You don’t expect to be presented with an insight at 6.30am in the morning while you are sitting alone, jet-lagged, enjoying some pre-conference stress and speed-eating breakfast at a swanky business hotel. And you don’t expect it to come from a young, slightly hesitant waitress. “I know you didn’t ask for this,” she said, holding a small glass of deep green apple juice. “But I thought you’d like to try it. It’s delicious”
Welcome to Dubai. The place where my brother is fond of remembering that they keep the beach towels in the freezer so they’re refreshing for sunbathers. It’s not my first time. I was once here to sing with my opera company and then again to give development workshops at a client’s ‘university in the desert’. Both times I’ve been knocked over. Not so much by the 7-star hotels, skyscrapers and the Mall-to-Mall consumerism as the sheer energy of the place. The boldness. The chutzpah. And the thing is it’s ok to use Yiddish in this Arabic context because this is Dubai, a truly multi-cultural melting pot of a city which focusses on enterprise not nationality.
Yesterday I was sitting with an ex-pat German at a Russian-owned, Italian cafe ordering an espresso machiato to wash down my Eggs Benedict from a Malay waiter speaking English with an American accent. And you wonder why they call Dubai international? I fancy ancient Phoenecia was like this. And 17th century Venice. And San Francisco in the Gold Rush era. Entrepreneurs don’t see national borders, they see opportunities.
This time I am here to help a group of Dubai’s most entrepreneurial entrepreneurs think creatively about the future. For me, one clue about the future lies in that unexpected – and absolutely delicious – apple juice. The waitress was not serving my needs, but anticipating them. She didn’t meet my expectations, she exceeded them. Yes, she was trained and yes, I had paid. But the apple juice was her idea, not the hotels. Simple hospitality. Amid acres of gold, glass and marble, the most impressive thing about my stay was a thoughtful, human act. For me, that’s the future.