There’s an incredible thirst for knowledge in the Middle East. And it stems from an attitude that has been at the heart of the region—the never-to-be-quenched curiosity of the nomad…the explorer.
Nowadays, this ancestral thirst finds too many times its counterpart in the constant feeling that the region is catching up. Closing the gap. Becoming again a referential point in the world in terms of knowledge, discoveries, and innovation.
Because yes, in the rush to achieve the apparently unachievable of the Silicon Valleys of our contemporary world, the region too often forgets that it stands on the shoulders—not of giants—but of great inventors.
People of all age categories in the Middle East are striving to learn the trending subjects—from coding to digital marketing to agile project management and up to lean entrepreneurship. Due to the growing numbers of co-working spaces, incubators and accelerators as well as university programs, joint partnerships or government programs, the UAE is emerging as the quick learner of the region.
The economic growth also needs to be sustainable. And sustainability can only be achieved by a proper accumulation and assimilation of knowledge. It is like deciding to drink only a drop of water after running a marathon. But understanding the value of that drop instead of just going for a water dispenser.
The energy drink
This dilemma has generated a surge of rushed learning experiences in the region. We are all seeking the shortcuts to learn faster in order to get to the implementation part. We want to get the 10 tips and tricks to learn project management (if possible, summarized), the 5 steps to be great public speakers or the 3 uncovered secrets to being a great leader. And we see these all around us—from book covers to magazine articles to online courses or classes and trainings.
I am not claiming that the content of all these do not hold value—on the contrary, I’ve learned a series of the time management techniques most useful for my startup from a book called Getting Things Done Fast by David Allen. What I am raising awareness for and warning on, especially in the entrepreneurship scene in the Middle East, is the fallacy of using the tips and tricks learning method in a holistic way—for scaling a startup, for creating new programs and products, for transforming an organization.
It is like deciding to go for an energy drink in order to learn an entire handbook on business in one night. You’ll probably do it. But you won’t be able to continue getting energy drinks for the next large chunks of knowledge that you’ll have to assimilate in order to stay at the level you already scaled up to.
Going beyond the ‘tips and tricks’ learning approach—which, from my point of view, is flawed even though we live in times of information and knowledge overload—we usually turn to learning platforms and resources such as Coursera, Udacity or Lynda.com. But people in the Middle East are understanding more and more the value of combining self-learning with learning from role models who can also share the nitty gritty of real concepts and situations.
The talks that are organized at Sheraa, the new entrepreneurship center of Sharjah are an example of that. And have a look at the accelerator program Sheraa organizes and the learning path they developed.
Also, explore the series of events GlassQube constantly organizes in Abu Dhabi, covering consistently the basics of launching and developing step by step a business in UAE.
Last but not least, see the way the Dubai Future Accelerators are covering major trends while maintaining a big picture perspective through their formats—from inspirational talks to masterclasses and up to show and tell presentations of their selected startups.
But the examples don’t stop at institutions—there are amazing entrepreneurs such as Tarig El Sheikh and Petar Stojanov who are converting their serial entrepreneurship into structured knowledge through programs such as Ebtikaar’s From Idea to Startup. As for the intersection point, look no further than Weyana, the network of learning programs Mubadala developed for youth covering from community and wellbeing aspects up to science, technology and career areas.
These are the rivers. The long (sometimes rocky) paths. But these rivers—with the patience of the learner and the certainty of the inventor—are carrying people through a sustainable growth. Follow the river(s).
The three water drops
I promised you 3 tips and tricks on how to avoid the ‘3 tips and tricks’ type of articles so I have to fulfill my promise. So here they are, three waterdrops of personal opinions masked as accelerated wisdom for entrepreneurs and not only:
When you see numbers in titles, search for supporting numbers in the text, too. Skim for the stats, the math or the data-driven argumentation.
When you see numbers in titles that are putting forward promises for absolute (unquantifiable) qualities (greatness, awesomeness, true potential), remember that even if you could count 7, 5 or only 1 step left to them, you’ll have to take those steps over and over again as the world changes its perceptions on volatile concepts such as greatness faster than we take steps to solidify our presence.
When you see numbers in titles, multiply them by 7 and ask yourself if there could be a more complex way made of that many steps that can take you to the promised reward in that very same title. After you multiply by 7, you’ll get closer to the reality of the amount you’ll need to learn to be an entrepreneur. And what you’ll need to learn to build a startup is–if not completely outside the range of—far beyond the tips and tricks.