The UAE Government is no different from Zuckerberg and Buffett

Comment: Flexibility is not admired when the average person experiences it firsthand
By Michael Jabri-Pickett
Thu 20 Jul 2017 12:27 PM

Flexibility is essential for a healthy existence. It doesn’t matter if it is a company, a sports team or a government. The ability to adapt to changing situations, or to identify evolving patterns are what sets successful businesses apart from their competitors.

Look at two of the most successful people today: Mark Zuckerberg and Warren Buffett. These men are seemingly polar opposites. A young tech-savvy entrepreneur versus a grizzled veteran who operates within traditional business arenas. Yet both have spoken about how important it is to reassess constantly, to modify ideas, to change approaches, to reformulate game plans.

One is a 33-year-old from White Plains, New York, and the other is 86 and was born in Omaha, Nebraska. What they have in common is wealth ($67 billion versus $73 billion), and the desire to remain flexible.

At a townhall-type meeting at Stanford University in California in October 2012, Zuckerberg urged entrepreneurs to create a business that matters. “Explore what you want to do before committing. Keep yourself flexible. You can do it in the framework of a company. Starting a company too rigidly is going to change what you can do.”

Buffett revealed a little more about his evolving business practices in his much-anticipated annual letter to Berkshire shareholders that was posted online this year on February 25.

“Sometimes the comments of shareholders or media imply that we will own certain stocks ‘forever’. It is true that we own some stocks that I have no intention of selling for as far as the eye can see (and we’re talking 20/20 vision). But we have made no commitment that Berkshire will hold any of its marketable securities forever.”

This is the definition of flexibility: we will continue to do something until we realise we need to do something else.

This chameleon-like trait is at the heart of any successful enterprise. Lou Lamoriello won three Stanley Cups as general manager of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils. He has been the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the past two seasons. He has said on more than one occasion that as part of the Toronto team’s rebuilding process, it is imperative to have a five-year plan that changes every day. The long-term goals remain in focus while the daily challenges are seen as opportunities that can be used to help the long-term cause.

Unlike individuals or sports teams, governments traditionally do not have the mechanisms in place to change on the fly. As administrations move in and out of power, the ideals of a government change, but it is difficult to reverse course in mid-stream.

The UAE, however, stands out as a country prepared to set goals, and willing to shift priorities as situations evolve.

In KPMG’s just released 2017 Change Readiness Index report, which assesses “countries’ ability to manage change and cultivate opportunity”, the UAE was ranked third in the world. (Switzerland was number one.)

The UAE jumped two places from 2015, and is the only Middle Eastern country to be included in the top 10. The country is ranked first in the world in terms of enterprise (public and private sector) capability, and second in terms of government capability.

The index includes more than 136 countries classified according to their readiness to respond and cope with important changes resulting from short-term events, such as natural disasters, as well as long-term trends, especially when it comes to demographics and the economy.

For anyone who has lived in the UAE for even a few years, it might be easy to laugh at such findings. But a less cynical and more careful look – I would argue – supports the report’s findings.

Yes, the UAE is sometimes guilty of changing policies too quickly. For instance, despite having to register our car every year, and renew our UAE visa every two or three years, we are all surprised at the new information required every time we go to a government office. It is incredibly frustrating to turn up and be told that XYZ documents are now necessary. But is that a problem, or is it a government that is trying to find a better way moving forward?

I think the problem is the UAE Government’s inability to announce changes properly. The flexibility should continue, but the news must be disseminated more efficiently.

A few years ago, my wife and I went through the process of having to reintroduce our children into official Canadian existence. They were born in Tokyo, where we worked at the time, and they had lived in the UAE for more than a decade. Attending university in Toronto, however, meant that there was an absolute tonne of documents required for them to be accepted as the Canadian citizens they are. While the process was frustrating, it was no different from paperwork required for any official visit to an Abu Dhabi government office.

The UAE Government is willing to change course when there is a better way. Perhaps because we are the test subjects we feel hard done by, but the long-term benefits are worthwhile. Flexibility as a characteristic in a successful businessmen is admired, so why not in a government?

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