Travel ignites curiosity, and my recent trip to the United Arab Emirates was no exception.  It sparked my curiosity as well as broadened my perspective.  The region is noteworthy for maintaining ties to its deeply rooted and ancient past in Bedouin culture as well as for boldly embracing the future.  Here are 4 ingredients from Dubai to make innovation real and palpable.

1.  Take The Long View 

As Mitch Sinclair of Palmwood, a joint venture between the UAE government and IDEO, noted, there are advantages to a monarchy rule.  Because projects are not at the whimsy of a 4-year democratic cycle of commitment, investment from a policy, leadership development and business perspective can commit to the long haul.  This might also explain the country's decision to take a cue from the United Nations' spawned World Happiness Report and create their own Ministry of Happiness.  Investing in pubic policy to make happiness a priority in the education system as well as commerce and foreign direct investment.  This requires investment in people for the long term.  

2. Boldly Embrace the Pivot

The UAE consists of seven emirates or principalities.  The Dubai emirate will ship its last container of oil by 2020.  How is it preparing for this eventuality?  Not with fear and remorse- instead, Dubai plans to throw a party!  Imagine, the opposite of being protectionist, Dubai is already moving on and exploring their next currency: that of creativity and innovation.  Sass Brown, founding dean of the new Dubai Institute for Design and Innovation (DIDI) revels in the clean slate that she and colleagues have inherited to create the most forwarding thinking design education that incorporates traditional design studios and entrepreneurship through concentrations in strategic design, product design and multi-media design.  Which leads me to the 3rd ingredient:

3. Design in Happy Accidents

It's common for countries encouraging foreign direct investment to create empowerment zones in their port cities- particularly in technology and manufacturing.  Dubai takes this a step further with the creation of "D3"- or the Dubai Design District where "design is a destination".  D3 seethes coolness and creativity.  It hosts corporate offices for Zaha Hadid Architects, Ligne Roset furniture design and Harper's Bazaar fashion media as well as for DIDI.  The D3 public space encourages chance encounters between a range of creatives and innovators through the art installations and Thomas Heatherwick's Spun Chairs- as well as cool conferences such as -ing Creatives.   Developing intentional place-making clusters like D3 ensures that like minds will congregate and connect.  Note that clusters are different from silos: while silos focus on specialization, clusters encourage networks and connection without being exclusive.  This will purposefully sustain creativity in Dubai.  

Dubai and Abu Dhabi were two of the most internationally scaled cities I have ever visited.  The audacity to take on more than what is seemingly possible is reflected in the dynamic skyline reflecting diverse architectural styles- and in engineering feats to build skyscrapers in the middle of the desert.  Emirate people only make up 20% of the population; the remaining 80% consist of people from literally all over the world.  This ethnic diversity has lead to thought diversity where a range of approaches are entertained in order to move forward, develop and grow far beyond perceived constraints.

Published on: Apr 24, 2018
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