Idealog's Most Creative: oDocs' Hong Sheng Chiong talks creativity

oDocs CEO Hong Sheng Chiong was one of the People's Choice winners for the health category in Idealog and Accenture's Most Creative People. Sheng Chiong and Hannah Eastvold-Edwins from oDocs are turning iPhones into eye clinics to prevent people from losing their vision. What previously required expensive equipment and was out of reach of millions who were in danger of losing their sight is now accessible, showing the brilliance of basic solutions that harness the amazing technology that is all around us. Here, he talks creativity, the secret to success and where his best ideas come from. 

What does creativity mean to you?

For oDocs, creativity is becoming a way of life. We started the company in 2014 with very limited resources, I believe this situation has forced us to do things in a way unlike others. We always try to achieve a goal in the most cost-effective manner and with whatever we have in our hands. Creativity, speed and dedication to our tasks is what pushed the company forward in its early days.

What do you think it is about your nature/habits/interests that makes you creative?

I think this one is slightly controversial. When I encounter challenges or difficulties in achieving a goal or completing a task, I always wonder if there is an easier or lazier way of getting things done. That is when creative ideas or solutions begin.

What first drew you to your chosen field?

My interest in working with something small and the love for specialised equipment is what draws me to the field of ophthalmology (surgical eye care). In my opinion, dealing with eyes are much more satisfying than any other medical or surgical specialties.  Eye doctors get immediate job satisfaction restoring sight, be it as simple as prescribing a pair of glasses or performing a cataract surgery.

What was your upbringing like, and how do you think that led you to where you are today?

Got brought up in a way to be self-sufficient and independent.  My dad is the iron dad type personality. Authoritative and authoritarian, “you’ve got to work and earn it yourself” attitude. Therefore, I have to master multiple skills and trades and become a jack of all trades in some ways.

Where do your best ideas come from?

My best ideas always come from frustrations.  Situations where I was really stuck at doing certain things.  It is always right after that when I would come up with an idea to solve the problem.

What does inspiration look like for you?

Seeing someone or a technology achieving a goal in a novel way is what inspires me and keep me wanting to stay up the whole night learning about it. 

Is there an ethos/motto you abide by in your work?

“Finish what you have started”. This is also the same advice I got from Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple.

If there were a secret to success, what would it be?

I do not believe in magical short cuts to success, the secret to success is hard work and perseverance. 

We started the company in 2014 with very limited resources, I believe this situation has forced us to do things in a way unlike others. We always try to achieve a goal in the most cost-effective manner and with whatever we have in our hands. Creativity, speed and dedication to our tasks is what pushed the company forward in its early days.

What were some of the challenges that you faced early on? What went wrong? Any regrets?

Getting people to trust you is the hardest thing when it comes to sharing knowledge, getting funding, and partnership.  I started off as a junior doctor with not much credential in business, technology or achievements.  Really, no body really cares about my idea until I launch it myself. I think the beginnings are not always that easy, you have got to persevere and just believe in yourself and take the necessary action. There are numerous times when others will just disapprove and pour cold water over your ideas.  Just go ahead a do it.  I failed several businesses (health fashion, food and beverages, marketing business) in the past but I have no regrets.  I take it as a learning opportunity and try not to make the same mistakes.

Do you work a lot? Do you have an obsessive part to your personality?

I used to work a lot, like 120 to 140 hours per week. But retrospectively, I think it is not healthy at all.  Finding a work-life balance is always easier said than done and I think for me personally, oDocs Eye Care and its R&D are becoming my hobby. We always make time for hobbies. 

What’s the secret to resilience?  

The secret to resilience is to keep yourself interested in your long-term goal by breaking down that goal into smaller goals.  For example, my goal is to end preventable blindness. That is a crazy goal by any means and I do not have the man power nor the money to do so.  But I am trying to do it and keep going by breaking it down to smaller goals such as start with making cheaper or free eye care equipment, which I managed to do so in less than a year.  Next goal would be introduction of artificial intelligence to assist diagnosis and screening.  And lastly over the next 10 to 15 years, it would introduction of affordable eye surgeries, techniques and technology. 

What have been some of the highlights of your career?

Being able to help small communities and groups in South Africa and China. Access to affordable diagnostic eye care tools has enable thousands of clinicians around the world to continuously provide eye care to those most in need. The positive impact of my hobbies is the highlight of my career.

What do you think New Zealand is like for creativity? Is there something about ‘Kiwiness’ that helps or hinders?

New Zealand is an isolated country geographically. I think the fact that we have less people it really helps in getting oneself to become a specialist or pioneer in their respective field.  But obviously the market is small too.  But I see it as a gateway to international market.  Start small with no competition and go international.  We have plenty of opportunities to grow.  The New Zealand government is extremely supportive in technology and R&D activities. There are numerous way to get government funded support through organisations such as Callaghan Innovation, HRC, MBIE and local regional business partners.

What would be the advice you’d give someone who wants to turn their creative passion into a full-time gig?

Having interest in what you do, if you really enjoy what you do, it becomes a full time gig naturally.

What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned?

Dream big, take action, small steps at a time, and finish what you have started.

Where to next? Do you have a goal you’re working towards?

oDocs is expanding internationally. Our next big market is China. We have already signed MOU with a publicly funded company in Wuhan, China. We will be introducing an artificial intelligence platform in the last quarter of 2018.  We believe this will become the next big thing in intelligence diagnostic eye care. 

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