few weeks ago on the 40th anniversary of the first Moon landing, I had an early start in asking difficult, sometimes irritating, questions.

I’m fortunate to be welcomed among media practitioners as well as media researchers. I’m not a card-carrying member of either group, but I have great fun hobnobbing with both. This is what Irish journalist-cum-academic Conor Cruise O’Brien once called ‘having a foot in both graves’!

And I’m also grateful for being allowed into the community of geeks, especially of the IT, ICT and gadget-wielding kind.