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Innovation is key to Canadian prosperity: Conference Board

Event highlights Canada's lacking innovation process management, which is hurting productivity performance.


TORONTO—Moving from talk to action on innovation in Canada was theme of the first day of the Business Innovation Summit 2013: Innovation for the Corporation, hosted by The Conference Board of Canada.

Daniel Muzyka, the Conference Board’s CEO, said the time for innovation is now.

“One of the resonating themes of this Summit, that I agree with wholeheartedly, is we have many prescriptive reports about the nature of the innovation gap and how to close it. The real challenge is to get on with it.”

“A focus on cost-cutting and efficiency has helped many Canadian organizations weather the economic turbulence, but this approach will ultimately render them obsolete. Only the constant pursuit of innovation can ensure long term success,” he added.

Some highlights include:

  • Few Canadian firms manage innovation processes, even those that generally obtain better results.
  • Internal financing is the most important source of financing for Canadian firms.
  • Complacency and aversion to risk are key cultural obstacles to improve innovation.

Canadian firms have only limited formal innovation management systems, says Michael Bloom, vice-president of organizational effectiveness and learning for the Conference Board. But, key findings of the Conference Board’s Innovation Metrics for Management 2012 survey indicate that firms that both allocate time for innovation and manage their processes get improved results.

“Spending time is not enough, formal innovation management is needed. This does not suggest that we argue for more control of innovation, but better coordination of innovation activities. It is something that should twig (in organizations), and it has not twigged yet,” said Bloom.

Terry Stuart, Chief Innovation Officer of Deloitte, highlights how Canadian start-up firms are high-growth “gazelles” in the first five years of their existence, but slow down their innovation and become “water buffaloes” by failing to grow beyond a certain size after the first five years.

John Lutz, president of IBM Canada, described the five Vs of “big data”—velocity, volume, variety, veracity and vulnerability. Lutz said Canada is the worldwide hub for IBM because “we believe we can do things in Canada and can be more than the sales arm of a multinational.”

“We apply our management system all over the world, and we get fabulous results in Canada,” he said. “The Canadian university system is magnificent. But something is missing when you leap across into commercialization.”

The leaders of two organizations that are taking action on innovation presented their approaches during a luncheon.

In a keynote address, Nitin Kawale, president of Cisco Systems Canada Co., said Canadian organizations need to let go of the old notions of work, and focus on productivity rather than work hours of 9-to-5. He added that organizations need to forego the concept of work-life balance for a different approach of work-life blending.

“People are not the problem. Productivity is not a Canadian worker problem…People are ready, but Canadians organizations are not,” said Kawale. “Canadians are extremely productive in their personal lives. If organizations allowed Canadians to be as productive in their professional lives as they are in their personal lives, Canada would be a lot better off.”

Amanda Lang, senior business correspondent at CBC News, and co-host of the Lang and O’Leary Exchange, called on attendees to ask hard questions about why Canada should be the “sweet spot” on innovation when compared to other countries. She stated that a culture of complacency and risk aversion may offer some of the answer.

“Our natural-born curiosity got drummed out of us. What got drummed into us was fear of the wrong answer,” said Lang.

The Summit continues Feb. 20 in Toronto.