Dr Ashraf Mahate is the head of export market intelligence at Dubai Exports, which helps more than 550 member businesses. He talks about why companies in the region need to be more innovative, and where to start.
What is the difference between creativity and innovation?
When you talk about creativity, what you're actually looking at is the idea that you're coming up with for a new way of doing things. It's good to be creative but innovation is taking it to the next step and deriving some value from it - and making it a profitable activity. What you want is the innovation.
How do businesses create the right environment to foster innovation?
People may be creative but don't take it to the next stage of innovation unless they're adequately rewarded. One of the simplest ways is to give incentives for teams or individuals. Financial is one level. Promotion incentives, greater responsibility and credit is another level.
What else is needed?
The way assignments are set - they have to be group-based so you have different people from different departments and levels, so you are actually fostering different ideas. Some of the problems we have in industry is people work in isolation.
Is this primarily an issue with export companies?
All industries. Many companies can be quite complacent in their domestic market, where they think they have market share. They say "why do I need to change my processes or products"? Whereas when you go to the international arena, you're competing not only with firms from the host country but also various others. In order to get a competitive edge you have to be different.
Share an example of how innovation can change the export business.
Some countries require biodegradable packaging for food. This is something novel in the region. When you're exporting now, you're forced to use biodegradable packaging. Now, I can use that same knowledge and technology in my own domestic market. When you're exporting you're sometimes forced to abide by more stringent standards or regulations. You're forced to see the product by a different perspective.
You argue that the push for increased productivity and efficiency is a double-edged sword. Why is this?
On the one hand you're dealing with low-cost producers and feel you need to be the cheapest, or that your cost needs to be lowest. In some instances you're stifling creativity and innovation because people are just focused on the bottom line. On the other hand, productivity actually makes you think about the processes and products in a different way.
So what's the bottom line?
Yes, I do agree the focus on cost and productivity can be good, but it can have a negative aspect.