There have been many visitors and expatriates who arrive on our shores and immediately fall in love with Malaysia. The food, the people, the modern metropolis project a first world facade for all intents and purposes. Yes Malaysia is modern, we have skyscrapers that are comparable to the best in the world, and we have brandished them with great pride. The Twin Towers together with our participation in F1 were both part of a strategic brand plan to put Malaysia on the map and to a large extent we have succeeded.
But like any brand plan, Malaysia, who excels in building and creating icons, seems to have suffered, not from a lack of vision but rather from a lack of sustainability. And sustainability is a word that many in Malaysia seem to have difficulty with. Plans are often made on a quick-win basis and once that has been completed, another plan is hatched and on it goes. We seem to thrive on the adrenalin of the new, with little thought to managing our treasures and assets; both tangible and intangible.
Once pristine beaches are now polluted and our stately buildings consistently develop holes in their ceilings. Visitors to the Sepang F1 track says that the conditions near the docks are deplorable, and those who had the pleasure of working at Istana Budaya would have seen the entropy inside its bowels. Many of the first world fittings have been made to fit into a third world culture complete with leaky faucets, filthy tunnels and warped carvings.
For any brand to survive the long haul and come up on top, we really need to understand the sustainable interplay between tangible and intangible assets. All great brands are high on the intangible or emotional. The brand equity of New York lies not just in being a great city filled with iconic buildings, but it is also the cultural and economic heart of the US. Poets and writers have waxed lyrical about cities such as Paris and Bali that have left an indelible mark on their soul.
So what are the intangibles assets or the soul of Brand Malaysia. Aside from the food, and our beautiful landscapes, our soul lies in its people; a melting pot of the best of Asia. We were once one of the most accepting people around. The upside of that is that there is peace and should there be unrest, it is never the will of the majority. But we have not managed that asset well and have attempted to divide and control them with religious and raced-based politics coupled with a mediocre education system. This has introduced color and separation into our daily vocabulary and created a fairly insular and ignorant mass who on one hand tolerate mediocrity in service but are highly intolerant of diversity in views, religious, political or otherwise.
While other destination brands are touting their Creative Class to potential investors and MNCs, we watch resignedly as ours receive accolades and distinctions elsewhere, whilst residing in another country. Patents that could have been owned by Malaysia are now in the hands of others who saw the promise and invested in them. And the brain drain continues as the knowledge and creative class start losing hope that change is possible in the next decade. And all this happened while we were busy building our monoliths.
For Brand Malaysia to truly rise, we need to first overhaul our HR and education values. The powers to be keep talking about the importance of innovation, yet contradict themselves with an education system and dogma that is designed to churn out conformist thinkers who do rather than think, who work out of necessity rather than with pride. In a world where the currency resides in creativity and innovation, we have emerged severely lacking. We need to start encouraging and valuing creativity over uniformity; independent thinking over conformity, the big picture over the small successes. Until then, Brand Malaysia will always be like a teenager, full of unrealised promise.
Thankfully there is a select group of individuals who fully appreciate the predicament that brand Malaysia faces and are working towards reversing this trend. They have been working tirelessly within the system, consulting both global and local experts on the best way forward yet in a way that is uniquely Malaysian. To these people, I salute you and offer you my support should you need it in any way. The time has come for Malaysia to reclaim its glory and I am optimistic that it will happen in my lifetime.
The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.