x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Foster growth with a renewed focus on fresh thinking

An expert suggests some tools to help foster the innovation which is essential to change and progress in organisations.

Writer and management consultant Margaret J Wheatley once said that the "things we fear most in organisations - fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances - are the primary sources of creativity". What did she mean?

Creativity is developed by organisations and society fostering an innovative spirit through welcoming the introduction of something new - as in a new idea, method or device. In line with the innovation process, "something new" usually has a positive impact on markets, governments and most of all, on us.

The government of the UAE has put investments in innovation at the forefront of its development strategy. Yet there is a critical aspect of innovation that must be considered, and that is the people themselves. Having a population that is ready, willing and motivated to lead the process of positive change is essential.

The UAE understands this need. I was delighted to learn recently that according to Insead's Global Innovation Index 2011, the UAE ranked 34th in the world. More impressively, the Emirates is one of only two Arab countries to make the top 40, and ranks behind only Qatar (ranked 26th) in the region.

This is an enormous achievement for the UAE considering that most of our investments in innovation-heavy industries such as Yahsat Satellite, Masdar, Advanced Technology Investment Company and TwoFour54 have been fairly recent.

But one has to recognise that we need a workforce capable of constantly innovating and always looking for something new to shake up industry.

To get there what I suggest is looking at three simple methods to promote innovation among people.

First, through the realisation of innovation's social impacts. Second, by easing the new venture start up process. And third, by encouraging a vested interest in the innovative outcomes.

In terms of social impacts, innovation is seen as the way to provide productivity and efficiency into our daily lives.

Ramadan is always a strong lesson in innovation for me, and no one highlights the necessity of innovation more than Ahmed Al Shugairy through his popular Ramadan television series Khawater. Throughout the series Shugairy travels the world discovering innovative ideas from western, eastern and local counterparts, and examines how this innovation has improved people's lives.

Take the episode where he travels to Turkey and discovers that a Turkish Municipality extracts methane from garbage, and then uses this gas to power almost 100,000 houses. The ultimate cherry on top is that the dirt which covers the garbage is capable of growing trees and grass, making this methane power station a pleasure to look at.

Second on my list is easing the start-up procedures for new ventures. With all the UAE's investments in technology and renewable energy, the country is essentially a blank canvas where a venture capitalist or entrepreneur should be able to paint a masterpiece.

The main road block to this future, however, is time. Being tangled in outdated, lengthy processes and procedures does more harm for a new venture than good. The World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Index gives the UAE less than stellar marks on this front: in 2011 the UAE dropped three places to 46 in the world for the ease of starting a business. This should change.

Finally for the big organisations leading the charge of economic growth in the UAE, it is important to constantly foster the entrepreneurial spirit in their respective organisations.

At the heart of any great business are the people that deliver results and innovate day in and day out.

As such, companies of all sizes should ensure their people are given every opportunity to pursue innovation. If that opportunity ceases to exist in an organisation the battle has already been lost. Think where Apple would be if they weren't constantly innovating.

Over the past few years the UAE has seen a surge in the so called "Intrapreneurs", employees who behave like entrepreneurs within larger organisations. But how can a company or government attract even more talent to drive the innovative process forward?

One way is to provide them with an environment and vested interest in the promotion and delivery of new ideas, products and concepts. The fact is if this country cannot offer our talent pool the environment and incentive to innovate, the outcome is inevitable; companies and individuals will go elsewhere.

The people of the UAE should realise that while this country has some of the largest sovereign wealth funds anywhere, along with the world's first carbon neutral city and a variety of other firsts and largests, it has won nothing yet. Business leaders of all stripes need to step up to the plate, build on the investments the UAE has made, and constantly be thinking of new ways to innovate.

The UAE cannot and should not accept the status quo when it comes to its potential. By innovating and discovering new ways to do things, this society can build a better, brighter future for everyone.

 

Khalid Al Ameri is an associate at an Abu Dhabi development company