Singapore, consider the open source way to achieve “quantum leap in productivity through pervasive innovation”.

Recently, the leadership in Singapore has stated its intent to grow the productivity by 3% and it has also identified, rightly so, that if it wants to make this happen it has to encourage the innovation. Very true. Gone are the days when you could through more cheap labour to manufacture some thing or you could push same labour to do more things in given time. This is an era of services industry and knowledge economy and not the 19th century manufacturing practices.

Productivity through innovation is the right way to do. But the question is, can innovation happen if you tell bunch of people to go out and innovate? Does it happen if you just throw money after it? Answer is no. Though it needs money and bright brains, it does not happen in isolation and silos.

Consider the examples where innovation happened to solve the real problems :

TED – open translation project :

When the prestigious platform wanted to make knowledge available (through the talks) to millions of people who do not speak English wanted to translate the work in 40 international languages, what did it do. It turned to its users – gave the tools in the hands of the users to translate the work. And the result? Job done in very short span of time, with such a low cost.


Few years back, a Toranto based gold minning company was struggling with debts, strikes and bad market conditions. Prospects were not looking good for survival. How the CEO turned to mass collaboration and not just saved the company but took it from $100 Million to $ 9 billion company is an interesting case.

GE Plastics

When GE plastic wanted to grow it business even when it has 90% of the market share, how it turned to its customer with “toolkit” concept and not only increased its Total Addressable Market, but retained its lead in the market share.


How the world’s largest encyclopaedia was created through user contributions in short span of time with little or no money.

The common theme in these disparate examples has been use of “mass collaboration and user driven innovation”

Now these are famous and well documented case studies. There are many more that have innovated through “mass collaboration”. If you notice there has been so much written about it in recent years and so many case studies are available. What Singapore can embrace from these solutions is processes, methodology and environment creation to address the problems through mass collaboration.

Open source software is one the earliest success stories of how collaboration, sharing and standardisation can help you do more with less and democratize innovation. Talking about standardisation, if you want to turn innovation into mass innovation, you need to create standardisation. In the recent presentation at Plug in conference in July 2008 Andy Grove, former chief of Intel, urged the American Automobile industry to learn from open source towards standardisation in regards to creating “ Green energy automobiles”

Creating a culture of adopting open source software in Singapore would help in many ways :

  1. Help create understanding of mass collaboration
  2. Help companies to deploy its capex and opex more efficiently there by improving the productivity
  3. Contributing to open source software would create necessary mindset toward innovation.
  4. Standardization, which comes with the use of open source software would lead towards mass innovation

When Thomas Goetz said the following, in 2003, it was prophetic, today is it is the reality.

“Software is just the beginning … open source is doing for mass innovation what the assembly line did for mass production. Get ready for the era when collaboration replaces the corporation. “

Gong Xi Fa Cai (Wish you very prosperous Chinese New Year )


5 Responses to Singapore, consider the open source way to achieve “quantum leap in productivity through pervasive innovation”.

  1. sankarshan says:

    The TED way of doing translations is unspeakably horrible. Perhaps you would like to read more at

    • sachindabir says:

      I read your posting. Insightful.
      The point that I am making is about TED taking the approach of involving people in its efforts to do the translation. Giving the tool in the hands of people. If there is a basic flaw in the tool, TED needs to rectify it. The point is not about the tool per se. It is about the approach of collaboration. Hope you agree on this point.

      • sankarshan says:

        There was this thread on the Maemo lists sometime back (the link of which I have misplaced) talking about how community translations could not improve on the existing ones since these were sacrosanct under a contract.

        The idea of crowd-sourcing to get a job done is enchanting. However, there is more to crowd-sourcing than just “getting things done”. Opening up the processes and, the tools to the crowd should go hand-in-hand with the notion of allowing the crowd an method to “participate” in the direction. From that perspective, Wikipedia’s team of editors who define what a Wikipedia would look like are a better example than TED.

  2. george naing says:

    I am confused:
    Do you mean “open source innovation” or “open innovation”?

    Linux, phpb, plone, zope, codeignier, rails vs
    P&G, GE etc


    • sachindabir says:

      The foundation for open innovation and open source is collaboration, sharing and formation of communities. Moving to open innovation, one needs to adopt these characteristics. Adopting open source software and getting involved in it helps the organisations / societies to experience these characteristics.
      Thus Singapore would get dual benefits by adopting open source -creating the mindset necessary for open innovation and getting traditional benefits of open source software : reducing cost and enhancing security.

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