An innovator at heart and a successful entrepreneur, know more through this interview with the multi-talented Sirajul Hossain as he joins Dnet as the Chief Innovation Officer.
First of all, thank you for making time out of your busy schedule. I am Priyotosh Das from Communication team of Dnet. In this scope, I would also like to congratulate you for your new role as the Chief Innovations Officer of Dnet.
Interviewer: The term ‘Innovation’ is perceived in different ways by different people. What is your take on the word, how would you define the word ‘innovation’?
I think innovation is a mental process. It doesn’t matter which field we work on, someone may work in technology, some people cook, and others make buildings. Innovation is a mental process which enables a person to understand the entire scope of his field in a better way and finds the limitations. When he/she is able to improve the existing process or goal or working procedure to reach the target or fulfill the objective with a new approach, method or idea, then it is called innovation. It is a mental process of the person involved in the work. This allows him/her to understand the system clearly, its limitations and also formulates a new way to overcome that limitation. This is innovation to me.
Interviewer: So it can be said in a way that to solve a problem or to meet a goal, moving from point A to point B in a way which doesn’t follow the traditional route and is an easier way can be called innovation?
SH: Most of the cases now a days, the path from point A to point B focuses on efficiency. The path is already invented, but the efficiency is key focus here. Along the way from point A to point B, one might encounter limitations and the process of making or formulating something new to overcome that limitation can be more precisely said as ‘innovation’.
Interviewer: Your journey with innovations started early when the word was not very well known or did not become a buzzword. How do you think it has become a buzzword and your journey in short?
SH: It all started during my study years in college and pre-university. It is not like I was fully aware of these matters. In a natural way, I grew interest in making things in my own way had innovative thoughts to accomplish it. But now that I’ve done some research and read about human mind and innovations, thinking process, how it is affected; I came to understand that this process gets initiated much before, during our childhood. Now if I explain this, as I mentioned before there is a natural curiosity in people to know things. Another feeling works that one identifies and acknowledges the limitations. If one is able to understand these two aspects simultaneously, they will also be able to refine their work and thought processes as well. But if someone master the work process but fails to understand or identify the limitations, they might not be able to be that much innovative. They will think about everything in a normal and generalized manner, to finish studies and then get a job, be successful and so on. Even very efficient and successful people like this do not feel the limitations and utilizes his/her entire mental resources to accomplish a predefined task perfectly. There are successful managers, successful engineers, and other occupations. It is seen that some person is able to finish their given task swiftly, with precision and with success. But often, no innovation is involved in such processes. The reason is that person does not feel any limitations related to his work or his scope of activities. Therefore, to be innovative, one needs to encompass both of these attributes. Sometimes it’s also seen that innovative people are less efficient. A trade-off occurs at this point. This process gets initiated even before we start to build up on our intelligence. The biology, the culture, family, teachings, friends, and environment – all of these aspects play an important role in developing this quality. Anyone wishing to be innovative can’t just be so by thinking of being that way overnight. On the other hand, many people become innovative without even thinking to be or wanting to be innovative. It happens when someone thinks that way, plans, practices and acts on it, nurtures it with passion, and finally becomes successful.
Interviewer: So, this is how your journey started from your college and pre-university years.
SH: There is a quote floats around the web attributed to Bill Gates (which evolved actually from speeches by some others) says something interesting in this regard is like “I will always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” That means physically lazy but mentally proactive, who will use a considerable part of his mental resource to analyze and synthesis the process is a criteria to be innovative. As I said, this kind of people might not be the ones who handover deliverables in due time and do it efficiently. The mental process comes up again.
Interviewer: So, innovation doesn’t necessarily mean efficient.
SH: No, of course not, even not for highly intellectuals, at least not in all kinds of work, and definitely not in innovative works. That’s why R&D is very expensive everywhere. That’s why tightly organize highly competitive big corporate show very poor performance in innovation. Usually they buy innovation from small companies and startups. Famous psychoanalyst C.G. Jung said “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves. ”
Actually this relates to how we think. We think in three different ways. Fast and memory based automatic thinking, imitating other’s thought social thinking and thinking by mental model. Institutes construct mental models and we store them in our brains library. We use those mental models to think and function. This is a fast, efficient and proven process which is successful in a predictable universe or inside the box. But when the universe changes, or puts limit, this method fails. Innovation needs systems thinking where mental models are constantly modified by feedback and interactions with other models. Innovative mind needs to create this dynamic mental model which will update itself facing the real world.
It can be viewed in a broader spectrum of things. One does not think only about work in such cases. One might want to do the work sooner so that the saved time can be employed elsewhere to do something else. This is not only laziness or time-saving, it is sometimes more than that. Suppose I’m working on a project, and I have a budget which is insufficient. Someone efficient may immediately take a decision that this isn’t possible. But an innovative person is likely to think to find a way out with innovative approaches to accomplish the project within the allocated budget. One can activate their innovative thinking process in such situations.
Interviewer: And in many cases it is seen that he becomes successful even with limitations.
SH: Yes, and this is not only in terms of money. Many people say that certain things aren’t possible in Bangladesh. Albert Einstein mentioned a very important aspect of ‘Mental modeling’; he labelled it as ‘Thought Experiment’. He explains, sometimes experiments can’t be done in reality, but that can be done in our minds. Innovative process does exactly that, it does experiments in our head, playfully. It keeps on trying to find new ways to do things. Changing a certain factor or element may make things better. This experiments inside one’s mind and playing with thoughts and processes sometimes yields effective innovative solutions. So, thoughts has to be allowed to grow and roam freely. This may end up hitting a viable solution point which can be worked on later to accomplish a certain task, do a work or build a thing which is new.
Interviewer: Many times people don’t even start their work thinking that they will not be able to finish it. But sometimes innovative mindset can get the work done.
SH: Mental courage and confidence from experience is the key. At least keeping an open mindset that such situations may become possible will help a lot to start with.
Interviewer: How did you start your journey as an entrepreneur and eventually founding ‘Cybernetics Systems Ltd.’?
SH: While growing up when I was in my school and college years, I had a keen interest and curiosity about physics, electronics, equipment and machinery. How things work was a big wonder for me. I wanted to know and explore how things work. For example, a digital calculator. It left me in amazement how this little handheld thing can do complex maths. Suppose I want to know the result of 997 multiplied by 882, it is quite difficult for a human mind to process this calculation. It’s not easy to calculate this swiftly if correct processes are not known. But a calculator can solve this instantly. It amazed me how such a small device is capable of handling math calculations. This sheer wish to know how things work enabled me to start my journey. It started with physical science, machinery, electronics and equipment but later moved on to more complex matters like society, psychology, human mind etc. And while pursuing knowledge about these aspects, I gained a good command over physical laws machineries. I developed my skills about how machines work. When I grew up, I was in need of money. Since my father was a Government official, the financial situation of my family was not that much well off. We didn’t have any problems with our living expenses but extra sources of expenditure like pocket money, buying books, tools, machinery etc. for learning was a bit difficult. I needed money to quench my thirst for knowledge, fulfill my passion and to continue my hobby. I had gained a specialization with technological aspects by that time. I could make things at that time that other people need but is not readily available in the market. I made electronics and machineries and people would buy those from me and I started to earn from my college life. In continuation of this, I along with a friend of mine, founded an electronic company named ‘Syscon Electronics’. At that time, I was studying in college. We started making Audio Amplifiers and speakers which gained popularity at that time. I was there for about 3 years in Syscon Electronics. I moved away from it because of study physics and some differences in opinion and later on I founded ‘Cybernetics Systems’ which later became incorporated as a LLC. But I never did the same work as I had done before in Syscon Electronics. I founded this new company, and I did not do the same work like building hi-fi audio systems and other products they do. I shifted to making industrial electronic systems and solutions, OEM products etc. We did not focus on doing a regular business like the buy and sell model of consumer products. We shifted towards a technology and technical service kind of a model where technology is the value addition. Technical service is mainly like, for example, a machine stops working in your factory and we were told what it does. Then we would make a new machine that does the same function with our own design team with our own technology employed. My focus was on doing a business which provides a technological service. It was never about making a product and doing a mass sale of it through marketing.
Interviewer: Means you made equipment and machines using technology and innovation which solves a certain problem of a customer.
SH: Yes, exactly, a technology solution company with OEM for small scale production.
Interviewer: Does Cybernetic Systems Ltd. still exist?
SH: Yes it does. At first we made industrial electronics, temperature controller, industrial controllers, and elevator systems and later we moved into more consumer products like satellite receiver etc. and further afterwards we shifted to making computer based test and measurement systems etc. That is also for the industrial range. We made Microprocessor based devices, computer based instrument etc. It is still in operation but now we are not much active in this kind of business. We have shifted to other computer based technology business.
Interviewer: What challenges did you face during that time? The aspect of entrepreneurship was not well known at that time and there was lack of resources, family support was not always there.
SH: Yes, I faced initial financial crisis at that time when we started our business. On the other hand, I also got some passive support, a space for a new business is always necessary and I had a room so I converted it to my office. Another problem was at that time that there was not so much of free information available, unlike today. There was no internet. While designing, we used Intel processors and support chips. These chips and their datasheets had to be imported from Intel USA. I still have the 18 volume book set from Intel which was expensive. We had to spend a lot of money to bring that. Other important books and technical documentation, different kinds of application notes, had to be imported from other countries by requesting frequent flyer friends or book importers. Now almost 90% of relevant information is available online and free, these were not available so easily at that time. Since there was no computers, there weren’t much design tools. We started with design table with parallel bars, Rotring isograph technical pens and tracing papers for designing. The facility of having a computer was not available. Now, circuit design and simulation software can be found easily, which sometimes can be used free of charge. Designs can be made on the software and the correctness can also be checked from it. Suppose I made a circuit, or amplifier or temperature controller, we can now draw the circuit in simulation and then increase the temperature there to find the results and also do the analysis. The total design process has now become automated. These facilities were not available at that time. We started using computers when they came first in Bangladesh. I was lucky to get scope to use computers before when they started to become popular in Bangladesh. We worked with so many people who have worked with computers from around the world, that gave me early ideas. I got the scope of using one of the first computers that came into Bangladesh which we used when I was is Syscon Electronics. At that time, when I was still studying in college, I had access and went frequently to the laboratory of the Applied Physics department of the Dhaka University. The teachers knew me from science clubs activity and from my interest in science. I was known for my reading habits and knowledge over electronics and other technological aspects. So, overall when I look at all the sides of these aspects, I had limitations and I also had many advantages. People knew that I was well aware of what I want to do and confident and that allowed me with good opportunities. I was able to utilize these.
There was another challenge. When you work with technology, you need a lot of different types of hardware. At present, people can import different machinery, parts and components from Amazon and other international suppliers and sellers. But that was not the case back then. Only in some foreign magazines and newspapers we had a few links and information about sources who can deliver the required hardware. We also requested the local electronics suppliers and businessmen to bring the required hardware and parts. The things we needed were high technology items of that time and didn’t have much business profit. But we got the privilege of having those items on request at times. This was a definite advantage because such service would not be favored by businessmen of today.
Interviewer: That sounds so exciting, I’m very glad to hear these. You’re a fabulous multi-tasker. Now you’re working as a wild-life photographer, researcher, adviser, and mental well-being specialist. How do you manage so many roles?
SH: As I mentioned, innovative thinking is a mental process. If you analyze any work and its constituent parts, problems and limitations and want to find out a solutions, you’ll find it if you study it closely. Many of us are afraid beforehand, do not want to learn something new or outside of our intellectual comfort zone. Now things are more seen as expertise based. People choose a field they like and they’re good at and they monetize their skills on it. History says that this was not the case before. This is a wrong perception of ours, the modern people. Experts are busy with learning about a specific side of things. They have a target/goal to finish a certain job or task within a certain time. When Darwin was working on the theory of evolution, we knew that the evolutionary process may have stopped at a certain stage for specific species. To continue the process, some kind of mutation is necessary and some characteristics of that animal may change. When that animal reproduces and allows their genes to be mixed with other set of ‘normal’ genes, the changes gets absorbed according to other part of the theory. Suppose a cosmic ray hits my skin, and my next generation gets three hands, which can happen due to mutation. But the rule of evolution works in a different way. If 100 people have two hands and 1 person has 3 hands, then the 3 hands trait will not survive and the 2 hands will remain prominent. Then how will evolution take place? This paradox was raised during Darwin’s time. And he was not able to come to a solution regarding this. An Engineer named Jenkin raised this. The solution came out which stated the minor characteristic bearing person has to remain isolated. Following our example, if one 3 hands male and one 2 hands female started to live in an isolated island and reproduce, then the probability of the new character will have a 50/50 chance of moving onto the next generation and become prominent. The practice of expertise based knowledge gathering didn’t start much long ago. If you look at the Greek civilization and how they gathered knowledge about various aspects, you’ll see they tried to gather as much as varied source of knowledge as possible. But after the corporate culture and industrialization begun, people become more expertise centric. It has both good and bad sides. People are unable to solve problems by extending knowledge from one domain to the other. Someone who is expert on something and does that as an occupation, may not have knowledge on other aspects and therefore can’t solve the limitations on that domain. This is anti innovation. It is proven that our economy dictates that how we think. The corporate economy and modular production practices are forming our brain as a production machine. We have to get out of it. I do wildlife photography which is a combination of three different specialization. One is technology. You would have to carry so much of specialized equipment in challenging situations, and you will also need to be aware of latest technological aspects related to photography. Secondly, the animal which is your subject of photography, you must have good knowledge about their habit, habitat, eating pattern, sleeping cycle, how they move, how they behave etc. For example, we know from basic photography that more light gives better photos. So, you’ve decided to use the sunlight at 9AM or 5PM but you later find out that the bird you planned to take photos of goes back to their hide after 9AM. So, you’ll not be able to take good photos of that bird in optical comfort. So, you must have knowledge about wildlife or else you will not be able to take good photos. So you have to know technology and biology both. Most importantly, you must also have knowledge about the artistic aspect of photography. Art, biology and technology – you must have knowledge about these three aspects to be a good wildlife photographer. When we’ll start working in practical field where the work scope is not narrow, you will need knowledge from different fields. I won’t say that I’m specialized in this but I will just say that I wasn’t afraid to try something new. I started studying about things that I felt interested about. Started practicing in small scale and then gradually I gained confidence in that field. I think if someone can overcome their initial fear and keeps on trying honestly, they can prosper and progress in multiple field of their choice. I don’t think there is any difference in the process of acquiring knowledge, regardless of the field. A Physics guru, Psychologist or Psychiatrist should have the same kind of innovative thinking process. There is a method for making progress in science related knowledge or science related thinking, which is same for all. It is not like you can’t practice or start learning something new just because you are already trying to become an expert or gathering knowledge about a different subject. The biggest hurdle is the initial fear and hesitation, once you overcome that, there is no stopping.
Interviewer: Thank you, that was very insightful and encouraging about learning new things. You also work about Mental Well-being. Can you tell us more about it?
SH: At first when I started this work, I had an initial curiosity because of my knowledge venture towards science and technology sphere. If I look at the progression and flow of my own life, I noticed early enough that only science and technological aspect is not enough. Then I moved onto learning more about human relations and social aspects, the first thing I wanted to know was about how the society works. Since I had interest about science and the physical universe, then about evolution and how life and humans came into existence, we also saw that there is a mechanism of how the society works. This needs to be understood for a better life. So it derived me to learn about this and know more. Then when I entered the professional field and thought how society and economics changes the lives of the people, how the culture, economy and the norms of the society influences people’s personal thought processes. If we look deep into it, finally we need to know how our mind works, perceives things and surroundings, this becomes very important and root of all. If I wear a pair of colorful glasses and then look and analyze the world, then mistakes will happen. If our mind is already colored, I mean to say, is biased, then whatever I see will be biased and not entirely appropriate. Maybe I’m looking at everything in an over optimistic point of view. Then I will not be able to perceive the reality. If that happens, the decisions I take will be wrong. Ultimately, there comes a very valuable thing when taking decisions at a personal, societal and political level, which is the neutrality of my mentality. Is my perception biased or not? That is one of the reasons which led me to learn about psychology. When we see that a society, organization or a person takes a special kind of decision or behaves in a certain way, we try to understand why do they do it in the way they do? And are they doing it neutrally or not? While trying to understand these, I discovered that understanding the human mind is most important. If someone fails to understand things neutrally they will also fail to take a decision neutrally. This led me to study mental health and what qualities should a mentally sound person possess. The main objective of working with Mental Well-being at Dnet is to understand this aspect broadly, trying to understand the stigma and hesitation related to mental well-being, how can that be reduced or overcome and also to understand these aspects closely in light of our own societal point of views rather than through the lenses of other countries or other societies. For most modern humans’ un-wellness is related to their mental wellbeing. From a newborn to old age, for the next generation if we fail to ensure this, no other development will carry any meaning.
Interviewer: These are some very important points you’ve mentioned. We learned a lot about mental well-being and our initial ideas are now clear. Lastly, we would like to know what are your plans as the Chief Innovation Officer?
SH: I know about Dnet for a long time and had a passive relation and was connected to on and off in various initiatives. Dnet is in a very good position as it works with technology on one hand firstly and I was related in this regard from before. Secondly, Dnet works and takes action to utilize the power of technology to change the lives of people and formulate solutions rather than only for commercial purposes. How it can be used for the betterment of the people and how it can be taken within the reach of the mass people. Since Dnet works with technology and I have some experience with technology as well as my study and thoughts regarding mental well-being and the functions of society, I want to contribute from my side on these two fields connecting together. I will assist Dnet from my technological knowledge and also with my knowledge about society and thinking processes to form a better perspective. I would also like to say, when I joined Dnet, it was in a rollover or transition period from being a solely non-profit organization to a social enterprise, I think I can also contribute my entrepreneurial experiences to healthy commercial aspects of the organization. I tried to find out why people do business, why they fail, what the target people look to get from a business, what are the things that are a must for conducting a business. I want to share these observations with Dnet. Shifting from a donor dependent organization to a social business organization, there are many transformation needed to be done. It is not easy to go through this transformation, because the basis of a business organization and a nonprofit is not the same. So finding out a sustainable middle ground and an appropriate balance between these two is not easy and very important. Since I’ve came from a practically business experienced sphere, I can help to find innovative ways to ease this transformation. This is another big reason for me to be involved with the initiatives and enterprises of Dnet.
Interviewer: We’re very glad to have you on board and thank you very much for your kind words and taking time to give this interview. We came to know about many things which we didn’t know at this depth before. Do you want to say something else?
SH: I would like to add that innovation is an ongoing process, whatever tasks and works we do daily at our office, personal life, we should aim to work in that process actively and not stay fixed or stopped at certain point. Rather grow and learn thinking to grow continuously with everything we do. This innovative thinking and process can happen at a personal level as well as at an organizational level. If we can embrace this innovative approach and process, we will make significant progress and I sincerely wish Dnet will move forward in that direction.
Interviewer: Of course we want to work in that direction. Thank you very much Mr. Sirajul Hossain and we’re ending the interview here.
SH: Thank you too and thanks to Dnet for providing me the opportunity to work together.Visit our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/dnetpage
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