Clear vision and education drive UAE innovation

It should come as no surprise that the makers of Star Wars and Star Trek chose to film sequences of their futuristic stories in the UAE – the country and its cities represent “A New Hope” for our collective vision of the future.

The UAE’s Year of Innovation and Innovation Week are just two examples of the passion for creativity that defines Dubai and the UAE, and helps to make the country the most innovative in the Middle East region, according to the 2014 Global Innovation Index.

As Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, UAE Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, said at a recent university MBA graduation ceremony in Dubai, the UAE has thrived on innovation, and the prosperity and well-being of the country is dependent on continual innovations, adding that if you live and work in the UAE, you should be fearless in conceiving and promoting new ideas – the country welcomes them.

He went on to say that this is not only the Year of Innovation, it is also the Age of Innovation. The UAE’s ambition sets a clear vision and goal to become one of the most innovative countries in the world by 2021 with a focus on renewable energy, transportation, technology, education, health, water and space – the UAE’s goal is to launch a mission to Mars by 2020. This is typical of the creative thinking that underpins the country.

Another example is in education, with the creation of the world’s first free zone for higher education and development. Dubai Knowledge Village and Dubai International Academic City have changed the game and contributed to the transformation of Dubai as a result.

These are big, bold ideas that capture the imagination of the world. Yet again Dubai and the UAE show the way. The path to innovation in products, services and processes starts with the creative idea before leading into the application of ideas to produce the innovation. Recently, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, initiated the world’s biggest public brainstorm – showing that inspiration comes not just from our leaders, but from all walks of life.

Not just excelling with ideas, we know that Dubai and the UAE move from announcements to practical solutions to challenges and realising opportunities that most of the world does not see.

Innovations do not always have to be big and bold. People face both problems and opportunities every day, and overcome them in their own way. This is equally important; if you can create a team or organisation, a government or a country with this attitude towards creative problem-solving, you can harness the collective creativity of an entire nation.

I believe this is what we are witnessing in the UAE’s Year of Innovation and Innovation Week.

What is the secret of the UAE’s success when it comes to innovation?

Building a creative culture involves individuals, teams and the organisation as a whole – it is challenging and depends on many factors.

Firstly, vision – I see a situation in which the UAE’s Government has a very clearly defined and stated vision.

Secondly, leadership plays a key role in successful creativity and innovation and this is one of the UAE’s great strengths – leaders who not only set the agenda and framework for creativity and innovation but who also lead, inspire, drive and support and reward the efforts of others. More than this, leaders have an obligation to live the values of creativity by being open to new ideas themselves and encouraging their staff to do the same. This motivates individuals to make a difference. This process is flowing through the UAE’s public sector and is an inspiring force.

In Dubai and the UAE, creativity and innovation perhaps have a special place and a special need, when you are leading rapid transformation.

Creativity and innovation are the lifeblood of society and creativity is the key skill of the 21st century. It will define an organisation’s or a country’s ability to compete and succeed in achieving its vision. This means harnessing and leading for creativity.

Within the UAE, Dubai is aiming to become not just the world’s smartest city within one of the world’s most innovative countries – but also the happiest; now, how creative is that?

Mark Batey is a creativity specialist at Manchester Business School and is currently leading a live research programme into the drivers and barriers for creativity and innovation in the GCC.

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