In my most recent corporate role, a steady stream of company personnel visiting my office throughout the day was a kind of norm. This was in small part due to my quite literal open door policy. In big part, I’d love to claim it was my magnetic charm, but that would be wishful thinking at its very best. Fact is that my office housed something far more alluring than yours truly.
On the wall next to the entrance was a white board the size of an 80 inch TV – the kind you would expect to see full of grand corporate visions, lofty expansion goals, ambitious project timelines and self-glorifying pictures from awards ceremonies. This one was different though. It was adorned with carefully selected, neatly cut out quotes, that were meant to serve as my reminders of what really matters – one big rectangular personal guidance system if you will.
After successfully completing a mind numbing succession of meetings followed by a ton of paperwork, it would instantly dampen my self-congratulatory zeal by reminding me ‘not to confuse activity with productivity’. Spend too much time on a single vexing issue, and it would urge me ‘not to miss the forest for the trees’. Every week, I would dutifully replace old quotes with new ones, except for favourites like ‘never put the keys to your happiness in someone else’s pocket’and ‘don’t raise your voice to improve your argument’.
Over time, the wall got dubbed as the ‘wall of inspiration’. People from all over the organization would invite themselves in, stand fixatedly in front of the board and nod vigorously in agreement, with what they felt were profoundly inspirational lines. One that was particularly popular and touched many a raw nerve was ‘if you don’t know your own worth, don’t expect someone else to calculate it for you’. Often, they would leave my office with so much gusto, that you would be expecting to see a dramatic change by the very next minute, let alone day. This change seldom transpired though, and the temporary surge of motivation invariably proved a blip on the radar of an otherwise self-imposed mediocre existence.
The smallest action is greater than the biggest intention.
‘WHY?’ is not a question I can answer with much authority when it comes to this lack of change. After all, the lines ‘anything worth having is just outside your comfort zone’ stared me right in the face on a daily basis, while I continued to be ensconced in the so-called comfort of my own familiar world (in my defense, I did eventually follow that one when I embarked on my entrepreneurial journey).
In a scenario where you have theoretical inspiration on one side, an enthusiastic candidate for change on the other, but still have an inexplicable lack of traction, the missing element seems to be that of a real world example that pushes you to act. Typically, these should come in the form of mentors who embody that worldly wisdom, invest their time in you and guide you down the right path. Time, however, is increasingly a luxury and with the exception of a fortunate few, the viability of having a devoted mentor in today’s day and age continues to diminish.
Fortunately, inspiration doesn’t necessarily have to come from people that you know, or even one’s that are alive for that matter. In fact, they don’t necessarily have to be people either, as anything that inspires you to take the right actions and make the right choices is a mentorship of sorts. What’s important is that their examples and advice be well documented, relevant and accessible.
Dubai Inc. – The Epitome of wisdom in action.
The obvious isn’t always that obvious without the right mindset. A while into my search for real world examples of my quotes, it dawned upon me that all the inspiration I would ever need was right under my nose. Dubai – the epitome of success, wisdom and ‘can do’ spirit embodied all my favourite quotes unlike anyone or anything else I could think of. Be it perseverance, innovation, vision, ambition, leadership or resilience, Dubai has consistently been setting extraordinarily high benchmarks, and that too of global proportions.
Here’s how Dubai represents the real world manifestation of some of the quotes from my ‘wall of inspiration’:
1. The best way to beat the competition is to compete with yourself.
In a few years time, Dubai Mall will be eclipsed by Mall of the World, and Dubai will lose the mantle of ‘world’s largest mall’……………..to Dubai!
As a person or as a company, if you are constantly striving to be better today, than you were yesterday, the competition is the last thing you will ever have to worry about – guaranteed!
2. Playing it safe is one of the riskiest things you can do.
When the idea of Burj Khalifa was conceived and planned, there was far more at stake than enormous amounts of money. A construction of this magnitude had never been attempted before and there were numerous ways in which things could have turned drastically wrong. However, Dubai did not shy away from taking this colossal risk in full view of the world and today, boasts of an icon instantly recognizable around the globe. In fact, the miracle of Dubai can be attributed to anything but ‘safe thinking’.
A ship in a harbour is safe, but that’s not what ships are meant for. Anyone successful today, be they a businessman, sports person, actor or scientist, repeatedly put themselves in positions where things could have gone either way between big leap forward or major setback. They probably experienced both on occasions, but without being willing to take the necessary risk, they most certainly wouldn’t be where they are today. If you are giving up on your dreams by avoiding the unknown and settling for average, you are taking the biggest risk of all.
3. If you have six hours to chop a tree, spend the first four sharpening your axe.
Dubai Quality Awards, Smart Government, Plan 2021, Government Excellence Programme and the likes are not meant to be exclusive initiatives relevant to just a select few. These are very well considered examples of Dubai constantly and committed sharpening its axe, i.e., preparing its people and government to execute plans and ward-off challenges in the most effective, result-oriented way possible.
It is not unusual to get so engrossed in chopping your trees with a blunt axe, that you don’t have the time to sharpen it. Become super conscious of this irony of ‘busy being busy’ that plagues even the best of us, and focus on self-improvement for far superior results.
4. Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.
40 years ago, Sheikh Rashid decided that Dubai needed a deep sea port, Jebel Ali. Apparently, when everyone tried to dissuade him from pursuing the project, benefits of which seemed unclear at the time, he said he was building it because Dubai is going to need it soon. Today, Jebel Ali is the largest man made harbour in the world and a regional and international shipping hub that has contributed immensely to its prosperity.
What you visualize, you materialize. The only limit you have on achievement is your ability to see your goals to fruition in your mind’s eye, and to then lock on to that vision with all that you have. Moreover, the good news is that this ability can actually be learned and honed.
5. Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games.
Having achieved so much in so little time, you couldn’t really fault Dubai if it was tempted to rest on its laurels, at least for a while. That, of course, never happens as Dubai only sees its achievements through the rear view mirror while constantly looking ahead. It simply has no time to bask in its glory because there is always something bigger and better on the horizon.
Do you have spectacular achievements to your name in past? Dwelling on them will only get you so far, as you have to constantly reinvent your value proposition to stay relevant to the times.
6. If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.
When the Internet City, a key initiative to make Dubai a regional IT hub was trying to attract the best tenants, Dubai didn’t exactly have a reputation in this field and luring the big guns was challenging. Consequently, Microsoft, the biggest player of all in those days, was offered a rent-free space for 50 years, along with an opportunity to place the world’s largest Microsoft signboard above its building. The remaining tech giants made a beeline to the Internet City and the rest is history.
Sometimes, in working towards our objectives, we need to make unusual choices that fly in the face of convention and short term gain. So next time, when you feel helpless in front of forces supposedly beyond your control, think again and this time, think from a more empowered viewpoint – you will surprise yourself.
7. You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.
Ever heard about Dubai announcing initiatives in any field and not following through? Barring the extraordinary circumstances of the crisis that forced some detours, Dubai has built a solid reputation of being committed to action and delivering what it promises, no matter how outrageously ambitious it may sound at the time.
Building castles in the air is not a bad pastime, as long as you have a well considered plan for their real world construction. Well done is always better than well said.
8. Prepare to be doubted – a challenge only becomes an obstacle when you bow to it.
Accordingly to popular perception built over the years, Dubai couldn’t put a foot wrong in whatever it did, and then all of sudden in 2008, the same observers declared it could do nothing right. Reeling under the crisis and mass hysteria, the world turned Dubai and its ‘deeply flawed model’ into a punching bag. Soon enough though, on the strength of its exemplary resilience, Dubai’s economy was on the upturn once again, the property market was recovering and the Emirate embarked on another round of ambitious development and expansion. And the doubters? Eating large pieces of humble pie!
When the chips are down, we often find ourselves being doubted in our abilities, commitment and sincerity by the very same people who used to swear by us. More often than not, this is a reflection of their own insecurities. But whether you let that doubt define you or whether you decide to rise above it and prove detractors wrong is entirely up to you.
9. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.
Today, even the cynics expect nothing less than the best when it comes to Dubai, as commitment to the best is now part of its DNA. In fact, ‘Dubai Standards’ has actually become a cliché for superlatives.
Habit, they say, is stronger than logic as it is inherent in your nature and comes without thinking. Doesn’t it make sense, therefore, that we form the kind of habits that attract success to us by default?
10. Leadership is not a position or a title, it’s an action and example – and a leader’s job is not to create followers, but more leaders.
Take a close look at Dubai for this one. Need I say more?
Conclusion: ‘Cutting edge’, ‘state of the art’, ‘trailblazer’, ‘trendsetting’ and ‘world’s best’ are all terms that are synonymous with Dubai today, and its the exceptional combination of worldly and business wisdom that got it there.
Consider Dubai as a person or as a company and next time you need inspiration in making a decision, ask yourself, “what would the far-sighted brains behind Dubai have done in such a situation?” Chances are, that you will arrive at a prudent solution.
Ultimately, success in any sphere of business or life is the result of the thought process that runs it. By extension therefore, studying and emulating the mindset of the successful and applying it to our own circumstances is one of the most assured routes to success.
May you soar to greater heights.