The group was there under the Global Leadership Development Programme organised by the International Centre for Leadership in Finance, which comes under Bank Negara.
Dr Rubinstein, a highly sought-after speaker on decision-making and innovation, served as a consultant to a committee set up to investigate the loss of a US$125mil (RM448mil) spacecraft belonging to Nasa in 1999. Billions of dollars were lost from research and satellite hardware left in orbit.
But Dr Rubinstein, who also teaches engineering, said what was more shocking was the reason for the fiasco – it was the result of a failure to translate the English units of feet and inches into metric units by a ground-based mission software.
In short, the spacecraft was lost due to translation failure. The fault was detected early but left alone until a major error occurred, resulting in the spacecraft losing its navigation path.
The person who found the error had sent a notification to another person and presumed it had been received.
Sounds familiar? We send an e-mail or SMS and we assume that it is received. Often, we do not acknowledge receipt of the note.
The message from Dr Rubinstein, who has written eight books on problem solving, is simple: never let a small problem, even if it looks simple, grow big until it cannot be fixed.
The guru of strategy shares another message: no matter how difficult a challenge, it can be overcome if people are prepared to collaborate.
He cited the construction of the Santa Monica freeway, which was rebuilt in 66 days by a dedicated group after being destroyed in an earthquake. The experts had said it would take two years.
There are applications and tools for solving problems but we do not need an expert to tell us about using common sense.
On a macro level, the same can be said about the political developments in Malaysia over the recent weeks.
We have wasted enough time on issues that have clouded our judgment and stirred our emotions unnecessarily.
Malaysia needs to move on and look at the bigger picture. What is over is over and there is no need to keep harping on them.
Surely, there are more pressing matters that warrant the attention of all Malaysians instead of useless political rhetoric from various parties and groups.
As a small nation, we need to compete for attention in the world economy. We need to tell the world that we are in the game.
But we have to get our act right. Malaysians need to put their strength and resources together to check the growing competition from other economies.
Our Prime Minister has pointed out that the old economic model no longer works. He is right because the cost of labour in Malaysia is now higher than in Indonesia and Vietnam.
What we can do is to leverage our strengths – in terms of networking and cultural links with the three biggest markets in Asia, namely China, India and Indonesia.
The Malays have their links to Indonesia, the Chinese and Indians with the two other huge countries.
None of our other competitors, either in the region or elsewhere, enjoy the same kind of leverage that we have with these three economies.
We are familiar with their languages and way of thinking and doing business, unlike other competitors outside the region.
Many of our companies have, in fact, beaten the others in the game long before Indonesia got onto the radar screen. This is particularly so with our plantation and poultry companies.
But we need to up the ante, as the saying goes, because there are many other areas we have yet to take advantage of.
Prof Uday Karmakar, who teaches at the Anderson School of Management at UCLA, posed one question to his Malaysian listeners: "Why aren't the Asian banks, including those in Malaysia, zooming in on India when the Europeans banks are moving in aggressively?"
The Indian-born American academic serves as a consultant for companies such as Ford, GM, IBM, Xerox, Thomson Publishing and the Aditya Biria Group.
For the many bankers in the Malaysian group, it is a question many find hard to answer but Malaysian companies certainly need to look beyond our shores.
We need to consolidate our strengths, even merge, to compete for a bigger pool of the profits. With just weeks before we begin the 50th year of independence, we need to begin lifting the spirits and stir the passion of all Malaysians.
o Wong Chun Wai can be reached at onthebeat@ thestar.com.my
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