His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, with Dr Saeed Al Dhaheri (right), Director of the Center for Futures Studies at the University of Dubai (R), Salim Ismail (second from right), founding executive director of Singularity University, Khalifa Al Qama (fourth from right), head of Labs at the Dubai Future Foundation and Peng Xiao, Group CEO, G42 after a lecture titled: ‘How Technology Grows Organisations into the Future’, at Mohamed bin Zayed Majlis. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: The UAE’s ability to be proactive and its eye for the future are creating immense opportunities for the nation at a time when the world is experiencing disruptive growths in technology, Salim Ismail, a top innovator and author, said here. Without this forward-thinking outlook, existing institutions and systems are faced with tremendous stress, warned the entrepreneur, investor, author and technology strategist.

He was speaking at the fourth Ramadan lecture hosted at the Majlis Mohamed Bin Zayed, which was attended by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and other dignitaries.

New challenges

Having headed innovation at Yahoo, Ismail is now a board member at XPrize Foundation, a non-profit organisation that hosts public competitions to accelerate technological development. He is also the author of Exponential Organisations, a bestseller that talks about how technological growth has changed the fundamental problem from scarcity to abundance.

Ismail highlighted the example of photography, saying that the challenge during the era of film photography was to take the best picture on a limited film. Products and services were therefore created to enable this, including classes to teach photography and composition.

Salim Ismail at Majlis Mohamed Bin Zayed. Image Credit: Supplied

“With the advent of digital photography, the challenge changed to sourcing. You’ve taken billions of photographs that are stored in multiple locations, so how do you find the one you want? New business models are therefore needed to operate in this abundant information-based environment,” Ismail said.

More frequent changes

The entrepreneur said the world is seeing this kind of disruptive change much more frequently now than ever before, highlighting examples such as vertical farming, drone-based transport systems and autonomous driving.

“We stress a lot of existing institutions, because large organisations and legacy environments are designed to resist change, and have what I call an ‘immune system’ response. They are bad at saying ‘yes’ to new ideas. Most leaders are [also] not trained to deal with change. But as the external world becomes more volatile, the ability to adapt will drive market value [for companies],” Ismail said.

Openness and proactivity

He therefore recommended that institutions be open to disruptive innovation, be structured for adaptability and adopt a suitable mindset.

“We have unbelievable breakthroughs in the world, but enormous difficulty accepting them socially, and this needs to change,” the strategist said.

Public policy, which is created defensively and reactively, must also be proactive and here, Ismail commended the UAE’s proactive approach.

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“I am excited to see how the UAE remains future-focused. By knowing what the future looks like, you are creating unbelievable possibilities and it is fascinating to see,” he said.

This year’s Ramadan lecture series at the Mohamed Bin Zayed Majlis has also seen talks by Dr Omar Al Derei, director general of the UAE Fatwa Council, Dr Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the UAE President, and Edward Jung, founder and chief technology officer at Intellectual Ventures.