Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Places to watch for innovation

I'm just finishing my second innovation training workshop in Dubai, and having a chance to think about the opportunities and challenges for innovation in Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates.  While these two locations may seem very different from each other, in many ways they are very similar, and they combine aspects and ingredients for long term innovation.

Both Kuala Lumpur and Dubai are cross-roads, where people from different religions, cultures and countries meet.  Both are very welcoming to people from different locations, with different opinions and different ideas.  This willingness to welcome others, to combine different concepts, perspectives and viewpoints, offers the potential for a significant amount of innovation.  What's more, both are growing and increasingly embracing their place in a global market.  Both cities understand their strengths and are increasing the emphasis on overcoming challenges in education and infrastructure.

While I have worked in the innovation space, I've had the opportunity to work with a broad cross-section of people from the US, Europe, South America, the Middle East and Asia.  I can say with no uncertainty that the people in Kuala Lumpur and Dubai are excited about innovation, engaged and enthusiastic about embracing change and creating new concepts, in a way that I suppose existed in many other countries.  Perhaps innovation leadership, as exemplified by the US, tends to lead to complacency, because I see far more excitement and commitment to gaining innovation skills and learning about innovation methods and practices in Dubai and Kuala Lumpur than I see in many Western countries.  And while there is a gap in knowledge and experience, this is not an insurmountable gap. 

Much innovation is accomplished through excitement, engagement and persistence, rather than through expertise and knowledge.  While we in the west need innovation to continue to grow and prosper, we often lack enthusiasm and a sense of adventure.  It's simply too easy to be comfortable with the existing systems and parameters.  Perhaps we've reached a level where all of Maslow's needs are fulfilled, and innovation seems to be too much work or place too much at risk for too little reward.  Have we become jaded to the power and possibility of innovation, or have we simply become far too comfortable?  Andy Grove was right, only the paranoid survive.

I've had the good fortunate too see many emerging and growing economies where many of the ingredients for innovation are percolating.  Beyond the simple ingredients - a good blend of many people and culture, strong educational systems, a desire to compete and win in the global economy - people in Kuala Lumpur and Dubai have energy and enthusiasm to learn more about innovation, animal spirits to create new attempts. 

Mark Twain said the rumors of his death were greatly exaggerated, and I'd be remiss to be one to write the eulogy of the US in regards to innovation too early.  But I'd also be remiss if I didn't note how much innovation potential exists in places like Dubai and Kuala Lumpur.  I look forward to see what happens in these locations where so much of the recipe for successful innovation is in place, and I hope we in the States can recapture the sense of urgency we need to accelerate innovation to retain our leadership position.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 3:28 AM


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