Lessons from Dubai

This week, a new class came into Tradecraft and I was assigned to one of the new students as a mentor.  My mentee has lived in Dubai for 11 years and we shared stories about our experiences there.  For me, I visited Dubai on my travel sabbatical.  Being in Dubai, really blew me away on multiple areas. Everything is so new, and big, and grand. They literally have the best of everything the world has to offer—the best boats, cars, clothes, jewelry, food. Everything.  The city feels a little like Vegas and NYC, a little like the Middle East with influences from Europe and Asia. In ten minutes, in front of the Burj, I saw a Rolls Royce, Mercedes G50, BMW, Lexus, 2 Bentley’s. Wow!

The Burj Khalifa tower (the tallest in the world) was so unbelievably tall and literally sparkled at night. They also have a fountain made by the same company who built the Fountains at Bellagio.  The fountain was such an incredible orchestration of lights, sounds, and water. There was gentle music playing while walking around outside the Mall of the Emirates and Burj Khalifa and then all of sudden the night came alive with an Arabic song with a driving bass. The whole place shook and people stopped what they were doing to take a look. Everybody, me included, was in awe.

On one of the days there, I was walking along the beach and saw all these seashells.  As I looked to the left I saw a row of luxury hotels including the Burj Al Arab (one of the most expensive hotels in the world).  I couldn’t help but think that these shells literally built Dubai.  Dubai and broader with the UAE, was built on these shells that turned to oil that turned to money that bought the best the world has to offer.  This includes cars, buildings, building design, shopping malls, gold, food, whatever.

Dubai also gave me a glimpse in the power of globalization. The Burj Khalifa was designed by a Chicago firm, with South African laborers and companies with a present there included Levi’s, Apple, 3M, heck even an OshKosh B’gosh store from Wisconsin! Even Caribou Coffee from my homestate of MN was in the mall. It was quite a sight to see Emeratis eating Cold Stone ice cream with full burkas on. In the food court, I was an American eating Indian food, Russians next to me were eating McDonalds, Arabs were eating Philly cheesesteaks, and Chinese tourists were eating Texas Roadhouse BBQ. The whole world is here and all mixed up with each other’s culture and customs.  Globalization was on full display.

So with that background, here are some lessons from Dubai that can apply to your own life or business:

  1. Power of having something to offer. UAE is rich because of oil and they offer it to the world in exchange for the best the world has to offer.  On a macro-level, this exchange leads to buildings, building design, schools, military planes, roads and on a micro-level, this exchange may lead to a house, a car, clothes, and food for your family.  What can your business offer? Or what can you as an individual offer to your employer or others?
  2. Have a wow factor and over deliver—the malls, fountains, and indoor skiing are all over the top and make people stop and stare and say wow.  With the Dubai fountains, every time they did the show, people stopped what they were doing to watch.  For you, how can you over-deliver on what you are working on to wow your colleagues, customers, business partners, or family?
  3. The limits of consumption and wants are endless. They had one shopping mall with indoor skiing and recently built another one that is the biggest in the world, just a few blocks down. I was standing next to a white Bentley convertible that was probably $200k plus, but I was taking a picture of another car that was even more impressive. There is always something nicer out there and wants are never fully fulfilled so it is important to be happy with what you have.
  4. Things can change in an instant with your own life or business.  In the UAE, they went from poor to filthy rich in a short 40 years with the discovery of oil.  So live life with an expectancy that things can change in any moment. You may meet a person, launch a new product, come up with a great idea, or come into some good break so live life that good things will happen.
  5. Be content with what you have.  Initially, it appears that these Emeratiis have everything you would want, but on the downside, the place is unforgivingly hot, there is restricted freedoms, and limited economic opportunities for many of the ex-pats who live there to work.  In the U.S., we have many freedoms, live in a moderate climate in much of the U.S., have tons of culture, and many economic opportunities.  So for that I am grateful.  Whether you live in UAE, USA, Uzbekistan, or Uruguay, be thankful for what you have and that can make all the difference.



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