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Opinion: Phuay Li Ying believes curiosity is essential to progress

From managing her family's Excelpoint Systems to her own start-up accelerator, PlanetSparks, this multi-hyphenate shares how she's able to do it all.

“How do you wear so many hats at once?” Every time people learn of my multiple jobs, they ask me this question. I always respond with laughter and explain that every plant I care for comes from the same seed. It took me seven years to realise that my heart was beating for this one thing dubbed epistemic curiosity.

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Curiosity is the humble idea that I can learn, create, change or impact the world. With my deep and abiding curiosity, I am able to discover new people, new conversations, fresh places, great ideas, and I am aware of the ever-changing nature of the world, as well as how innovation and change are born.

Growing up, I realised that I was a Jane of all trades and master of none. It never occurred to me to build a trait or skill to perfection – and by perfection, I mean becoming a walking Google. As a young girl, I enjoyed everything – from painting to dancing (well, maybe just not mathematics). I cherished this trait because I could fit into any conversation or any circumstance. I never had to worry that I would fail because I could just pick myself up and learn a new skill. I considered myself an indestructible tardigrade.

As I entered the workforce, I was excited whenever someone offered me an opportunity, even if I wasn’t sure I could handle it. The relentless pursuit of satisfying my ‘what ifs’ probably took over. Richard Branson once shared, “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity, but you are not sure you can do it, say yes, then learn how to do it later.”

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I joined my family business in the semiconductor industry – an unsexy, male- dominated one. My task was to change this impression. Despite having no engineering background, I saw it as an advantage. I could start from scratch. I spent most of my days starting conversations, asking the whys behind the whats and building my network. I was fascinated by how a single field of study such as AI could revolutionise technology. As the days turned into years, I created different pockets of opportunity. Many of the ideas became businesses that I manage, while others remained dreams.

Having that curious mind is a prerequisite of progress. Could this method work? Would changing this system improve efficiency? What if we innovate? It inspires us, even in hard times, and it encourages us to chase our ambitions instead of locking them away in the safe, quiet parts of our minds. The brain can be a mystery, but it is the key to endless possibilities.

Curiosity will always drive my ultimate decisions and creations, no matter who I end up becoming. It is a fundamental human characteristic, and we should never give up on it. Our foreheads should be emblazoned with this powerful title the moment we do because we stagnate when we stop learning and discovering. In a quote I read, a photographer said, “My favourite words are possibilities, opportunities and curiosity.” Curious people search for opportunities and build doors; when they open the doors, they see possibilities. Isn’t it exciting to see if we can open any more doors? The sky is truly the limit.

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