Innovation and creativity

Hong Kong—Asia’s largest financial hub and home to some of the most reputable universities in the world. It is also the 5th fastest growing startup ecosystem according to the Global Startup Ecosystem Report in 2017. Overall, Hong Kong has the appearance of doing well in the start-up space.  

But what is the matter?

That said, there still seems to be a disconnect between academia and industry. Education emphasizes traditional exams and good grades rather than project-based solution-oriented assignments and out-of-the-box thinking. The disconnect between education and industry can help explain why, finding and retaining talents in Hong Kong, is still one of the biggest challenges for startups and innovation companies.

How to raise free-thinkers?

“Hong Kong’s education system is not conducive to breeding entrepreneurs. An emphasis on rote memorization, respect for authority, and obeying rules produces plenty of people who know how to follow instructions and few who know what instructions to give.” Josh Steime, emphasized recently.

The prevailing attitudes of graduates reflect this. A recent study indicates that Hong Kong has a risk-averse culture where most university graduates prefer stable corporate positions rather than jobs at startups. Nearly 30% of graduates want employment in the banking sector or with financial institutions.

“Hong Kong’s education system is not conducive to breeding entrepreneurs. An emphasis on rote memorization, respect for authority, and obeying rules produces plenty of people who know how to follow instructions, and few who know what instructions to give.”

Significant differences in starting salary explain the lure of the banking industry. Established companies can offer considerably higher wages and job security. On the other hand, the upside of working for a start-up is more creative freedom, relevant job experience on overdrive and sometimes a future stake in a fast-growing venture.

The need for rule-breakers

Innovative companies need graduates who understand technology, product design, marketing and commercialization of goods. Graduates who are not afraid of using their hands, as well as their heads and on occasion, not scared of breaking with convention.

The universities are slowly starting to tailor initiatives to this purpose. HKUST, for example, opened an entrepreneurship center in 1999, offering workshops on a regular basis, creative competitions and managing an accelerator to jumpstart student startups’ products. 

Other bright initiatives are MIT-HK Innovation Node, First Code Academy, BSD Academy and General Assembly, who encourage people to explore the fields of coding, design, and digital marketing. Competitions like Hackathon and Startup Weekend also sustain a growing momentum and capture the imagination of a generation.

Without a revolution of traditional education and a change in mindset, students will lack a strong foundation and relevant tools to deal with an ever-changing world. A new world will demand other types of skills. 

The role of industry

Universities and companies can work together in ensuring graduates have an opportunity to garner experience before they graduate. Increased collaboration would enable graduates to see that continuous assessment based on grades, is not valued over creativity or the ability to solve problems. Internships are not new. It can prove to be very useful in building confidence and in expanding horizons. In the end, graduates will have a better understanding of how things work and their abilities.

Companies should offer practical internships, where student’s skills can be tested. For businesses, internships are a great way to find potential future employees. Young graduates bring with them an influx of new creative ideas. We need to encourage students to use the knowledge they have accumulated and put them to the test. Finally, a tool box filled, not only with academic knowledge, is a better foundation for the future.

Changing the mindset

“Achievement seems to be connected with action. Successful men and women keep moving.”

Students also need to be internally motivated and proactively try out new things. As Conrad Hilton once said, “Achievement seems to be connected with action. Successful men and women keep moving.” With an increasing need for innovation, Hong Kong needs to inspire their young generation and spur them into action.

 

– victoria junaedi