Visiting Saudi Arabia in 2016 felt in many ways like traveling back in time to a medieval kingdom where all expectations about how things are “supposed” to work have been thrown out the window.
I was invited by a friend at THNK to help participate in a “Saudi National Creative Initiative (SNCI) by facilitating a couple of workshops in Jeddah and Riyadh. My friend Sofana graciously arranged the itinerary to ensure a genuine experience of Saudi hospitality.
Workshop participants included artisans, business leaders and young entrepreneurs looking to expand their perception of what is possible. Saudi society had long been mired by cultural restrictions but the Kingdom was starting to open up.
The consultancy project Vision 2030 was being discussed openly as a future possibility while feeling impossibly far away to most people I spoke to. A sense of change hung overhead.
I facilitated several groups of participants through a crash course of technology thinking: explaining the principles I believe guide the direction of innovation, coupled with practical exercises with cards and canvases. Concepts like exponential change and unintended consequences - how could a rapidly accelerating horizon of development shape our lives? How might things look different after these technologies?
Participants reportedly enjoyed the sessions quite a bit and left impressed with a sense of what’s to come. I had the experience of a lifetime, taking a peek behind the veil of certainty and cultural norms. Nothing could have prepared me for the journey, and I’m thankful for having been in Saudi at such a critical moment.
Worth mentioning that I nearly had my visa application denied because the organization submitted my profession as “futurist” which inadvertently translates to fortune teller in Arabic and apparently forbidden.