Exclusive Interview with Dr. Santhi Kanoktanaporn “Rethink, Refocus, Reskill”


 2,329 total views Welcome everyone to a brand new month. My name is Jenny Zheng, co-founder of In my line of work, I have met several foreign dignitaries but not all of them are futurists in my humble opinion. Let us meet Dr. Santhi Kanoktanaporn today. He has an industrious career, a senior diplomat and former Secretary-General, Asian Productivity Organization (APO). 

Dear Dr Santhi, good to hear from you again. The last time we met was in Thailand together with Anndy Lian where he gave a talk as Blockchain Advisor for APO at the Asian Food and Agribusiness Conference: Smart Food Value Chain organised by APO. I hope all well with you. 

Dr, you have held numerous key positions in your career, can you tell us more about the work that you have done?

Dr. Santhi: I start my professional career as a research chemist in universities in the UK and the US. In my early day, I gained first-hand experiences with the SGS group of company, the Swiss-based global leading surveyor in the area of quality management, quality control, quality testing, quality inspection, and cargoes certification for 12 years. During that period I managed to diversify its services into environmental management consulting and auditing.

I joined the US Chamber of Commerce as Thailand Country Manager in 2000, to enhance the business relationship between the US SMEs and the Thai SMEs.

With these two international organizations, it provided me with invaluable opportunities to collaborate with many international organizations and experts in both business sectors and academic institutes.

After that, I seek another role to contribute my experiences, at the national level, to increase the competitiveness of the Thai industries. I first joined the Foundation of Industrial Development of the Ministry of Industry as the President of Management System and Certification Institute (Thailand). It is the national Certification Body offering quality management and certification according to ISO standards. Second, I joined the Foundation of Thailand Productivity Institute (FTPI) of the Ministry of Industry as the Executive Director. At these foundations, I managed to publish the first local management system standard on Self Sufficiency Economy for industry and subsequently developed various new business management tools and How-To techniques for organizations to implement to meet the standard. Strategic foresight and future-proof strategic planning framework have also been created and introduced to build the institutional capacity for both the public and private sectors. I led the FPTI’s macroeconomic team in developing a National Productivity Master for the Ministry of Industry. All these experiences completed my expertise on quality, standardization, productivity, and innovation for both micro-and macroeconomic levels.

My last professional career was in intergovernmental advisory services for the Asian region. I was nominated by the Thai government and was elected by the twenty member countries of the Asian Productivity Organisation to be their first non-Japanese Secretary-General, based in Tokyo Japan. We understand that your role at the Asian Productivity Organisation (APO) has forward-looking. I would say you are a futurist in the
governmental sectors. What changes have you made for the organisation
during your time?

Dr. Santhi: Countries today face an environment characterized by disruptive globalization, digital convergence, and diversification of the workforce. To raise APO member countries to the next level and ensure their long-term resilience, national productivity organizations (NPOs) need to revisit the interdependency of productivity, quality, and innovation to achieve overall economic growth. It is widely accepted that innovation is a key economic enabler for productivity growth. As member economies develop and mature, innovation becomes an indispensable growth factor.

I have led APO to become a leading global productivity and innovation organization in Asia by original thinking, research, or development of new concepts, techniques, and technology appropriate for increasing productivity in the Asia-Pacific region.

  • Introduced a new concept for productivity measurement, i.e., the Sustainable Productivity Index. Have signed an MOU with OECD to collaborate research and develop of the index aligned with the APO Sustainable Productivity Framework (Agility, Productivity, and Innovation). It will be the first of such productivity measurement in the world that able to respond to the hyper changing era.

The concept of Sustainable Productivity Framework: Excellence in productivity no longer guarantee that your organization will survive and thrive in a world of constant change and uncertainty. To be resilient, organizations must take a long term view to develop future-readiness strategies, taking action to address risks and seize opportunities to build productivity growth that can fit and sustain in the high uncertainty and highly complex future

  • Initiated and developed the Agricultural Transformation Framework to help members overcome the challenges posed by the fast-changing digital technologies and socio-economic-political environment and to enhance sustainable productivity in agriculture to meet future food (Alternative Proteins) requirements for the next generation of ten billion world population.
  • Introduced the APO Spearhead Model for APO to reassume the productivity leadership mantle by enabling, pioneering, and providing future-oriented expertise to meet the needs and expectations of member countries more completely, more importantly, to stay true to the spirit of the APO Convention, Article 6, specifying that the APO should perform the roles of a think tank, regional adviser, institution builder, catalyst, and clearinghouse for productivity-related information.
  • Initiated the establishment of APO Future Readiness Award (FRA). It aims to promote continuity improvement and sustainability of productivity in organizations. A technical committee consists of NPO Heads, external experts, and futurists has been formed to develop a guideline for the award. It is the first of such reward in the world.

Furthermore, I have applied advance techniques in special fields of activity for increasing agility, productivity, and innovation in the region.

  • Application of strategic foresight technique (Scenario Planning) in member countries, i.e., Philippines, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Malaysia, and Thailand, aiming for a sustainable future for their public sectors.
  • Application of Productivity, Quality, and Innovation (PQI) Framework – Introduced and developed more meaningful policy advisory/consultancy services for member governments. The first pilot project was successfully undertaken to advise the Government of Pakistan on the design and application of the Productivity, Quality, and Innovation (PQI) Framework for the development of its Productivity Master Plan and to reinvigorate the national productivity movement.
  • Application of Blockchain Technology – introduced blockchain technology for supply chains management and APO certification processes and appointed Mr. Anndy Lian, an external regional blockchain expert, as the APO Blockchain Advisor to educate member countries on its applications.
  • Established the APO Accreditation Body to raise the APO’s visibility and authority as a leading global productivity organization and to standardize capacity-building programs and training courses in member countries.
  • Established policy advisory services. Developed the National Productivity Master Plan for Cambodia 2010–2030 as part of the APO’s first efforts applying the APO Sustainable Productivity Framework. The master plan provides a framework underpinning a productivity-driven growth strategy and recommends 12 strategic thrust areas that will enable Cambodia to achieve upper-middle-income country status by 2030. Since then, two more National Productivity Master Plans have been completed and handed to the government of Fiji and Bangladesh. Furthermore, two more ongoing SNP projects with Vietnam and Lao PDR also requesting APO assistance in developing their National Productivity Master Plan. NPOs of Pakistan and Nepal have unofficially requested the same. How do you define innovations? Do you think technology plays a big role in innovating productivity?

Dr. Santhi: Productivity per se, as a concept to evaluate the quality and continuity of economic progress, maybe no longer be an adequate reference in the context of a complex, rapidly changing, interconnected external environment. In addition to the support of knowledge capital and technology, must embrace continuous innovation and accommodate agility, while ensuring future relevance by adding sustainability dimension to it. This is true for any entity, regardless of its size and nature and including the overall economy, on the journey to becoming more productive.

Agility in responding to changes and taking advantage of opportunities presented by those changes should also be an integral part of the equation for achieving productivity and prosperity. Productivity without agility would yield limited economic progress since it is only related to the notion of “doing the right things right” without considering risks and potential stemming from the turbulent, uncertain, complex, ambiguous environment. This will have even broader ramifications for economic progress with the inclusion of innovation in the productivity concept. Agility augments and accelerates the push productivity gives to economic growth, strengthening the connection between productivity and innovation, i.e., sustainable productivity.

Moses Ma of Future Lab proposed the merger of agile and innovation can be understood by this simple formula: Ideation + Execution = Innovation. Without execution, ideation yields just a bunch of ideas that never go anywhere. Without ideation, execution is a fruitless exercise of rearranging the deck chairs on the way to the rendezvous with on iceberg.

It is important that the comprehensive national productivity development agenda is in sync with contributing factors: an environment that encourages innovation and use of technology; the conditions that enable wealth creation; and triggers that spur demand. This alignment is clearly visible in high-performing economies. The approach is equally important for a society to succeed in this era of the digitally empowered economy. Emerging technologies are unfolding changes that can be harnessed only if governments and society are able to swiftly navigate through the uncertain global environment and make informed, strategic decisions that can sustain productivity growth. What do blockchain technology? There are many schools of thoughts on this technology. Some of them think that it is overhyped, while some think that is the future. Can we have your views on this too?

Dr. Santhi: The global convergence of personal computing, internet of social networking, sensors, and wireless data services that promote mobility is the first generation of digital evolution. The second generation powered by blockchain technology is powering a new wave of innovation that promises to change everything all over again. It is predicted to disrupt virtually every business because it is a tool useful for disrupting business models. It will provoke a network of change, and thus we expect to see deeper levels of business disruption than in the previous wave. The key underlying this technology shift is the adoption of immutable, decentralized ledgers that can reliably track and thus attest to virtually any form of ownership. In this full realization, this will in essence be an entirely new platform, or infrastructure, to support all form of commerce, both locally and globally. Blockchain technology is likely to become the fifth major disruptive computing paradigm in the history of the Information Age, following mainframes, PCs, the Internet, and mobile/social networking. Where do you think blockchain technology works best? Which industry will benefit the most and why?

Dr. Santhi: A blockchain behaves almost like a database, with the additional feature that it has embedded rules about who can see what. This means that you don’t need a bank, or an escrow agent, or a government, or any other middlemen, to make it happen. A “big bang” of innovation, development, and investment activity related to blockchain is now underway. The use of the blockchain in financial services and healthcare, particularly during the COVID 19 crisis, is significant.

In healthcare, the advent of personalized healthcare information from dirt cheap genome sequencing to the Internet of Things enables a new era of comprehensive data analysis that may enable researchers to solve formally inaccessible health problem. The blockchain allows this massive number of data sets to be encoded in forms conducive to secure sharing, open to third party computational optimizing algorithms and can perform what was essentially impossible only a decade ago, to perform complex data analysis for both the individual and the world at large. I foresee that the healthcare blockchain revolution will likely unfold at an accelerating rate. During this COVID19 period, businesses are forced to change. Many of them turned digital to survive during these hard times. What other
trends do you foresee happening in the near future? What should SMEs do
in order to keep up? Will innovation help them?

Dr. Santhi: The COVID-19 outbreak situation reinforces what we have long said that the new world will never be the same. And we won’t be able to stay the same. Moreover, the changes that will occur in the future will be much faster and more drastic. The changes are not limited to one area. It takes place in many dimensions, interconnected, complex and interdependent as never before. Whether it will be exponential technological change, global warming is difficult to control and will have far-reaching implications, the emergence of emerging diseases, changes in population structure, global geopolitical changes, as well as changes in attitudes and lifestyles that will result in the understanding of the people between generations, between groups in society, has grown steadily as society needs the cooperation of different groups of people to tackle new challenges together. All these challenges will definitely affect all of us, particularly all SMEs.

They have to first “Rethink”, envisage the need for changes as the Industrial Age gives way to a new era of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Second to “Refocus”, SMEs must focus in productivity enhancement and innovation activities and provide future-oriented expertise to meet the needs and expectations of the customers more completely. They must develop a new future-ready business model to achieve extraordinary outcomes. Finally to “Reskill”, they must initiate a comprehensive human resources management system and skill mapping to ensure that competencies and expertise become more future-ready and align with the new strategies. You must be a trend spotter too. Say right now, COVID19 is controlled, travel opens up. What kind of megatrends would you see in the next 1 to 3 years?

Dr. Santhi: I have set up a future team of contextualists to perform a strategic intelligence scanning regularly in five dimensions and few recent megatrends are identified as follow:

Social – Shift in demographics

  • Glowing world population – 8.3 billion people will live on earth
  • Ageing societies – Median age will increase by 5 years to 34 years
  • Increasing urbanization – 59% of the world’s population will live in cities

Technology – Dynamic technology and disruptive innovation

  • Technology diffusion – Technology will spread at hyper-speed throughout the world
  • Power of disruptive innovation – Innovations will change our lives
  • The age of life sciences – Challenged by demographics, boosted by R&D

Economic – Globalization and future markets

  • Ongoing globalization – Exports and FDI will grow faster than GDP
  • China will overtake the US and dominated global trade, featuring in 17 of the top 25 bilateral sea and air freight trade routes
  • India’s share of global economic power will match Japan’s in 2010 by 2030

Environment – Scarcity of resources

  • Energy – Global primary energy consumption will increase by 26%
  • Water – Half of the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress
  • Other commodities – Some rare metals will run out, and rising food demand

Politics – Sharing global responsibility

  • Shift to global cooperation – Nations will share more responsibility
  • Growing power of NGOs – The number of NGOs will grow significantly
  • Increasing Philanthropy – More donations but the philosophy of giving will change Can you share an inspiring quote or statement with our readers? We hope to share important lessons with those who are reading this

Dr. Santhi: Sure.

“Will the world be better if you are in it?” Thanks Dr. for your time. Your insights are very valuable. By the way, I have joined HUMAN Protocol as their Global Marketing Director. HUMAN Protocol is a permissionless, blockchain-based open-source protocol, meaning anyone can use it without requiring the permission of an arbitrary central authority. A cryptocurrency, HMT, is the primary mechanism of value transfer within the network. There will be ways that we will cross path again Dr. Santhi. 


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