Can Borderless Innovation Solve the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Challenges in the Middle East?

Borderless innovation, collaborative innovation, open innovation — all are terms that could resolve the lack of effective innovation and entrepreneurship models in the Middle East.

Think about it. What do we do here?

– We import talent that works for a few years, but the high turnover rate makes it difficult to implement lasting change.

– We hire consultants who do a few quick projects, and then leave with little knowledge transfer.

– We invest millions in massive projects that take years and years to see a return.

– We build educational institutions with the latest infrastructure and technologies, but only a few hundred students.

All of this contributes to a culture that relies on the innovation of others. What we need instead is a more simple and collaborative environment that learns from the rest of the world (without relying on them) to solve our own problems, improve our economies and advance our societies.

What we need is borderless innovation.

I’m not talking about looking beyond our geographical borders for solutions (although that can be a successful method for generating ideas if it’s managed correctly). What I mean is looking beyond physical borders — the four walls that enclose your office, your department or your company. I’m also talking about social borders — the gap between public and private organizations, between big businesses and entrepreneurs.

Borderless innovation doesn’t mean just outsourcing all your problems for someone else to solve. It means that the person (or organization) with the problem takes ownership of it; they take an active role in understanding the problem and developing innovative solutions. In addition to their internal problem-solving efforts, they also leverage the experience and expertise of people outside their borders to bring to light existing solutions or ideate new ones.

This is the logic behind borderless innovation — working collaboratively to find innovative solutions to complex business, economic, social and environmental problems, and create new value.

By way of example, one of my partners, NineSigma, has recently been contracted by the Piedmont region in Italy to develop an economic stimulus plan using borderless innovation. NineSigma is helping the region develop a list of strategic projects, and set up an open innovation network to solicit ideas and solutions from both local and global innovators to help stimulate innovation and growth in the region.

So, while the region is sponsoring the effort, the network brings together entrepreneurs, small, medium and large enterprises, universities and research labs as participants in finding the best solution for each project.  All this is being done at a fraction of the cost of what it would take to build a fancy R&D lab. It’s mainly done on the internet.

Would something like this work in the Middle East? I believe it could if given the chance. Our youth are very motivated and creative; they can do magic if they have the means and opportunity. They don’t necessarily need an expensive R&D infrastructure to collaborate and innovate. Many are already taking the entrepreneurial path, using their own talents and innovative ideas.

Our governments and universities have innovation and economic stimulus as high priorities, although they are struggling to successfully execute in some cases. Using borderless innovation and collaboratively developing solutions might be the answer to move us beyond innovation apathy. One thing is for sure — we’ll never know if we don’t try.

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