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!

It’s  rewarding to get recognized for your role in education.

Case in point: I was selected by Maggie Williams to step into the June 2018 “Spotlight” of Chief Learning Officer Middle East. The Spotlight is a short interview completed virtually, face to face and can be written or video.

Through this profile I was invited to share my insights into education with the Chief Learning Officer Middle East community of educators, learning and development professionals, and human resources practitioners. 

Presented in question and answer format, I  addressed each of the following inquiries:

  • How would you describe the culture of your business?
  • What are the biggest challenges in the next 5 years?
  • What are the skills and competencies that you would need to train in order to meet the region’s talent requirements?
  • What is your Philosophy?
  • What’s next on your agenda?
  • How can people connect with me?

Of the seven questions above, the one I found most interesting was the second one: What are the biggest challenges in the next 5 years? My answer to that question follows:

I envision three big challenges facing higher education and corporate training in the next five years; they are broad in scope, but specific in application and can be characterized as: pedagogical, practical, and portable.

The first, pedagogical, means that all learning activities should be anchored to educational objectives; these provide parameters for the development of curriculum and metrics against which assessments can be measured. As educational offerings continue to embrace entertainment, it is essential to ensure there is still value to that experience.

The second, practical, acknowledges that learning should be useful and applicable to the real world; it might not be immediately actionable, but it should be relatable to the learners taking the course. Giving a nod to the influx of entertainment in learning, learning should leverage all technology and tools to make it as engaging and entertaining as possible — without sacrificing the integrity of the instruction.

The last challenge, portable, speaks to increased use of mobile devices as delivery devices. At the most basic level educational offerings should be developed using responsive design principles to ensure their accessibility on as many devices as possible. Ideally, learning modules will be specifically designed for mobile devices via customized apps, technology, or tools. Consideration should also be given to making content available offline and for users with low-bandwidth connections.

Do you agree — or disagree — with my predictions?

Teaching is a profession that can be as challenging as it is rewarding, but every now and then I am reminded why I chose this professional path.

In May I received a kind and heartfelt email from Omran Al Farsi, a human resources student at the American University in the Emirates. He had been  a student in my Principles of Management class during the spring semester which had recently concluded. 

The students in Omran’s class, which was one of my smallest at AUE, were uniquely mature and engaged; it felt more like a masters degree class than an undergraduate one.  We spent many of our class periods in the food court discussing management articles from the Harvard Business Review. It was refreshing and revitalizing.

And so, in some ways, I wasn’t surprised to receive a message from a student in that class. However, I was nevertheless surprised, inspired, and energized by Omran’s email; it was exceptionally thoughtful and sincere. The text of his message follows.

It is my pleasure to share it with you below:

“If my educational journey taught me two things, it would be the importance of knowledge and the person who is giving you that knowledge. Thus, I am forever grateful to you and appreciative for your mentoring throughout the course. You have taught me so many things academic related and in leadership on a personal level. I never heard your name mentioned without students and instructors complimenting you as a person and instructor. I found out why when I first attended your class. You have one of the most pure and kind hearts I have ever encountered in my life.” — Omran Al Farsi, Human Resource Management Student at American University in the Emirates

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I am proud to serve as advisor for the Future Business Leaders Society at the American University in the Emirates (AUE) with dedicated and determined students like Noura (President), Alyaa, Wali, and Omar (Vice President). Impressed with their business proposal for a “VIP Valet” service at the university they presented during a Student Showcase on April 18, 2018.

On Monday, March 12, 2018 I presented “Using Technology in Teaching” to my fellow College of Business Administration (COBA) faculty members at the American University in the Emirates (AUE) as part of our “COBA Scientific Session” Series.

I presented three types of cloud-based tools useful for teaching in three categories: admin, document, and media with live demonstrations of selected tools, as follows:

Admin Tools

Document Tools

Media Tools

View the Google Slides presentation I prepared and presented for this workshop at http://bit.ly/UsingTechnologyInTeachingSlides. You can also watch the video on my Facebook page or watch it on YouTube. Or you can watch the video below:

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?

What have you learnt to forget?

Last year, during the heat of the summer semester, Ms. Alissar Nasrallah warmed the hears of my students with her keynote speech “What We Have Learned to Forget – The Human Behind the Business.” Alissar manages Prest, her family’s corporate gifting business. I first met Alissar when we were both extras on Star Trek Beyond; we struck up a friendship and I was fortunate enough that she was willing to share her insights and ideas with my class.

Acknowledging the connection between business and ethics, Alissar reflected on the importance of philosophical and humanitarian values and their role in business. The following is an essay version of her presentation — provided by Alissar.

We have segregated our life into two main categories: Business and Personal, forgetting that life has much more than that. We typically apply a “live in the moment” only between these categories with “don’t bring your home problems to your work” and vice versa. We got into the details of the norms and values “don’t be too friendly at work” “be too friendly at work to lobby well” “know where to stop” “your personality at work is different than your personality with your friends.”

The segregation got deeper, forgetting that this person is a singular one and that his life is much richer than being sized down to two sectors. Once we understand the big picture that makes us – what I call the big ‘I’ – we will know that this segregation is not needed and that our personality can be constant in all areas. We will know that the nuance is having clarity of how to act and when to act no matter where we are and whom we are dealing with. Enrich the big ‘I’ with humane values to find stability, clarity and to pave your way up in all your actions, words and thoughts.

An inevitable part of enriching the big ‘I’ is how we deal with the other ‘Is’. Because of the ferociousness of survival, we apply twisted strategies that, I believe, most are not filtered humanely – from networking (that comes from the basic human nature of relationships), plotting to defeat colleagues, human objectification and object humanization, etc.

Why not try to change the twisted strategies for once and see how the world evolves; we might like it better. Strategies are needed yes, and smartness is needed. Inhumanity is not. Depict negative connotations is everything you read, you see, you watch, you listen to and you think of. What we feed our mind will be unavoidably translated into our actions.

If you don’t believe in goodness to drive your actions and responsibilities towards others, you have to believe in the simple logic that says: if I encounter pain on you, you will most probably reply with pain. Put this on the whole population scale, having in mind the complex human psychic.

The world will be an unpleasant place to live in – an unsustainable place. We often use the term sustainability when we talk about the natural environment, and not the human environment. For us to live together sustainably, we need (not only want) to live well together which means we need to be good to each other. In the lines of this idea, I came up with a simple untwisted strategy that I called “Positively-Conditioned Objectives”.

Everything we do at any time has an objective, even if we are unaware of it. A coffee with friends has an objective of connecting, venting out, updating. Being aware of the objective allows us to eliminate anything unnecessary along the way. The objective is for us and the positive-conditioning is our responsibility towards others. “I want to be the best cook” is my objective – it is for me. “Supporting others along the way” is my positive conditioning – it is my responsibility towards others.

I am not only talking about big objectives. I am also talking about walking-in-the-park’s objective and having-coffee-with-friends’ objective. The biggest objective of all times is to live happily. And the biggest positive conditioning is to be loving. You can push this strategy down to your tiniest actions, thoughts and words. It is a compass to always know yourself, be aware of what you’re doing, thinking, saying and feeling all the while being responsible towards others for a sustainable, more pleasant collective life.

You can also watch a video of Ms. Alissar’s presentation below.

I was asked to give an impromptu speech to new College of Business Administration (COBA) students at the American University in the Emirates (AUE) during an orientation session on September 26, 2017. This video was captured by a colleague in attendance. The text of what I said follows:

“By the end of your four years or three years or five years, whatever it is, you are a changed person for the better and part of that change comes through your participation and engagement in the whole academic experience — beyond just the grades, beyond just your one area. So, I guess my suggestion is to open yourself up to many different opportunities, meet different people, participate in activites, do your best in your class, participate in your class, and make the most of your time in your moment here. I often joke with my students that I was in a hurry to graduate; in fact I graduated early from my undergraduate school. And then, the minute I graduated, I said “why did I do that?” Make the most of your time here; it’s a special time, it’s kind of a magical time, even though you’re going to have stress and moments of anxiety and pressure. But, overall, your college experience is a very unique and positive time for you.”

CPI Media Group and Tahawul Tech present “Evolve – A Digital Transformation Forum” on Tuesday, October 24 from 8:00 AM – 2:30 PM at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel in Dubai, UAE.  Attend this event for free by registering online at http://bit.ly/2kb3fI8!

Digital transformation is defined as the methodology enterprises can use to transform and create new business models and culture with digital technologies. The convergence of new digital technologies, including social media, mobile, cloud and embedded devices is presenting opportunities for businesses to transform their operations to gain competitive edge.

The C-suite plays a critical role in making transformation happen and research shows companies which have succeeded in delivering a fundamental transformation of their business through technology benefit from a significantly better financial performance than their peers. The event, which aims to attract more than 300 C-level digital leaders from public and private sectors, will shed light on the strategies needed for regional businesses to map out their transformation journey and how to go big with digital with the right vision and leadership.

The event will bring industry leaders to share their journey on how they have invested in technology which allowed them to transform their business. Delegates will learn from  speakers and have questions answered through an engaging and interactive forum including key-note speeches and panel discussions. There you will learn how digital and new technologies are disrupting companies and industries.

Attendees will also explore how your organization can progress to the next phase of digital transformation with significant, measurable business impact. Hear from industry luminaries about how they solved complex business challenges with effective approaches and technologies. Review the agenda for the day and register for free at: http://bit.ly/2kb3fI8