Case Studies

Future of Dubai – Dubai’s Economic Development Corporation

Strategy and Scenario Planning | Leadership Development | Risk Assessment


Dubai Holding


The Dubai of 2006 was both a miracle and a mirage. Driven by tremendous foresight and vision, the city had transformed itself from a sleepy tribal village into a bustling global hub in mere decades. Yet much of Dubai’s vision was still unrealized and uncertain. Dubai’s ruler Sheik Mohammad was intent on continued progress, even as the breakneck speed of development was proving unsustainable. Many unintended problems, new risks, and ethical dilemmas were emerging that could threaten the Emirate’s long-term success.

To help cope with uncertainties—both external and internal— Dubai Holding’s former economic development corporation engaged Adaptive Edge to:

  • Build the executive team’s capacity for scenario planning and long-term thinking
  • Identify a shared strategic vision and direction to align the many entities within the corporation
  • Create new internal knowledge and foresight about future trends and game-changers
  • Empower leaders to be more adaptive in the face of future changes


This scenario planning process consisted of four phases executed over the period of a year (2006-2007). First, we trained an internal core team to assist Adaptive Edge in the delivery of the project, taking a “learning by doing” approach. Second, we conducted foresight research on key topics: energy scenarios, tourism trends, real estate, and regional instabilities. We also explored key “interdependency risks,” such as Dubai’s vulnerability to external flows of capital, talent, deviant activities, and energy supplies. Finally, we conducted three workshops with the organization’s leadership, resulting in a report and a series of key recommendations.


This project was successful, even while the business ultimately was not. We developed:

  • Robust scenarios on Dubai’s future that remain relevant and insightful, and are still used informally amongst Emirati leaders
  • Breakthrough strategic insights, such as forecasting the imminent global financial crisis at a time when few people saw this coming
  • A well-trained core team, many of whom left to take new leadership roles within the region.

Unfortunately, the strategic insights were not acted upon at the time when they could have made a big difference. In later debriefing, we were informed that the CEO was reluctant to share this work with his superiors in Dubai Holding because it challenged conventional thinking and the ruler’s “official vision.” Shortly after financial meltdown, this organization was shut down and its leadership “redeployed elsewhere,” an unprecedented sanctioning in a culture that usually sweeps failure under the carpet.

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