Living in Dubai… life without a roadmap


There are an awful lot of great reference sites for those thinking of embarking on a new life in a developing market but I write this more as a journal of personal experience rather than advice on how to live here and where to go.  I hope for those who read they get at least a flavour of what this awe-inspiring city does offer.

Probably one of the first things you’ll notice about this city, despite its impressive night skyline and its overwhelming futuristic beauty, is how the whole world lives here.  When you arrive the best way to see this is visit JBR at the weekend and see how so many cultures from the “bikini clad” westerners to pristine and respectful locals go about their weekend. It’s certainly a very different vibe to that of London.

So here are my top five observations after seven months in:

1. Brave New World

It’s a patriarchal society rather than an egalitarian one, at least for the prospective employee. One characterised by first generation corporations, which means it’s a relationship and conversation market rather than one governed by rules and rights which makes it an interesting business development market, one that is re-defining itself and transforming daily. The best book to help you get your head around this is ‘Don’t they know it’s Friday?’ A cross cultural guide for business and life in the Gulf, by Jeremy Williams. Read this book at least four times on the plane out here.

2. Bring Fresh Eyes to Cultural Differences

Get to know the local culture. In my time here, the locals that I have got to know have shown me such great kindness and a wonderful welcome that I will never forget. I have enjoyed attempting to understand their culture and listening to their stories of watching this great city evolve around them. In Dubai the key word is “respect”. If you want to read more about this culture pick up a book written in the 1920’s called ‘The Road to Mecca’ by Muhammad Asad, the true story of an English journalist who was one of the first people to visit this region and converted to the Muslim faith. It is a beautiful story told well and an incredibly accurate portrayal of the Arab welcome. I dare you not to fall in love with this story.

3. Borrow from Weigel – Unlearn and relearn

You will have a lot to unlearn and relearn.The funniest parody of what it’s like to be a newbie here was neatly summarised by

24 Things That Happen When You Move To Dubai

4. To thine own self be true

Make your own way out here, be self-reliant. One thing I have learnt is that you have to make the effort to go out and meet people and make friends. By its very nature Dubai life can seem rather transient and it is so make the most of it by getting out. Time Out Dubai is a must. Go out, make friends, don’t put all your energy into work.

5. Don’t judge a book by its cover

Take your time to really understand the real Dubai. There are places here for everyone and you don’t have to get embroiled too much in the “brunch” culture or ex-pat lifestyle if you don’t want to. Dubai sadly gets stereotyped as being “fake, fickle and fabricated”, I have found there is certainly so much more to it than that. I guess it all depends on what you’re looking for. I have learnt so much from so many different people, it has broadened my horizons, challenged my perceptions for the better and changed some of my preconceptions of what I thought life in Arabia was all about. For all of that I am grateful. It’s been a tremendous journey, one that has made me stronger and more patient and tolerant.

So if you come here make sure to get out there and learn all you can, do the things that make you happy and enjoy the experience you have without comparison. In fact make no comparisons, forget them and you are sure to make some incredible memories. The only way to enjoy Dubai is to dive in and live it.

Approach vs delivery.


Today we’re all obsessed by solving strategic problems very quickly, we don’t stop to think about what is required to solve the problem for longer than a second. Our brains are now stuck in constant output mode which means we rely on what we’ve done in the recent past to get to the answer rather than “an”  answer. We quickly “cut and paste” from the recent past in the hope that this will resolve the problem so we can quickly step into performance mode and deliver the answer persuasively.

An analogy: I once spoke to a therapist who reviewed other therapists’ practices. He said the most effective therapists just knew lots of different kinds of therapy styles and who to deploy them on as clients. Perhaps having a thousand ways to dissect a problem is actually the most important requirement for  greater persuasive delivery and better planning output.

Thoughtful Provocation.



Thoughtful Provocation” is my way of merging the old with the new – for me creative work matters and strategy helps it achieve the required results.

Boothism No 1, in order to be a good planner, you must first listen and understand the consumer. The role of a planner began with the premise of searching for a balance between insights, truths and facts and the ability to argue, based on their independent merits, what a brand should stand for. To be able to do this well, in the words of Jon Steel, don’t be… “clever, but be useful”.

Boothism No 2, Digging for what clients really need to make their businesses successful poses the biggest challenge for planners. Does our client need Washington or Hollywood in terms of our approach to the discipline? Washington being the more rigourous, authoritative, category-centric, consumer closeness approach; Hollywood being the radical, culturally conscious, category bursting approach.  Neither approach lives in isolation of the other, in fact it’s where the two collide that tensions fly and planning fuels interesting work through “Thoughtful Provocation”.

Boothism No 3, Planners need to combine both rigour and radicalness in their thinking to dig properly and it is easier today to combine the two as in this era of planning we have all begun to understand how the brain works. Behavioural Economics has had to Nudge our thinking forward and Kahnemen’s views on “System One” thinking means that it is a great life if you don’t reason too much over creative ideas. Over the years the role of a planner has always been challenged and has therefore had to adapt; Boothism No 4, so where did the digital era take planning, its birth was widely acclaimed as one of the fastest and hardest technological changes since the Industrial Revolution. How are planners dealing with this? – the fact that 97% of the Worlds data has been created in the past two years – they’re combining magic and maths, turning vast amounts of data into insight and insight into interesting and influential strategies.

I still think that the building blocks of planning still remain the same. So what does this mean for our clients and how we help them solve their problems. It’s my view that all our  ideas need nurturing  through  “Thoughtful Provocation”.

There has never been a better time to get curious.

Stopping power

It was a couple of years ago when I first came across this poster, I loved the advice, sentiment and bravery. Life’s short share your passion.

To brand or not to brand

“Brand is what people say about you when you leave the room.” Unknown.

I’ve been reading a lot about this topic recently. Brands, Brand Worlds, Brand Experience, Engagement etc. etc.  I’m exhausted rather than energised by it all and whilst in some respects I understand how to make the simple complex I prefer to do the reverse.

This is why I like the quote above.

I think branding processes should be at best both simple and fun – if you start by considering the above statement you’ll find that you end up somewhere exciting rather than predictable. It also truly reveals, through the answers you give yourself, whether you see the glass as half full or half empty….. and will challenge what you think may be obvious.



How to Write…



On September 7th, 1982, Ogilvy sent the following internal memo to all agency employees, titled “How to Write”:

The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather.

Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.

Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:

1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.

2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.

3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualise, demassification, attitudinally,   judgementally. They are the hallmarks of a pretentious ass.

5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.

6. Check your quotations.

7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning – then edit it.

8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.

9. Before you send your letter or memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want your recipient to do.

10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.


Producing Ideas

I picked up James Webb Young’s classic – A Technique for Producing Ideas – yesterday. It has been a while since I’ve had the pleasure. For such a short book it is intellectually loaded and when I finished my commute I found a deeper sense of calm and curiosity in the small things happening around me.  In truth, the book made me pause and remember that creativity is more or less about making connections. It’s the raw material that feeds this that you need to be in constant search for.

The Legacy of Science Fiction


“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
This is the century in which you can be proactive about the future; you don’t
have to be reactive. The whole idea of having scientists and technology is that

Alan C. Kay

It’s staggering how much of what we do today is last generation’s science fiction:

  • Scuba Diving as imagined by Jules Verne in
    ‘20,000 Leagues under the Sea’ (1875)

  • Test Tube Babies as imagined by Aldous Huxley in
    ‘Brave New World’ (1932)

  • Robots as imagined by Karel Capek
    ‘Rossums Universal Robots’ (1920)

  • CCTV as imagined by George Orwell in
    ‘1984’ (1949)

  • The screensaver as imagined by Robert Heinlein in
    ‘Stranger in a strange land’ (1961)

  • The internet as imagined by Mark Twain in
    ‘Fromthe London Times 1904’ (1898)

  • The video ipod as imagined by HG Wells in
    ‘When the sleeper wakes’ (1899)