Governments lead the way in creativity and innovation in Middle East

Managing and promoting creative working requires organisations to gain a deeper understanding of the drivers and barriers to innovation, writes Dr Mark Batey of Manchester Business School.

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Governments lead the way in creativity and innovation in Middle East Batey: Innovation programs require skills development and training for key staff.
By  Dr Mark Batey Published  September 16, 2015

Creativity and innovation are the life-blood of society. Creativity is also the key skill for business in the 21st century and whilst nearly every major company will include a reference to creativity and innovation in its mission statement, very few actually practice what they preach.

There is an interesting comparison here between the public and private sector approaches to creativity and innovation in the West (specifically the UK, where I happen to live and spend much of my working time) and the Middle East (where I also work regularly with MBS students and client companies).

Often in public sector establishments there is less urgency to adopt and deliver on new innovations. This can lead to a slower pace of change and a natural tendency for government departments to embrace change only slowly and reluctantly. This more reserved pace of government change can also be a great strength — they are more likely to look into things carefully, develop well-thought plans — rather than rushing to a quick conclusion, hasty action and silly mistakes.

In the Middle East, and especially the Gulf, I see a very different situation in which each country’s government has a very clearly defined and stated vision. Moreover, each is actively putting the resources and energy into realising these visions through the direct actions of the government and its departments and related entities, by setting the example and creating a conducive and supporting environment, and by encouragement of the private sector and even private citizens and residents to contribute to the process of generating new ideas that can help solve problems and take advantage of new opportunities.

The Middle East/GCC with its diverse population and openness to new ideas is itself a great incubator that benefits the region; these innovations are also now being exported; a very obvious example close to my home is the UK’s first ‘Media City’, (in Manchester, of course) which mirrors the very successful Dubai Media City free zone (sister to others along such as the unique education, learning and development free zone — Dubai Knowledge Village/Dubai International Academic City, which are host to the MBS Middle East Centre in Dubai). The transformation of TECOM into the Dubai Creative Clusters Authority is another inspired move.

Leadership plays a key role in successful creativity and innovation, and this is one of the region’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.

The private sector — and other governments around the world — can learn much from this approach. There is a clear mandate and vision for change (driven by creativity and innovation) from most if not all of the governments of the region. This should provide a clarion call and clear focus for departments to innovate.

The UAE sets a great example with its bursts of energy — from the UAE Ideas Award to Dubai Smart City, Dubai Innovation Hub, The Mohammed bin Rashid Center for Government Innovation’s series of ‘Ibtaker’ workshops to strengthen innovative thinking and creativity among government officials to complement the National Innovation Strategy of the UAE to establish it as one of the world’s most innovative governments by 2021. And all in the declared ‘Year of Innovation’ 2015.

The Dubai Strategy for Innovation’s ten major pillars present a great model; they include inspiring leadership with innovative vision, innovative and integrated government, proactive private sector, qualified and informed citizens, an environment that promotes creativity and teamwork, innovation as a public responsibility, positive energy that can overcome challenges, risk assessment and management, resources management and international network. It is unique and inspiring, to the point where MBS Middle East decided to undertake original research into creativity and innovation in the cultural context of the GCC, which I have the privilege of leading.

The biggest challenge, as it is in all organisations, is backing up the call to be more creative and innovative by following through on the plans — through the skills development of key staff in the process. Do leaders (at every level of the organisation) know how to manage and promote creative and innovative working? Do teams know how to brainstorm effectively and maximise the outputs from group sessions? Does the organisation or government department have a culture that encourages creativity and innovation?

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