ICE Interview: Azreena Azizan, Program Director

Azreena Azizan is a common name in tech and innovation scene in Malaysia. Currently she is attached to CREST – Collaborative Research in Engineering, Science & Technology. She is heading CREST’s Johor office as Program Director. I am proud and honoured to share her viewpoints on Innovation, Change and Entrepreneurship held recently. Here’s the edited excerpt:

KHAIRUL (KA): Do you think organization should tolerate failures in order to give people space to try and experiment new ideas?


Whether you believe it or not, mistakes can often be used to create insights and stimulate innovation. The irony nevertheless is that no one wants to fail. In fact, failure itself doesn’t lead to innovation, it’s more about how you deal with failure that matters. Here how I think companies could deal failures better:

  1. Companies should try to break down the social and bureaucratic barriers that separate leaders from their innovation followers. 
  2. Avoid giving either praise or criticism, preferring to take a non-judgmental, analytical posture as top management interact with staffs.
  3. Top leaders should openly admit own mistakes (haarrrddd to do!) rather than covering them up or shifting the blame. 
  4. More importantly the organizations leaders should try to root out the destructive competitiveness built into most organizations – especially situation that will create hasad dengki (excessive jealousy).

KA: How do you deal with rejection from staffs ad employees that refuse to innovate or change?

AZ: To innovate is an act of change. Thus, we shall look at how managing change and the resistance looks like. Same concept, different application. 

  • Link the change to other issues that they care about – Link it to other issues that they already care about. By showing how being innovative is connected to other things that are already in the front of their minds, for example, job security or promotion. They can make the innovative behavior as the booster upskilling which result to better pay or promotion as new demands for their attention show up.
  • Show you care and understand concerns – Create a way to communicate with employees about new initiatives and their progress – Workplace App. Ask them what their concerns are when describing the vision behind the changes. Demonstrating that you value their views is the first step to influencing them or simply click LIKE on their postings
  • Identify members of the team who support the change – These people are your advocates for new ways of working. They are also peers who speak the same language as their fellow team members. Give them a platform and ensure they participate in forums about the change so that their voices can be heard.
  • Open conversation – Build in as much certainty as you can by giving information on what is going to happen and when, what aspects will change and what will stay the same. People are more likely to become stressed when they don’t feel in control. When people don’t know the details, they assume the worst possible outcome. Share details freely and ask for input on the ones that aren’t yet defined. 
  • Offer resources – When change occurs, one of the biggest barriers is that employees tend to be unprepared to handle the changes. Provide training classes, equipment, anything that will not only help them to adapt, but also to excel in the changed environment. Help them in any way you can to be more efficient and effective employees before, during and after the changes take place. They may not only stop resisting, but actually feel encouraged and hopeful anytime thereafter that you make changes.
  • Timing is everything – Good timing is crucial when it comes to change, and if you try to implement major changes all at once or too quickly, your employees may be more likely to resist. Introduce change in measured doses when possible, to give employees a chance to acclimatize. Not only does this ensure the least amount of interruption to your business, but also it makes for happier, and thereby more productive employees.

KA: What is your biggest challenge in encouraging your team in adopting design thinking as part of the business tools and decision making?

AZ: I think most of us did not realize the evolution of thinking method. A lot of us are still subscribing to Systems Thinking, sometimes known as Analytical Thinking, and it is the more traditional mindset for problem solving. In some situations, we are still engrossed in Critical Thinking that immobilized fresh perspectives and unable to move forward.

Young team members frowned upon senior people that always being critical without giving input to solve the problems. This is unproductive and morally felt let down.

In Systems Thinking we break a problem down into component parts, systematically analyzing each part and the causal effect. If we prolonged on this, innovation can never be off the ground and solve business challenges.

Empathy is critical in design thinking because learning and understanding how people use, interact with, and feel about a design is crucial to design success. Most of top management including middle managers underestimate this.

Good thing is now design thinking is teachable and learnable. Thank you for this interview.

For anyone wishes to learn basic knowledge on Design Thinking, you can enroll free here at our online course.

This course is a compliment as part of this interview and in support of CREST continuous engagements to drive innovation in our country.

You can reach out to Azreena Azizan on LinkedIn here

Any brickbats please send to [email protected]