Last week, I shared the first part of a discussion with the man behind the Dubai Holding One App: Neetan Chopra – the Chief Technology Officer of Dubai Holding. The main topic of our conversation was the innovative aspect of the app. As mentioned in the previous article, this is one of the rare digital solutions designed specially to support employees. But what else makes it so special?

If you followed my first interview within the initiative to find and cover innovative projects, you already know we recognized the 3 most common areas of innovation. Here’s how Dubai Holding One App performed in each one of them:

  1. Customer/employee desirable – the idea for the app came from the employees themselves. These are the talents Neetan empowered over the years of coaching and careful upskilling.
  2. Technically feasible – Dubai Holding One App ticks this box too, considering it’s designed to integrate with the DH Digital ecosystem
  3. Business viable – Neetan was able to portrait a people ROI, rather than a financial ROI, which initiated the transformation that aligned the top of the organisation with a bottom-up initiative.

On this topic, today we bring you key leadership lessons for resilience and give you advice on how to bring a vision to reality through Neetan’s innovation prism.

Lessons on leadership and resilience

Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

Nelson Mandela
The photo shows Neetan Chopra, the interviewee.

Every leader goes through setbacks and difficulties while bringing innovation to life. Neetan explains that resilience is the most critical skill for a leader to succeed.

For him, innovation is the result of persistent efforts and concentration in the face of challenges and complexities. A visionary leader is able to inspire people, help them be part of the same vision and stay focused on it.

Neetan believes that for innovation to be successful, it must become a central point that flows through all levels of an organization. A solid plan of action and implementation must be a force driving the team forward.  Once the leader creates a sense of urgency around the innovation process, it is easier to stay on track and implement the new idea with a clear vision in mind. 

Converting a vision into tangible results

“Genious is the ability to put into effect what is in your mind. There’s no other definition of it.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Let’s look at one of the key elements of transforming an innovative idea to reality: gaining the right sponsorship. Your sponsors should make a team that combines top leaders in the organisation and provides the inspiration and the budget you need. Even more importantly, they should help you create awareness and the most-needed sense of urgency. When joined together, all these aspects and benefits will make your project a mandate, just like Neetan suggests.

The first step in searching for a sponsor would be to identify the focus of each one of them. They can be vision or value-driven (see the table below for more details).

Dubai Holding app is showed on a smartphone.

A good innovation leader can appeal to both types of sponsors and shape a vision that balances both schools of thought. The value-driven sponsors will want to see a financial plan and ROI associated with it. However, it is important to keep in mind that big budgets are not mandatory for an innovation to be successful.

As Neetan says: “Transformations don’t need to be expensive – it is possible to find creative ways to deliver them with limited resources.”

According to Harvard Business Review Press ‘Lead from the Future’, the framework below helps us describe 2 key leadership styles that sponsors generally show:

Value-drivenVision-driven
Leadership focus:
Near Term Results
Operations Execution  

Processes:
Ordered
Analytical
Linear  

Decision Making:
Financial Milestones
Facts and Data-Driven  
Leadership Focus:
Long Term Exploration
Envisioning & Discovery  

Processes:
Organic
Creative
Iterative  

Decision Making:
Learning Milestones
Assumptions-Driven

The above table shows how sponsors can approach transformations from the most tangible to the most visionary way. Innovation leaders must wear both hats, the value-driven and the vision-driven. Changing hats is an essential skill that will allow you to speak the right language with any sponsor. This is required across the entire transformation: before, during, and after the project completion.

Neetan’s 3 building blocks

The photo shows a smartphone that uses the Dubai Holding app.

Given the complexity of transformations, and the long-term focus required, I asked Neetan to share with us the key pillars to make innovation successful.

Neetan sees transformations as building blocks, and he calls the idea “The 3 transformation building blocks”. The table below will give you more details about each one of them:

What you do
‘The Outcome’
What you leave behind
‘The Oxygen’
What you become
‘The Soul’
The first block is about providing the best customer experience.

This is something every business should aspire to do for short and long-term growth.  
‘Oxygen” contains all the infrastructure and capabilities you have built in the organisation during the transformation.

It refers to data, AI, Analytics, Insights, Cybersecurity, Innovation Labs, and more.  
You and your team become the soul of the organization – one that has a strong backbone of technology and knowledge.  

Once this ‘Soul’ is created, there is an innovation DNA in the organization that will drive an organic innovation.  

The above 3 blocks can help you step back and look at the bigger picture of any transformation. They can also aid in understanding the true impact you and your team have thanks to an innovative idea.

Final key learnings from Neetan

In the end, I want to leave you with key learnings from this enlightening conversation. Here are some important highlights to take away:

  • Resilience is an inseparable ingredient of a successful transformation. Along the journey of innovation, there are ups and downs team members have to be ready to handle with an open mind and curiosity. Being resilient, able to process unpleasant emotions, is what makes true leaders stay on the right path.
  • You need to start the journey with ignition and create momentum that will then drive the transformation by itself.
  • To bring an idea to reality is important to be able to show an opportunity (the idea) and gaining unity of purpose to deliver it.
  • Skill yourself up. “Education is free. Colleges are getting expensive”, Neetan says. There are a lot of free resources out there that can help you gain knowledge.
  • For an innovation to be successful, you need to create an organizational mandate, the agreement and commitment to the long journey full of challenges.
  • Build an innovation ecosystem. This will help you create a coalition for supporting your initiative and making it a success.
  • An instant success in innovation only happens once in a blue moon and requires a lot of effort and persistence.
  • In big organizations with complex dynamics, it is important to continue moving ahead despite conflicting interests or policies. It’s key to focus on that challenge and transforming it into an opportunity.

Lastly, I want to thank Neetan for sharing his wisdom with us. We hope this article inspires leaders to build teams with a strong vision and purpose for innovation, and ultimately, drive real progress.

At Axis Partners, we work with clients around the world to challenge the status quo, with the purpose to drive human progress. Join our motivated community that drives progress and strives to build a better world every day.

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