Topics of a personal nature.

“Hey, hey, hey, hey-now. Don’t be mean; we don’t have to be mean, cuz, remember, no matter where you go, there you are.” — The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

Four years ago today — on September 8, 2014 — I stepped off a United Airlines 777 at Dubai International Airport (DXB) and took the first step on my journey as an expat in the United Arab Emirates. The 1,461 days since have been filled with exponential personal development as I have continuously challenged myself to be a better version of me. Not every lesson has been successful; some took several tries to get right and others are still a work in progress.

Nevertheless, I am progressing personally and learning to reframe a challenging situation. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have plans to improve my present state, but it means I work towards achieving them while embracing the “art of possibility.”

Being in Dubai has also allowed me to develop professionally in ways that would not have been possible in the United States. After teaching marketing and management classes for the past three years in the College of Business Administration at the American University in the Emirates, the start of this academic year marks my shift into the College of Education. I will now teach five sections of the following three courses:

  • HAP 200, Happiness Studies
  • INV 300,  Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • TOL 200, Tolerance and Diversity

In related news, the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education selected me as one of 30 educators from a pool of more than 400 applicants to join “Cohort 3” of the “UAE Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program.” The program provides curriculum, programs, and networks to equip the next generation of UAE leaders with an innovation and entrepreneurship mindset to ensure the country’s ongoing economic achievement (this is directly linked to the INV 300,  Innovation and Entrepreneurship course I am now teaching).  It also included an educational visit to Stanford University this past July 10 to 13, 2018 for specialized training in design thinking, the conceptual foundation of the initiative.

Unfortunately, while being overseas opens opportunities that were not possible for me in the United States, it minimizes the time I can spend with my two amazing sons, Jacob and Max. Despite being far from my sons physically, they are always close to my heart. It is my sincere hope that one day I can make amends for my physical absence in their lives. For now, I make enthusiastic efforts to participate in their lives virtually while maximizing the moments we can share physically.

Overall, I remain grateful for my expat experiences in Dubai. I also look forward to the future with optimism and excitement, despite not being fully clear about what it has in store for me.

If you want to learn more about my expat adventure, I suggest the following posts:

Innovation is the engine of opportunity. At its core is a commitment to experiential learning that encourages critical thinking and creative problem-solving while also engaging soft skills.

uae_innovates_qrThis mindset is fundamental to the future of the United Arab Emirates. So much so that, it is part of the ‘United in Knowledge’ pillar of Vision 2021 which focuses on innovative Emiratis building a competitive economy.

Emphasizing it’s importance, H.H Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum explained, “Innovation is not an option, but a necessity. It is not a culture, but work style, and governments and companies that do not innovate risk losing their competitiveness and falling far behind.”

Having taught INV 300, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the American University in the Emirates since 2018, I am fortunate to actively participate in this process. In support of my engagement in entrepreneurship education, on May 31, 2018 I was selected as one of 30 educators from a pool of more than 400 by the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education to join “Cohort 3″ of the “UAE Innovation and Entrepreneurship Education Program.”

Some background on the program:

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What is design thinking?  According to Coe Leta Stafford, Managing Director of IDEO U, “design thinking is a process for creative problem solving.” Fundamentally human-centric, it encourages organizations to focus on their customers first; this leads to the development of human-centered goods, services, and processes.

Design thinking is about solving problems for people by asking questions differently. Essentially, it provides a pathway through which you can improve your creative process — and turn an idea into action.  The entire design thinking process is comprised of five stages: 1. Empathize, 2. Define, 3. Ideate, 4. Prototype, 5. Test.

According to the Stanford d.school publication. “An Introduction to Design Thinking: PROCESS GUIDE,” the five stages of the design thinking process can be explained as follows:

1. Empathize: Learn about the audience for whom you are designing. Empathy is the centerpiece of a human-centered design process; it is the work you do to understand people, within the context of your design challenge. It is your effort to understand the way they do things and why, their physical and emotional needs, how they think about world, and what is meaningful to them.

2. Define: Construct a point of view that is based on user needs and insights. The Define mode of the design process is all about bringing clarity and focus to the design space. It is your chance, and responsibility, as a design thinker to define the challenge you are taking on, based on what you have learned about your user and about the context. After becoming an instant-expert on the subject and gaining invaluable empathy for the person you are designing for, this stage is about making sense of the widespread information you have gathered. In a word, the Define mode is sensemaking.

Ideate: Brainstorm and come up with creative solutions. Ideate is the mode of the design process in which you concentrate on idea generation. Mentally it represents a process of “going wide” in terms of concepts and outcomes. Ideation provides both the fuel and also the source material for building prototypes and getting innovative solutions into the hands of your users.

3. Prototype: Build a representation of one or more of your ideas to show to others.The Prototype mode is the iterative generation of artifacts intended to answer questions that get you closer to your final solution. In the early stages of a project that question may be broad – such as “do my users enjoy cooking in a competitive manner?”

In these early stages, you should create low-resolution prototypes that are quick and cheap to make (think minutes and cents) but can elicit useful feedback from users and colleagues. In later stages both your prototype and question may get a little more refined. For example, you may create a later stage prototype for the cooking project that aims to find out: “do my users enjoy cooking with voice commands or visual commands”.

A prototype can be anything that a user can interact with – be it a wall of post-it notes, a gadget you put together, a role-playing activity, or even a storyboard. Ideally you bias toward something a user can experience. Walking someone through a scenario with a storyboard is good, but having them role-play through a physical environment that you have created will likely bring out more emotions and responses from that person.

4. Test: Return to your original user group and testing your ideas for feedback. Test mode is when you solicit feedback about your prototypes from your users and have another opportunity to gain empathy for the people you are designing for.

Testing is another opportunity to understand your user, but unlike your initial empathy mode, you have now likely done more framing of the problem and created prototypes to test. Both these things tend to focus the interaction with users, but don’t reduce your “testing” work to asking whether or not people like your solution. Instead, continue to ask “Why?”, and focus on what you can learn about the person and the problem as well as your potential solutions.

Ideally you can test within a real context of the user’s life. For a physical object, ask people to take it with them and use it within their normal routines. For an experience, try to create a scenario in a location that would capture the real situation. If testing a prototype is not possible, frame a more realistic situation by having users take on a role or task when approaching your prototype. A rule of thumb: always prototype as if you know you’re right, but test as if you know you’re wrong—testing is the chance to refine your solutions and make them better.

To further understand design thinking I invite you to view the following video, “The Design Thinking Process;” it cleverly and clearly explains the five stages in just under four minutes.

The main priority of the Year 3 project is to ensure the sustainability of the innovation and entrepreneurship curriculum in the UAE, with an additional focus on developing a core group of Program Ambassadors to deepen the impact of innovation and entrepreneurship education in the UAE. Year 3 program components are organized into 3 categories:

  1. Create and Develop an I&E Curriculum
  2. Support the Teaching of the I&E Curriculum
  3. Facilitate the Growth of the I&E Ecosystem

It is my honor to represent the American University in the Emirates as a pivotal part of this initiative and I am excited to contribute to innovation and entrepreneurship educational efforts in the UAE!

Today I celebrated my 44th birthday filled with gratitude.

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There are many different definitions for the word gratitude, both traditional dictionary interpretations and more advanced explorations from the field of positive psychology. One that feels especially insightful is offered in a Harvard Medical School article titled “In Praise of Gratitude,” which explains it as follows:

The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness… Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.

I have overcome a great many emotional, financial, and physical challenges in the past dozen years. I am nowhere near where I planned to be at this stage in my life; some days it’s hard not to feel frustrated with what I’ve lost and what I’ve missed. However, I am actively rebuilding my life and resetting myself on a course that will lead me to a better version of myself. Gratitude is a key concept to my achieving this goal.

As I’ve gotten older I focus less on celebrating my annual journey around the sun with things than I do with people who matter most in my life. I am fortunate that, through my expat experience, I have found true love with my fiancée, Sylvia. Through her loving guidance and sincere support I am finding faith. This has empowered me to appreciate what I have and to not dwell on what I don’t.

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With her I have discovered that, sometimes, even a simple prayer of thanks before a meal can  help me see things in a more positive perspective. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have plans to improve my present state, but it means I work towards achieving them while embracing the “art of possibility.”

I am also grateful for my two amazing sons, Jacob and Max; they are both uniquely talented musicians and incomparably exceptional individuals. I am proud of their ability to overcome developmental and physical obstacles with which they have dealt. My love for them knows no bounds; they are my anchor and my inspiration.

Unfortunately, being overseas opens opportunities for me that are not possible in the United States, it minimizes the time I can spend with my sons. This is the biggest Catch-22 of my being abroad: I am better positioned to help them while being very far from them.

I find myself frustrated that I am unable to live the lesson I learned from my maternal grandfather, Papa, “spending time with someone special is worth more than anything that person could purchase for you.” But after repeatedly trying to make ends meet while doing what I loved in the United States fell through I looked abroad for a way to meet my personal obligations while pursuing my professional aspirations.

Despite being far from my sons physically, they are always close to my heart. If I had one birthday wish it is for them to understand the myriad personal and professional reasons why I relocated. I realize that might be harder to do now, but it is my sincere hope that one day I can make amends. For now, I make enthusiastic efforts to participate in their lives virtually while maximizing the moments we can share physically.

Nothing can make up for not being “there” in person, but I pray their hearts remain open to my love and their spirits stay strong during my absence. I look forward to a time when we can celebrate our birthdays — and our everydays — together again. Time stands still for no man (or his sons) and, as I experience my “children growing up, old friends growing older,” I hope too much experience doesn’t slip away.

I recognize that life is about love; each day I strive to create more of it for others and make the most of it for myself. It is my intent to make sure the love I take is equal to the love I make. I don’t always succeed, but I try my best. Every day I plan to be better than I was the day before — for myself, for my loved ones, and for my God.

We all have a limited time in life to make the most of ourselves and do the most good for those we love. To quote Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” I am endeavoring to overcome my past failures while focusing forward on emerging opportunities. All the while I am trying to live in the moment and remain grateful for all that I have.

I suppose that’s how the circle of life is meant to spin, right Simba?

“Don’t just count your years, make your years count.” — George Meredith

A decade ago — on September 19, 2007 — I started this blog to document my journey as a PhD student in human and organizational systems at Fielding Graduate University. I envisioned it as a personal journal, academic endeavor, and professional platform. Although I withdrew from Fielding, I continued blogging.

A few years later I launched my website, but this blog was my first form of online expression and it has evolved into the anchor of my social media strategy. This blog has been a tool through which I have shared my story; I will continue doing so indefinitely.

As I begin to discover my PhD potential with the University of Leicester, my PhD plans are again becoming a possibility. Once I begin my program this blog will reflect those experiences along with my adventures in academia.  I look forward to the future with optimism and idealism. The worst is over and the best is yet to come.

Speaking of focusing forward, in the first week of the Discovering Your PhD Potential course I was asked to answer the following question: Where do you see yourself in five years’ time? In ten years? (Consider carefully whether doing a PhD will help you to fully achieve this, and if so how?). My answers follow:

In five years I will:

  • Defend my doctoral dissertation and start my first year teaching with my PhD.
  • Apply for a promotion from being an instructor to assistant professor at AUE.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle that brings me comfort, calmness, and confidence.
  • Share my life with a partner who fills my soul with faith, hope, and love.
  • Expand my acting to include commercials and voice over work.

In ten years I will:

  • Publish at least ten papers in high quality journals, five book chapters, and two books about social media marketing, sports management, or my related research interests.
  • Work towards a promotion from associate professor to full professor before I turn 55.
  • Celebrate my sons living happy and healthy lives as they embark on adulthood.
  • Produce five online video courses and appear in a half-dozen podcasts.
  • Enjoy financial stability and the ability to travel at least twice per year.

The past decade has dealt me both unplanned obstacles and unexpected opportunities. Trying yet inspiring experiences have broken me while strengthening me. I have grown as a person and a professional; I am changed for the better, despite the scar tissue. This blog has documented these changes and will continue to serve as reflection of my progression. I am eager to make the most of each moment and invite you to join me on my journey.

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Happy 14th birthday to my sweet and smart son, Jacob! He has overcome many challenges in his short number of years, but he has always been happy and kind to everyone, confronting his issues with grace, determination, and humor. A natural musician he plays piano and saxophone, making the world more melodic and meaningful in the process. It’s challenging for us both with my living so far away, but he is always close by in my heart (along with my younger son, Max). I am so inspired by the person Jacob is and the man he is becoming!

Expat marks the spot?

Sheikh-Mohammed-3-FingersThree years ago today — September 8, 2014 — I first set foot in Dubai and took the first of many steps that have led me to my new life as an expat. Although emotionally anchored to my two amazing sons in Los Angeles, Jacob and Max, Dubai has revealed to me new friendships and opportunities I could have never realized in the United States.

Included among these opportunities is the very real possibility that I can finally earn a PhD, thanks to the American University in the Emirates (AUE). On a more personal level, my time in Dubai has opened my heart to new love, which has in turn filled me with hope and faith, two things with which I have long struggled.

I am thankful for Jumeira University, which first opened the door to this incredible experience, AUE for providing me with the next step, and for everyone who played a part in my process of self discovery and development. I am also filled with pride for my sons’ accomplishments and appreciation their increasing ability to understand why it was necessary for me to go overseas; despite being far from them physically, they are always close to my heart.

Most notably I am grateful to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, and ruler of Dubai, for making Dubai a place where even the wildest dreams can come true.

What happens to a dream deferred?

This was a question posed by American poet Langston Hughes in his 1951 poem “Harlem” which portrays the plight of African-Americans attempting to achieve the “American Dream.” This poem speaks to me due to several setbacks I experienced starting a decade ago that pushed the American Dream out of reach for me, encouraged me to explore being an expat, and deferred my dream to complete a PhD.

I have managed to advance in academia without a doctorate up to this point due to sheer determination; just this past June I celebrated ten years of teaching! However, as I begin my third full-time year at the American University in the Emirates (AUE), a PhD is increasingly necessary professionally and, quite frankly, remains a calling personally.

I have found a PhD program that will allow me to continue working while conducting my doctoral research: a Management Distance Learning PhD from the University of Leicester School of Business. With more than 90 years of experience and a global alumni network of over 30,000, the University of Leicester School of Business offers an interdisciplinary community of over 150 academics internationally renowned for its accounting and finance, management, marketing, and economics courses.

It is highly ranked for research power reflecting the pioneering work they conduct in partnership with leaders, managers, and organizations to promote and strengthen responsible business practices. Research conducted at the University of Leicester School of Business challenges accepted thinking, norms and perceptions in management, economics, finance, accounting, and marketing.

The school’s goal is simple: enhance the way we think about business and to work in partnership with leaders and managers to promote and strengthen sustainable business in all of its forms. My journey towards enhancing the way people think about business starts with preparing a research proposal of 3,000 to 4,000 words. According to the University of Leicester, “A research proposal is a statement that tells us what you want to research, how you will do it, and why it is important.” The research proposal is the foundation upon which I will build my thesis of at least 80,000 words.

My plan is to prepare my research proposal for submission in July 2018 with an anticipated start date of September 2018. However, starting the research proposal is a big step that will take a great deal of focus and fortitude. Luckily, I found an online course from the University of Leicester designed to help me achieve this task!

Titled “Discovering your PhD Potential” this five-week course is taught by Professor Neil Christie, Professor of Archaeology, and formerly the Director of Postgraduate Research in the College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities at the University of Leicester; he is joined by Dr. Vanessa Beck, also a recent Director of Postgraduate Research at the University of Leicester and currently a Senior Lecturer in Work and Organisation in the School of Economics, Finance and Management at the University of Bristol.

The course is designed to give me the awareness, skills, and tools to write a well thought-out and achievable research proposal, thereby improving the quality of my application in the process. It will also give me a sense of the self-study required by postgraduate doctoral research. Topics covered include the following:

  • Introduction to doctoral research.
  • Funding your study.
  • Defining the problem and writing a research question.
  • Writing a literature review.
  • Research design and methodology.
  • How to construct your proposal.

The class, which started Monday, September 4, is offered at no cost online via the FutureLearn platform. However, I opted to upgrade for $39 (+ shipping) which provides me with unlimited access to the course and entitles me to a Certificate of Achievement when I complete it. The course focuses on a different theme each week as follows:

  • Week 1: Introduction and research problem definition.
  • Week 2: Literature review and context.
  • Week 3: Research question.
  • Week 4: Design and methods.
  • Week 5: Bringing the proposal together.

After completing the course I should be able to:

  • Identify why I want to complete a PhD and whether my expectations are realistic.
  • Demonstrate how to set a realistic, manageable, and impactful research question.
  • Describe and implement the steps required to writing a literature review, including: a literature search, planning, organizing, and writing the literature review.
  • Compare the differences between ontology, epistemology, different research designs, and methodology.
  • Explore the main requirements, structures, and problems with undertaking a PhD.
  • Compare deductive and inductive research questions.
  • Discuss what kind of theoretical approach would be useful for my research proposal.
  • Summarize what I learned from the course into a first draft of a research proposal.

I am excited to embark on this academic adventure: completing this course is a first step towards making my PhD dream a reality; once I do that the name of this blog will certainly make more sense (doctorate + victorious + generous + notorious = doctorious) as well! To learn more about the course you can watch a promotional video below or view it directly on YouTube.

According to a quote attributed to Confucius, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Given that my personal motto is “learn continuously, live generatively,” teaching and training are a fitting profession for me: I learn something every day about myself, the people in my life, the world in which I live, and the subjects in which I am interested.

Learning isn’t always easy, but it is always rewarding intrinsically. It is for that reason that, when asked why teaching is my tenure, I explain, “I embrace education as my profession because it empowers me to help shape the lives of others, while giving my own life greater meaning.”

Occasionally, however, teaching is extrinsically rewarding as well: On Thursday, February 23, 2017 it was announced that I had won the “College of Business Administration (COBA) Program Development Award” for the 2015 to 2016 school year at the American University in the Emirates (AUE).

Notably, I was personally selected to receive this award by Professor Muthanna G. Abdul Razzaq, President and CEO of the American University in the Emirates (AUE).

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Reasons for my having been chosen for this honor include:

  • Contributing my editing, writing, and organizational abilities to COBA’s accreditation efforts with the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).
  • Designing “INV 300, Innovation and Entrepreneurship,” a new compulsory undergraduate course in compliance with Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MOHESR) requirements.
  • Developing the syllabus for a proposed new Mobile Marketing course for our MBA program.
  • Editing a 300 page report for the reaccreditation of College of the Business Administration (COBA) with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Commission for Academic Accreditation (CAA).
  • Enhancing my classes with interactive exercises, class discussions, and worksheets that challenge students to actively engage the course curriculum.
  • Launching two university level guest speaker series, “The Business of Marketing” and “Management Matters,” — and inviting other speakers to my COBA classes.
  • Managing large undergraduate classes of up to 49 students efficiently and effectively.
  • Reviewing and revising syllabi for undergraduate management and marketing courses every semester to ensure they present the most current and useful information.
  • Suggesting improvements to COBA policies and procedures, along with overall enhancements to the student experience.

I am thankful to have received such an honor and am grateful for the opportunity to have made the above contributions to AUE, COBA, and, most of all, my students.

Dammit Jim, I’m an instructor, not an extra!

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Last month I blogged about my experience as an extra on Star Trek Beyond here in Dubai. At the time I did not think I had made the cut into the movie. However, the other day at a Dmitry Masleev piano concert I ran into Koenraad Gys, a friend who was also an extra; he said saw me while watching a DVD of the movie.

I planned to get and watch the DVD, but tonight, just as I logged into YouTube for my MGT 100, Principles of Management class at American University in the Emirates (AUE), I saw a suggested clip titled “Star Trek Beyond: Starbase Yorktown Introduction Sequence.”

I watched it and, sure enough, at 1:31 to 1:32, spotted myself in my dark blue costume on the left hand side of the frame! You can somewhat see my extra two arms near my thighs, but you can very clearly see my face.

I took three screen shots from the YouTube clip and enhanced them as best as I could, circling myself in red. You can see my friend Alissar Nasrallah  to my right wearing a yellow jacket and my other friend Shah Qhan in the middle of the shot facing the other way with his hand on another extra’s back; I met both on the set.

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Live long and… extra!