IBK Society Webinar: Innovation Captains
Kamal Youcef-Toumi & Sufana AlMashhadi
May 21, 2020, 10-11pm KSA, Interactive Zoom Meeting
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: Good evening, everyone. Thank you very much for joining us. We are happy and privileged to have you. Professor Kamal here with us speaking.
So probably at this challenging time of COVID-19 brought people together in a different way. So finally, we can lock some time with you and speak. And it's always great to be connected to.
So let me start by introducing you in a few lines. So Professor Kamal is an MIT Professor of Mechanical Engineering. And he is leading the lab of Director of the Center of Complex Engineering Systems. He is as well the director of the Ibn Khaldun Fellowship Program, which you will learn about now.t's an amazing combined program between Saudi and the States, MIT. So, of course, Professor Kamal has published so many publications and technical aspects, as well as innovation. And I love the way you combine the culture and innovation, the human part with the deep technical robotics and artificial intelligence and computing and quantum science.
So we admire this about you. And I guess we could start right now. So to speak about, I've been doing the fellowship program, as I was privileged to be a fellow in the year 2017-2018. So just to let you know briefly what it is.
So it's a combined program between Saudi Arabia and MIT, where every year they choose about five to seven Saudi female stakeholders. And it's a competition like a nationwide competition. And they choose those very selected woman to go and conduct a one year fellowship at MIT.
So you get the chance to choose which professor you would like to work with and which lab. And it's a very enriched very exciting life changing experience actually. And that's where we have met Professor Kamal.
And in the light of that, so many things in my life have changed. The way I think, the way I see things, the way I lead, the way I reflect innovation and Saudi and beyond. So why don't we briefly give a little bit of background Professor Kamal on this amazing program to the audience?
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: Yes. Thank you, Dr. Sufana for the opportunity to be in this special seminar series, and also to thank the participants in with us today.
So actually, the collaboration started. I was invited at Kfupm about 2006. And I spent about 10 days, and spoke with the faculty, with the department heads, the deans. And one of the important meetings, of course, was with his excellency looks for how this was done who was the rector like if you PM at the time.
And as soon as we started the meeting, he went straight to speaking about-- were asking me about international collaborations. And at that time, I was involved in the mighty Singapore program. So I said a few things about that just we were just the headlines.
The education aspect, the research, the link with the industry, and then within like a minute, he very quickly identified the objectives and he wanted to have that collaboration. So it took us maybe like a year and a half after that you have to put the program together in clean water and clean energy. And as you know, K4 PM at that time was all men.
So MIT had requested that for the collaboration or the partnership to be complete to add an activity for the Saudi women and that's how they even had doing program came about. So we can say that it started with his excellency. That's how this was done.
And his vision into setting up the partnership between MIT and clear from PMO at the time. And then later on, in one of the board meetings, then His Excellency Khalid Faleh that I was chairing the meeting. And when we were reporting, and he saw that we had only two fellows in the program and he asked why. And we said, you know, basically this is what the budget that we have and to allocate for this program.
So thanks to him that he moved it I think it was around 2013 to Aramco and gave the program a huge boost and increased the capacity to about 10 per year. And then after five years him and Dr. Anas Al Faris and also his excellency Dr. Turki Al Saud who was the ex president of KACST decided to move it to KACST. And I think KACST is the maybe the home for it since KACST also deals with capacity building.
And so I'm thankful to all of them, including Dr. Turki Saud his excellency and also to Dr. Anas AlFaris for all their support for the program because MIT really believes in this program and we have all the support from the other administration to continue working with our Fellows in the kingdom. And of course, not only when they are at MIT but also when they come back. Sorry for the long description but--
SUFANA ALMASHHADII: Professor it's always great to hear how supportive you were and thoughtful and you had this vision with the right supporters and champions from Saudi. So we are very privileged to this kind of leadership and I can see that it was very creative, very innovative right from the beginning, which probably brings us to the question that we always debate about and we always think about, how can you define innovation and how can you distinguish that from creativity? So is it the same? Is it different? Can you let us know from your opinion.
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: Yeah. I think many people have spoken about these two key words, and so creativity in the end is the process of generating and producing novel ideas, and ideas that can be useful in any domain, not just in the technical ones, it can be in any domain. That is like the part people think, imagine, and come up with the ideas. All these ideas, of course, in the end, not all of them, but I think the good ones end up being patented. Like at MIT we do maybe about two patent declarations per day, and at least. And then also at least one patent is granted every other day. This is, I think, an important aspect.
When we look at the companies also they do a lot of idea generation and they protect those ideas in different ways. And one of them with patents. For example, maybe a couple of years ago or so IBM generated about over 9,000 patents. Samsung almost 6,000 in that one year. It's important to do this. In the end I believe that not emphasizing like maybe the number of patents but the patents that are in use in serving the people and, of course, bringing revenue to the owners of these patents. Because one can have like many patents but if they are not being used then-- yeah.
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: It's the impact, and it's like the socio and economical impact of an innovative project which makes it, which takes it from an invention probably to innovation.
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: Exactly.
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: I guess.
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: Yeah. And then the innovation is like the implementation of these creative ideas. How to--
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: Yeah, it requires a lot of discipline, it requires a lot of commitment. I think at different levels, different layers. Can you tell us about what you think-- I believe that each and every part starting from an individual right into big enterprises, organizations, require different disciplines on different levels to conduct innovation.
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: Just to summarize the innovation like we see it as-- excuse me. As the process of capturing these ideas, maybe filtering them. How to fund and finance. How to develop even further. Sometimes you have to maybe modify and adjust and maybe clarify, and then, of course, in the end implementing them. So that whole process in bringing these ideas to what you might call the commercialization or the translation process of these ideas of inventions so that you can have like a good for servers, or for product, or some other aspect. So these are maybe the differences. Yeah.
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: That's right. And I guess it needs to serve a need as well. It requires a lot of also for capturing what is the need that's in the surrounding environment. The innovation that has happened in the past served something or a job that needs to be done in the past at that time not necessarily applicable to our current time. Do you have any examples of innovation as highlighted from the past versus ones from the modern life how are they different? How are they separate?
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: The one example that I usually like to speak about is that of Josephine Cochrane. She, of course, she was a woman, and sometimes she was bothered her dishes, and cups, and glasses get chipped, and especially the expensive ones that are in porcelain. She decided to invent dishwasher. Her idea in fact was great, she did not think like of a robot having like two arms like we do and then washing the dishes, and glasses, and so on, and utensils. But she is also something completely different, some kind of a box, and then using water jets inside so that it can wash the dishes.
And then the important thing there is that she did not have any background in the mechanical design or mechanical instrumentation so she partnered with a mechanic so that he can help her build this prototype. And then in the end, so in her case, she went you know from the idea, how to partner, make the prototype. She established her company, the Cochran Crescent Washing Machine Company. And at that time she sold to businesses not to individual consumers. And then I think about maybe a few years later she won an award for the design and the durability of this of this washing machine. This was in 18-- around 1885, a long time ago.
And then this dishwashers came to use especially like in the US and Europe and so on at the consumers maybe 70 years later. She was ahead of her time. And the reason I like this example is that she captured from the creativity and then she did all the process of the innovation and commercialization, and then even added to it, and adding the partnership and so on. I think it's one of the good examples that I like to speak about.
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: It's definitely a great example. But makes me think a lot about innovation theories and how it was. This product is very amazing. Whoever tries it finds the value of it. But I'm just thinking in some setups and some cultures there's still lots of resistance to those things that will strip kind of any traditional kind of work that is associated to certain characters or figures in the society. I'm just thinking my dishwasher has been rejected for a very long time and in like Al Sharq Al Awsat or Middle East or even in developing countries. Because you know women especially think that it's something that is associated with their characters to wash, and to clean, and--
SUFANA ALMASHHADIi: I'm just thinking that the theory of culture and how it affects innovation is very valid in this example as well.
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: Yeah. I mean, what you said was even true even here in the US in Josephine Cochran's time. The women at that time also thought about the same thing. They do their own thing. And then until maybe the mid to late 50s and then early 60s when maybe some of the responsibilities perhaps and other things with women started changing and then so this dishwasher came to be very, very useful.
But it's important what you said, is like on one hand, one would want to use the technology to make our life easier and maybe more efficient and more productive so that we can use the time for perhaps something-- I was going to say may be more useful. But it's important, I think, to maintain like a balance between our traditions, our history on one hand and then at the same time with the modern aspect of things.
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: Definitely. Yeah. Would you like to give us an example of like an innovative solution from the modern time do you think?
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: Yeah. I think from the modern time I think there are several things. But I wanted to maybe use an example. You asked earlier about how to foster I think the individual and so on, we can go back to that. But I think this example highlights not only the innovation, creativity and innovation side, but at the same time the importance of the environment, and the leadership and so on, around those people who are creative and in the end also innovative.
So there were two scientists, Dick Shoup and Alvy Smith. They were developing this advanced graphic technology. They called it super paint at the time. And it was within the leaders of the park, we can call it a unit at that time did not see it in the vision or the personal computing that this entity was. So that as their core business and this thing with graphics was not useful.
And then people said that they even made it a little bit difficult for them to work in that environment because, on one hand these creative people they were coming up with the great technology but then the leadership didn't see it lined up with the core business. They left and then hooked up with other gurus in computer graphics and then they generated the Pixar company that was later bought by Steve Jobs and then sold to Disney in 2006 for around $7 billion or so.
I see this as an example as I mentioned of the creative people and then within environments so they have to go somewhere else to be able to do what they have to do.
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: Well, I'm glad we made the decision and they moved somewhere else because so many ideas and creative ideas and business model would just die before they even see the light. And it all depends on the leadership and the time and space I guess the leader creates for those creative people to unleash their talent.
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: But now, sorry to interrupt Dr. Sufana. But now there are many companies that you might want to refer to this as the like a radical translation. When they have people within the company that generate ideas that may not have anything to do with the core business, so they put a team around that group, very quickly. They develop, further the idea. They launch that whole team with a startup, and then if it wins the company wins with it. If not, they regroup, bring all those people back if they want to and then they go on.
What this means is that the company's, not all of them, but some of them have their core business and objectives and so on. But at the same time keeping track of these other opportunities and--
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: I think that's a fine line between having some agile teams and some buckets of functional units or business units that can tolerate fairly or can tolerate getting iteration and feedback from customers while you are maintaining your core business. But it's I guess, it's a fine balance between--
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: Exactly, yeah. And this is kind of structure and characteristics that you would want to see at these different levels. Let's say at the individual level, at the group level, and then at the organization or even the nation level. And then each one of them has like its own like kind of features that either that it exists in those people or you develop it. It's like, I don't know, like I was going to say like singing for example. Maybe some people are born that way with a gift and they can sing. They don't really need--
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: Lot's of training or--
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: --lots of practice or training as some somebody else who wants to sing, and then they need like a training and coaching consultant if they have all those elements in it and then they can make it.
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: Yeah. I definitely believe that innovation is a discipline, it's hard work, it's consistency, and it's a lot of psychological safety and trust within an organization. So people can actually put their creative minds and accept failure. It takes a lot of human capital work as well. Our just kind of discussion is just bringing us to this very important point. I guess what is the role of the human capital in driving change and accepting failure and driving innovation from your point of view? The way we have learned from you professor Kamal is that, you are from like the very few people that I've met who really realizes the importance of building individuals before you go and build smart cities or smart robotics or machinery.
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: Yes. Yeah, thank you. Because I always say the roads, the highways, the airports, hospitals, buildings in general all of these are very, very important infrastructure. However, who runs these things? Who operates? Who generates like the proper organizations? It is the people and then the success of an organization and the success of a nation depends on the people. And so for example, if we look at like the success let's say of the nation, and for the nation to be successful, it has to be competitive in some aspect.
And so the researchers defined that are three levels in a nation. And this leads us to the human factor. So one is like what you might call like the basic factors. So these are things that have maybe like institutions, infrastructure, health, primary education. This is like level 1, and then you go one level higher, and these are all the indicators for competitiveness. The next one is like the higher education, the markets, maybe the labor market efficiency, technological readiness, and so on. But then you get to the third level, and this is like the like the highest level where a nation can be like leading.
And this is the level where of innovation and business sophistication. And so this level if one can think of it as if one does only level one it's like having its people flying like coach and then if they add to the second level is what they call efficiency enhancers will be having his or her people flying like in business class. And then when you get to the third level in the innovation and the business sophistication it's like having like first class aspect in that way. And so that highest level, and of course, it plays a role in the other two levels to that the human play an important role. And it is in fact the one that distinguishes between the poor nations and rich nations, or the prosperous nations and the nations that are failing. So this is one of the indicators for that.
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: Yeah. Well, that's very wise sentences and words. I'm learning a lot here professor Kamal. And I'm thinking also that for the middle class for instance, organizations used to say that having a multidisciplinary team is very important. You have to have diversity and inclusion and for so long this has been buzzing for forwards. But recently, what is more important is that people would feel the sense of belonging to a place. And when you have the sense of belonging you have lots of alignment, and then you are leaving with a purpose I guess no matter how difficult or challenging the surrounding was you still have a road that you're following, and you still have a purpose to follow. I guess that that is the new level where people really need to feel that they have a sense of belonging. So they can lead this enterprise and having this competitive advantage especially in challenging times such as the one we are going through.
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: True. There are two things that is important because you can see it's like at different levels, like at the organization for example, it defines the environment and where people work, and it shapes how people are working by themselves and also how they are working with others. And it shapes this whole dynamics. So it has a structure, there's a culture, the strategy, and the resources, and also allowing these people, whether they are individuals or groups to take risks. And they're given the also the autonomy and the recognition to do certain tasks or activities so that they can all be in this like innovation process.
Same thing when we go down to like the group level it's the same thing. So the leadership and the style of leadership also plays like a key role in determining this innovation, creativity, and also in the organizations. And so if we have these conditions, the climate. The structure. The characteristics of the tasks that we are given and then the style and so on of the leadership, they all play an important role. So for example, if the tasks are challenging then, and that you have the minds and the working and then generates maybe more ideas and more ways of doing things.
And similar things at the individual level, from the personality, the aspect, and also their cognitive capability. So for all of these I believe that as I said, in some places they can come by themselves but I think in many places where you can have a process that is kind of embedding these kinds of concepts in the place and in the environment.
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: Great doctor. It definitely requires a lot of work. Can you tell us how important you think is harnessing innovation and enterprise as organizations these days? So what we have discussed just right now doesn't come by default it requires a lot of human capital work, a lot of culture, lots of discipline, lots of strategy, and leadership. And there are still so many organizations that are doing business as usual. So can you let us know how critical and how important it is to have innovation and creativity nowadays?
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: Yeah. Try to remember Jack Welch was the chairman and CEO of General Electric, once said-- he was talking about companies-- and he said, if you do not innovate death is coming your way very soon. So basically he's emphasizing that for a company know to do well and to continue to do well he says that the innovation is not like one time and then we rest. He says it's like a continuous process of innovating and at the same time looking what is going on.
Look around, look at where the markets, where the businesses, where the technology, where things are going. So that we can have better moves in that way. So there are people who had the gut feeling, or intuition, or the vision and to see some [INAUDIBLE]. OK. And however, maybe some other people or entities or companies can use technology, can use other tools to help them evaluate the strategies, evaluate the opportunities, and so on. Yeah.
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: Yes, definitely. Well, yeah I guess it's not an option anymore to be innovative and creative. Especially, we can see now the adoption of technology all of a sudden. The digital strategy transformation that has been pushed away for so many times, or weeks, or years, suddenly all the organizations need it to adapt that very quickly, such as in health care as you can see, and you know what's happening with COVID 19. That all of a sudden we're adopting technology as a must.
So yeah. They say disrupt or get disrupted. I guess, and I can see a few questions here and I think it's a very important thing to address, Professor Kamal especially coming from an MIT perspective is that, how important it is to marry the research with creativity and innovation? Can you can you talk to us more about how important it is to have this kind of alignment between the relevant foundation of research and then transforming those outputs or outcomes into innovative products and services.
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: Well, I mean this is, I think what we see that the whole-- I would say like the purpose of the university or the research, I think whether it is at the university or at research unit within a company. So to get to this innovation there has to be like ideas. Remember we said innovation is a process, but the process has to act on some ideas that are generated by some people. I think that maybe two things.
One is that the environment, I think whether it's at the university or a company to allow for like this research for example, from the science point of view maybe like new materials, new ways of doing things. And then at the same time there is the other resource that advances, that is maybe driven by some current needs or future needs. And I think those two I believe that they go together.
And then in that case, you can see I think the university for example, can have, can be playing a more important role in let's say, in some country not just a place where people go they listen, they take notes, and then in the end they get a degree, like a piece of paper, and then they start looking for a job. Or it is maybe something different, where this university creates leaders with ideas and great capability and that universities are playing now an important role in the economy of a country and making the impact not just for that specific country but for the world.
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: Yeah. I guess it also goes back to the leadership. If you really want to harness research and creativity I guess you have to decentralize this kind of leadership and get rid of this lots of layers of hierarchy even in research we use this to automatically suppress people's creativity. But sometimes also the environment or the current threat that is happening deviates people from the way they think and automatically shut down all creative thinking and this is something that probably many of us is feeling as we are going through this challenging time is that we are in a survival mode, it's not in the creativity mode. So how do you think we can manage such things in the light of threats such as CORONA virus?
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: So definitely as we said that innovation is like the highest level that a nation can aspire to and that one itself requires the talent, requires the creativity, and ideas. The skills, entrepreneurship. Everything that goes into that process before generating ideas and then actually generating the ideas. And then along with that this environment that creates the incentives, the opportunities, and not for just a few people-- if we are talking about like a country level-- not just for a few selected people in that country. Or let's say we talk about an organization only for a few people in that organization. It should be like for everybody so that people can start running their engines, their minds, and generating ideas, and learning how to not only generate the ideas but go through these processes. And in the end it will be like harnessing all of this talent that is available in a society or in an organization.
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: And there are lots of tools now that can help people like submit their ideas or come together and then think about their idea management platforms, and I can see that many organizations is moving towards that and addressing the importance of this. Yeah, I guess this is a great discussion professor Kamal. I can see many questions are being typed down, so would you like us to take some of them? I think they would require some time--
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: Yeah, please. So I can answer them.
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: Yes, please. So I can see that there is a question-- there are several questions asking how can MIT support more innovation in Saudi. So one of them says, MIT have a plan to deal with all Saudi university example open an office in that university to help students about innovation. There are several questions that ask about how can MIT support innovation, not only through Ibn Khaldun fellowship but in universities of Saudi Arabia?
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: So yes. Well, first of all, I really believe that MIT does its partnerships for impact. Whether, it's Saudi Arabia, or its Japan, or Singapore, or Portugal, or any country, or any company in the US, or outside the US, or any entity I believe in within the US or outside. I think one of the objectives is about impact. And impact in the end it's not just like about the papers and the patents, and all that. But the impact, the societal impact. Like in the end.
If let's say, the partnership and then we're all done after 5 years or 10 years or whatever the length of this partnership and what is the-- when we look back what is that impact? So this is I think one of the things. And if it happens to be, let's say that there are for example, could be from the education side, could be from the research or maybe involving companies. Could be at the university, could be with government organizations. So I think it could be like a combination of all of these. So yeah, I think what a person can see it from their point of view. Let's say they are a student, or a young researcher or so they can see it from that point of view.
But from the side I think it's this way. And then if the activities that we mentioned happen to be to fit into that impact and division then that would be that way. Yeah.
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: Well, I guess it's also about like the individuals who come and get something from MIT as a degree or fellowship or let's say Ibn Khaldun Fellows. So we feel that we are obligated and responsible to come back to our societies and give back, and that's why we have created this Ibn Khaldun society. We can create this kind of bringing back home the message that we have learned from MIT. I guess also now the world is becoming smaller, and connected, and globalization is that it's not difficult for anyone to connect with people from MIT and get this sense of abundance that we have encountered while we were there. I guess is one of the unique things about MIT professors and Fellows, is that you have this kind of sense of abundance and you're really generous in sharing the ideas and innovation.
I can see that there is another question here it's asking about the health care challenges that we're going through and how can MIT support Saudi hospitals through Ibn Khaldun program or the collaboration is only with Saudi universities? I can't-- what do you think Professor?
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: Yeah. I mean, I think today as you mentioned that there are many, many challenges. But I see also great opportunities, whether it's in the health care area, or the energy, the mobility, connectivity and all of its tools, and the high speed internet for example. And also the future of work. So all of these like in just a few months. And then this pandemic came and then changed everything, everything that I mentioned.
I think that there are opportunities in all of these areas and not only for-- maybe perhaps for us to maybe adapt and come up with new ways of doing business. Business publication or other things. And at the same time maybe generating the technologies that can be useful to people.
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: So speaking about the technology professor, I can say there is a question here. And we are always thinking about the role of AI or artificial intelligence and innovation, and I can add a point to that I guess. How do you think we will, do you think AI will replace human intelligence? And what is your reflection about this threat that some people is feeling especially, that so many of us now is working from home and we have this kind of sense of fear. Are we going to be replaced, are we going to be-- is anyone going to let go of us? We have been replaced by a machine or a virtual call or something like that.
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: So I see maybe two things to this question. One is the artificial intelligence part that was mentioned in the question. Definitely there are many, many tasks right that were done by people before, but now they are done by computer software, algorithms, call them AI or something else. But they are very good at doing that for those specific areas. And they do with very, very fast. They can analyze things. They can compute. They can maybe even do some predictions, maybe confidence and so on, or confidence levels. So that is one part. And I think that that will continue.
I believe that there are I think certain things that the AI, that the human can do, that a human with a human capability and aqel insan, the brain of the person of the human that it can do certain things that I believe that AI cannot do at this time. But in the end my personal opinion I think that we the human were distinguished by our brain from all the other creatures. And I believe that we will continue inshalla, to be distinguished by that. The other thing that is important here Dr. Sufana, is that it's not just like the robots or AI that will be changing our work is that there are like you might call like a mismatch between the graduates and then the environment.
So for example, China maybe 25, 30 years ago had capitalized on the labor that it had and they build all of the factories and companies from North America, from Europe, all went there because of the low cost in labor and so on. However, now everything is changing because if you look in China. Many of the young Chinese are very, very well educated with bachelors degrees, master's degrees, PhDs. And this is not in China, if you look at all of Southeast Asia from South Korea, China, Japan, all the way down to Thailand it is about the same thing. In Europe and even in the country, and I'm sure it's the same thing in that in Saudi Arabia.
And so that means the graduate today most likely cannot work in an assembly factory. Those companies have to have automation, and robotics and other intelligent machines needed to do those jobs that people used to do before. And the other thing is that the pool of available people has reduced that can work in these particular tasks. Not only because of the availability of these people but also the expectation of customers. Whether they are individuals or companies. That the quality and the performance of products is increasing and higher and higher. And also a lot of the governments have invested in innovation and entrepreneurship and so on. So there are more companies that have come out.
And so now that pool of people is needed. So in the end, I think this is why I mentioned about the future of work. How we can link all of these things together. In fact, in the Center CCS or the Center for complex systems at MIT that we have with KACST, one of the projects was in looking at the labor in every person that's living in Saudi and working in Saudi Arabia. What is their capability and an experience and so on at this point? If you want to become let's say like a pilot or whatever your next objective then it draws like a path for you so that you can see what kinds of skills that you want, that you need to gain so that you can attain that level. And then at the same time you can look at all the companies and so on where they are going so that-- and the industry so that you can have a proper match. Otherwise you end up like graduating and training people maybe in the field.
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: Your skills won't be needed and it's relevant.
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: Exactly.
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: Yeah. I guess this is an important thing that we're also trying to implement in our little ones from now is that to keep an open eye and to think about where is the needs. I guess I have two questions that could be combined in one here. So it says, what is the ecosystem that Saudi needs to harness to support innovation? And I can see it from other questions we could summarize and I can ask your question is, how do you define a good innovative idea that is worth investing in? So I guess on one hand it's the ecosystem and the surrounding and then also about being selective on where to invest in.
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: So maybe, so we mentioned earlier one of the things that distinguishes between poor countries and prosperous countries, or countries that are succeeding and the ones that are stagnating or failing, one was the innovation, and the talent, and the ideas, and all that. So that is like 1. And so there is some work that was done by our economists professor Acemoglu at MIT with political scientist Robinson. And they actually looked at these questions, failing nations and all of that. So they came up with like two conditions.
So one is to have, in their words, the inclusive political and economic institutions. So meaning that the politics has to be right as professor Acemoglu would say, we have the politic is correct and then the economy would follow that. And then that ecosystem would have all of the mechanisms in it in terms of incentives and opportunities, and then of course, the institutions that will support that. And as I mentioned before, not just for some selected people but it's for everybody. And then the second condition is to have like an effective state that can make like of the rules, and law, and make people, and entities follows and so on.
From their work, and they have studied many countries and all that. If this structure is not correct, then it will not work in the end. And so the key word is that the from their work is having these inclusive institutions that in the end will in fact, transform the whole environment to be a clear environment, efficient, very organized with regulations. So anyone who lives let's say, in Saudi Arabia or in any nation, anyone who lives there or maybe comes to operate there, in this field, playing field, is nice and clear, and clean, and wadeh.
These incentives and opportunities that will be provided with all of the mechanisms that go with them are the ones for the innovators to blossom and also for the economy to grow.
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: The second part of the question is that from your point of view, what defines a good idea that is worth investing in, Professor Kamal, for an organization? So many ideas. How can we be effective?
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: First of all, I mean, the intent. So the idea, of course, is the starting point. The idea is the starting point. But for that idea to succeed as I mentioned, has to have this whole thing with it. The whole team around that idea. The business people. The technical people, and other people that go with that. And then the whole environment. So this is where the judgment comes in terms of-- here's an idea, how to see the future where the value of that idea. So this is what Jack Welch says, to look around the corner, he says, being able to see around the corner.
And I say if you are not able to see around the corner use the tools, use whatever you need to be able to at least have a glimpse of what may be happening around the corner. Dr. Sufana if you don't mind I give you two simple examples. This is from the 1800. So Cornelius Vanderbilt, he started from a very humble beginning. And bought, like one boat-- borrowed $100 to buy a small boat and then after that he built like a whole empire, shipping empire. When he was 70 years old, and the war, the Civil War about to start in the west, guess what he does? He sells everything he had and invested in railroads. He could see that this war would end and then the railroads will be the next big business after the war. And that's what happened.
The next one is Andrew Carnegie. So Andrew Carnegie also started working when he was 12 years old. He did not go to school because he had to support his family. And one of his visions was to build a bridge. In fact it was between him and his mentor Tom Scott. But anyway to build this huge bridge of steel that crosses the Mississippi River and to bring together-- as you know the Mississippi river goes from north to south, kind of cuts the Western half. With this a bridge you can connect the two. The only thing is that the span was like about more than a mile and a half, so about 2.5 kilometers. And then a lot of the bridges that were built with wood and so on failed.
So what he does he can see not only the bridge, and he wants to make it in steel. A material that hasn't been tested before in these big structure, like a big gamble. So it took him four years. And they were telling him it's impossible. The currents are too high. The forces. The strength of the material is high enough. And he says, nothing is impossible. And in the end-- so he had the belief that he can do this. In fact, he went around to look at the steel mills to learn how they are making the steel. And he went to England and connected with one of the chemists and inventors.
But all of those were doing things at a small scale. He needs something like a large scale. So in the end he did that. So not only he was gambling in this new material that hadn't been used in this way before and at the same time he was building this huge plant, steel plant outside Pittsburgh. And then I think a war was going on or about to happen. And then anybody in their mind is thinking why are you doing this? Are you crazy. And he invested everything. He invested everything into this the steel and the bridge--
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: He was able to foresee in the future.
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: Exactly.
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: Yes, because it's very important that you foresee the importance of the products in the future not in the current time. Because it's going to take a lot of time to iterate, to produce, to design the thing and it's going to happen in the future. So it must be relevant to the future. Right. That's great professor, we are right on time. I had a comment about the picture behind you. Mr. Bilal says that it's lovely and he thinks it's from Tunisia or--
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: Very close, yeah.
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: --Algeria?
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: That was very close. That was from actually from Morocco. These are all houses from Morocco, and then we made them as a portrait that you can see. So that's--
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: Very nice.
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: Yes.
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: Right, so we are right at time professor Kamal, that was a great discussion with you. You're always very delightful to have very inspiring and thank you so much for sharing your experience, your wisdom, and your unique kind of leadership with us. Thanks a lot for hanging out with us. Thank you for the continuous support for Ibn Khaldun Fellows and for the program. We're looking forward to speaking with you again. Inshalla.
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: Thank you so much for having me and I hope this was useful to our participants. And I look forward to continuing our collaboration with all of you.
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: Thank you so much. Stay safe.
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: Shukran. Mubarak Allah fikom wa Eid Mubarak ya jumya
SUFANA ALMASHHADI: Eid Mubarak ya doctor. Ma salameh. All right. OK.