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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Embrace the future - it's already here

Instead of thinking you’ve figured it out, look at yourself and your business as constantly developing

A table tennis robot returns a shot to a human player. Businesses must be prepared to accept change and adapt accordingly. AFP
A table tennis robot returns a shot to a human player. Businesses must be prepared to accept change and adapt accordingly. AFP

My friends and I love to go on boat rides - we’ll use any celebration as an excuse to get on one.

My best friend and I used to conduct many calls and often go on site visits to pick the boat that we’d like to book for an occasion.

It was time consuming and honestly wasn’t my favourite part of the process because I had so little time after work, and spending it physically examining a boat didn’t make me ecstatic.

But that was then. Nowadays, and from the comfort of my bed, I just go on Bookaberth’s website, book the berth I want from across the UAE’s marinas and be done with it in a matter of seconds. Genius was my thought when I first came across the website.

See the difference? An activity that used to consume a couple of hours of my limited time can be over and done within a matter of seconds.

Looking back at how things were done just eight years ago, I do a lot of it online now. I don’t remember the last time I physically visited a store to buy flowers, movie tickets, gifts or send out a surprise birthday cake. My mom and I constantly joke how we can control our world from our phones.

If I had told my younger self that, it may have sounded bizarre, unbelievable and totally futuristic. It doesn’t seem like that anymore. Seeing robots in public entities isn’t strange and doesn’t look futuristic. We rarely see the future because it’s already here and we are living it.

I’ve spent a large chunk of my career on the other side, with businesses trying to be two steps ahead. When people were mostly physically shopping and online shopping was yet to take hold nine years ago, I launched an online fashion store that offered multiple online payments methods, which wasn’t very common for online businesses in the UAE.

When people were on online discussion forums, I jumped on the social media bandwagon. That’s not to say that I’m smarter, but that I knew that in order for my business to continue to thrive, and for me to always be up-to-date, I had to go with the flow.

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However, that is one of the complaints I continuously hear when I meet with business clients. When we talk to them about the importance of augmented reality solutions, they say: “But we just got the hang of this,” or “We don’t think this will be dominant,” or “We don’t have any budget for that.”

And this is where I as a consultant would say that your way of doing something isn’t what your business is about. It’s merely a tool that you should be able to replace in order for your business to grow and for you to earn more customers.

And that makes my clients so uncomfortable.

As people, we love to know about the latest. We enjoy going to tech exhibitions, testing new products, and pay to watch feature films depicting our future. But then we like to place this information on a shelf and leave it there. Not a lot of us are comfortable with change. Not a lot of us are comfortable with evolving. Change isn’t comfortable. It’s tiring. It’s vague. It’s not guaranteed.

But that’s what’s challenging about businesses, and if you really want to venture into entrepreneurship, you need to accept change, embrace new technologies and new ways of doing things.

Accept that augmented reality and drones will become more and more part of our everyday lives and that you will be chasing those AI solution providers that you rejected today. Accept that conducting payments and services online will be the norm and not the exception. Accept that you will probably be interacting more with robots than humans.

Self-driving taxis, cars and hyperloops will mean that you will enjoy smoother transport, but also it presents an opportunity for businesses to interact with passengers who’ll probably be spending more time and have their eyes glued to their tablets and phones, instead of on the road.

Look at not holding your ground as a learning process. Instead of thinking you’ve figured it out, look at yourself and your business as constantly developing. It’ll make the process of change less overwhelming for you.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer and entrepreneur, who manages her creative consultancy in Abu Dhabi.