Innovation can help create magic spark

The Life: Innovation is about organising to be creative. Dr Anil Khurana, lead director of consulting firm PRTM's Dubai office, explains.

Dr Anil Khurana spreads the innovation message. Mike Young / The National
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Innovation is about organising to be creative. Dr Anil Khurana, the lead director for the Middle East of the consulting firm PRTM's Dubai office, explains what he means.

How innovative are companies in the UAE and Middle East?

Big innovation happens a lot in the Middle East, in fact probably more than anywhere else in the world. Who else would have built Burj Khalifa? I think the reason it's happened a lot is because there is a lot of support from the Government and there's not necessarily the question of a business case behind it. The challenge is on small innovation, the day-to-day stuff. Small innovation is behind in the Middle East because you could always import it. But in the last couple of years the emphasis seems to have shifted to doing something locally.

So how can companies be more innovative?

Companies can be more innovative by having an inspirational vision supported by risk tolerance, respect for excellence, diversity, teamwork and leadership. Take the example of 3M, a traditional but innovative company. 3M has been successful because it cultivates entrepreneurship and risk taking by encouraging its successful scientists to patent their work and launch products and business within 3M. It also encourages a variety and diversity of backgrounds and skills - engineers, sociologists, scientists, marketers, etc - which creates the magic.

But innovation is surely a creative thing. Can companies learn to become innovative?

Innovation is about creativity and organising to be creative. Put a bunch of artists together in a company and you won't get a single product out. But put a bunch of engineers and artists together, along with a couple of people who know how to get things to an outcome and you will get something out. Innovation comes from diversity. Companies can learn to be more innovative. That's where leadership comes in.

So how does leadership drive innovation?

The role of leadership is: recognising the value of innovation; encouraging risk-taking innovation; and organising for innovation. That means there are groups responsible for it and there is respect and value for it. And then you get into the design question, which is "how do you organise for various efficiencies".

How strong is the link between innovation and success? Do innovative companies tend to be more successful?

That's a very interesting question and a very complex one. Take the contrast of Microsoft and Apple. In the same period of time Microsoft spent about three times the amount of money as Apple (on research and development) and had lower returns. Microsoft was trying to build the next product and Apple was trying to build the next solution for the customer. Successful companies such as Apple focus on what customers need but at the same time they anticipate which solutions are going to be successful with customers. So I think there is a correlation between innovation and success, but only if it's done right. Doing it right means know your customer, know your competition and know your organisation.