Commissioner of Inventors’ Commission Deepal Sooriyaarachchi says media don’t question anything these days. Questioning is a philosophical idea.
The Daily Mirror was in conversation with Deepal Sooriyaarachchi, who has been invited to deliver the IESL Ray Wijewardene Memorial Lecture, today November 30 presented by the Ray Wijewardene Charitable Trust together with the Institute of Engineers Sri Lanka, in memory of the late Sri Lankan innovator. Mr. Sooriyaarachchi is a business professional, who was the Commissioner of the Sri Lanka Inventors’ Commission from 2011 to 2015 after being reappointed in 2014 for an additional year.
e has a list of notable achievements to his name which include introducing an interactive web site with games to learn how insurance work, launching the book series Sinhalen Business in 2000, innovating the way marketing and management concepts are presented to the local audiences and introduced the first ever symposium for inventors in the country.
In 2011 he authored a book called ‘Jathaka Vithasuna’ an index to cross refer the 550 Jathaka Stories based on the need of the reader.
Q : Tell us a bit about yourself and how your career ties in with inventions
I am a marketer by training and have so far published 15 books on marketing. I wouldn’t call myself an inventor in the normal sense of the word. I think the reason that I have been invited to deliver this memorial lecture is because I have several innovations in the marketing field and the branding area. A good example of such innovations are the words that I have introduced into the arena including “paaribhogikasathkaaraya” and “sannamaya”. When I was handling Eagle Insurance I made sure the place was full of innovations.
With regard to the Inventors’ Commission I was asked to take over in 2011 after it had not been functioning for almost a year and I revived the whole place. In comparison to any normal office this is much more open. The driving staff are also given a place to sit with the clerical staff to help out in areas that they can when they are not working so as to motivate them. Involvement is innovation.
"A young girl in Kalutara or Beruwala invented a kettle that would not topple over when it is on an unstable surface. The problem the child was trying to solve was having a kettle when travelling in a boat. Another child in Kundasale invented a machine to pluck pepper. The media doesn’t play a good role in showcasing such happenings in other countries."
I have identified three types of innovators. The first class are the ‘Grassroots Innovators’. Those in this group are involved with very basic innovations. The second class are the ‘Intermediate Level Innovators’. This group is comfortable using a certain level of mechatronics. An example of machines that would come out of this class would be an automatic cashew peeling machine. The third and final class is the ‘Advanced Level’ which uses technology such as nanotechnology.
Likewise there are also three types of inventors. Only one type consists of those that are endowed with entrepreneurial abilities and start business through their inventions. The second type are those that are focusses only on collecting awards. I myself will be receiving five awards this time. The third type are those I refer to as dreamers. They have grandeur ideas but they are either unable to implement or are unwilling to give the idea to someone else to develop. When I went into the Commission I realised everything that was needed to support these different groups and different inventors.
Inventors are similar to artists. They observe their surroundings different to other people. They ask questions and then come up with the solution to these very questions. I was once invited to an international conference where a Professor Hull described the DNA of an inventor. It included among other aspects observing, questioning, networking, and building relationships which are normally not seen. Take for example a camera phone. These are the norm now with camera specifications a part and parcel of marketing a phone. However, a while back both of these components were quite separate. That was until an inventor decided that there was a need to have a camera accessible at any given time.
In my oration I will explore these possibilities and explain that inventions are not only what a segment of society can indulge in. The environment for inventors needs to be made more public and inventions can occur in all spheres of work. For instance my background of innovating is in business and marketing. Eagle Insurance was considered to be the organization with the most amount of innovation when I left.
I also use the concepts of Buddhism in management to motivate people. I used these concepts to understand the reason I failed my GCE Advanced Level Examinations and I also use them to make people more successful.
Q : What is the focal point of your lecture?
What I will do is explore how companies can make their entire organizationinnovative as a business. This will be by injecting the ‘Inventors DNA’ into the organization. We need to innovate the way we think, observe how things happen and question them.
Even the media do not question anything these days. A good example is the murder case in Kotadeniyawa. The media didn’t stop at once to question. Questioning is a philosophical idea. This is seen in Buddhism. When everyone one else was talking and wondering about aging, sickness and death Sidhartha Gauthama’s question was to why we are born since that brings about everything else. This is the power of questioning.
Q : What do you think about Sri Lanka and the level of inventions happening within the country?
In my view there are three factors that affect the level of inventions in a country. The first is the economic situation. This will drive us to do things differently. When petrol prices went up people invented hybrids. Another example is the use of LP gas for three-wheelers. As soon as the prices go down they switch back to petrol. Therefore there is a direct correlation between the economic environment and inventions. An example form India is a mini-fridge called ‘Chotukool’. It is a small fridge like a cooler box. This will however not be successful in Sri Lanka since our aspiration are higher and since we have electricity.
The second is education and exposure. 75% of schools with Advanced Level classes do not have a science stream. Exposure can even be in the terms of what we have seen in our lives since problems and solutions are linked to what we have seen in our lives.
"Even the media do not question anything these days. A good example is the murder case in Kotadeniyawa. The media didn’t stop at once to question."
A young girl in Kalutara or Beruwala invented a kettle that would not topple over when it was on an unstable surface. The problem the child was trying to solve was having a kettle when travelling in a boat. Another child in Kundasale invented a machine to pluck pepper. The media doesn’t play a good role in showcasing such happenings in other countries.
The third factor is the ecosystem. This is basically the process of putting money behind these ideas. The success of Silicon Valley is not only due to the scientists but also due to the investors. Sri Lanka does not have an ecosystem conducive to innovations. On product lines however there are some products and processes that can even compete internationally. For instance we can renew our revenue our licence for motor vehicle while staying at home.
Therefore we do have little pockets of innovators but not a critical mass that would significantly impact an area. For example we make kithulhakuru from kithulpani but has any one really considered whether this is the final product? Therefore in terms of Sri Lanka in comparison with the rest of the world, we are indeed, lacking.
Q : At what stage is it best for this innovative environment be introduced to the public?
This should be something that should be nurtured throughout. There are several benefits that students receive as inventors. Furthermore it is also a lifeskill. This system of a tuition led examination orientated education will not make people innovate. We are bringing up a generation of “cut and paste children’ who cannot look beyond than what is presently in front of them. If one has an innovative mind he will keep on improving and it is a skill that needs to be harnessed throughout. I can’t be made and artist now at fifty five years but I might have been able to become one if I had been provided with such an environment as a child.
Q : What has the Commission done in terms of tackling this problem in terms of policy changes?
A lot of things have been done to improve the state of inventions within the country. The Act of the Commission itself has brought about positive changes and has also been approved by Cabinet.
This recent budget is also thought to be supporting venture capitalists, who will be the group of people interested in investing in others’ ideas.
Therefore there are a lot of positive things happening. The more important thing is that people should start taking the incentive to invent on their own instead of waiting for the Government to provide them with the tools to.