Take a good look at what makes the Scandinavian countries innovation powerhouses and you’ll see a strong, cohesive culture of innovation. Look at the lives of Steve Jobs, Sergey Brin and Larry Page and you’ll see entrepreneurs who succeeded not because they got venture capital or tax credits, but because they lived in perhaps the most fertile innovation culture in the world, Silicon Valley.
What about Canada? Yes, we’ve had Nortel and Blackberry. But why don’t we have more of them? Why don’t we have a pipeline of innovation leaders? Sure we’re reminded of the fact that Canada has too little competition and too much complacency to become “Innovation Nation”. But in my opinion, the reason we are innovation laggards is that we do not have a culture of innovation.
Building any kind of a culture is a long and difficult task. In recent years, the federal government has modified some of its existing programs and launched others that are helping innovators. However, they are not targeted to spreading the word about innovation. These programs should be complemented by a series of initiatives that will implant “Innovation Nation” in our national psyche and that will build and promote a much-needed culture of innovation in Canada, especially in our business community. I briefly describe some of these initiatives below.
- Create a national Innovation Czar in the form of both an active, dynamic secretariat and a public personality who is the public champion of innovation. The mandate would be to create an “innovation consciousness” in much the same way that Participaction did with health and fitness.
- Establish a National Council on Innovation made up of CEOs from science and technology firms, similar to the Canadian Council of Chief Executives. Charge the council with promoting innovation in the business community. Launch a campaign to remind all of Canada’s legacy of innovation, created by personalities such as Frederick Banting, Armand Bombardier, BNR Labs and Walter Light, Mike Lazaridis, as well as today’s firms on the cusp of producing important innovations.
- Implant an innovation consciousness throughout the education system, from grade school through to graduate school. Teaching young people about the importance of science and technology, mixed with the right sales, marketing and finance skills will help more of them graduate with the ability to compete in the knowledge economy.
- Establish a national “think innovation” mindset in workplaces and on factory floors, in the same way that workplace safety has become second nature for employees.
- Encourage a culture of collaboration, which is so vital for succeeding global business, by promoting the development of “clusters,” as in Waterloo’s tech corridor or Quebec’s pharma and aerospace clusters. Also promote the development of ecosystems composed of all stakeholders, from scientists and financiers to strategy and marketing consultants, and especially promote their availability to and value for SMEs.
- Streamline and strengthen laws for protecting intellectual property so that what gets invented here gets patented here. Canada’s legal and regulatory regimes are complex and costly, especially for SMEs, who often need guidance on negotiating patent laws in foreign countries. Also consider a Canadian version of the Bayh-Dole Patent and Trademark Law, which allows university researchers to own the patents obtained with government-funded research.
- Understand the value and take advantage of our cultural diversity in Canada to be able to innovate on a global scale and market our products globally, instead of relying primarily on the USA for our exports.
What are your thoughts on how we can develop a strong culture of innovation? In fact do we even need to do so? Why is a country of 5 million people – Finland — a perennial innovation leader? How can we equip students with the skills they will need to thrive in the knowledge economy?
I look forward to receiving your thoughts on these and other issues in what I hope will become our ongoing discussion about innovation.