What is innovation – really? Do we need a strategy?

It was a year ago that we finished our 2nd Innovation Week in this great province.  We should be celebrating it here in New Brunswick!  Atlantic Canadians are great innovators.  But let’s take a moment to define what innovation “is” & “isn’t”.  Many people flock to the word innovation.  In my mind it is over used and misinterpreted.  I want to be clear that just because my TechImpact team represents and supports the adoption of technological innovation in all walks of life and business – we don’t want you to think that innovation begins and ends in the technology sector.  Innovation isn’t just about tech companies, however, technology is often at the heart innovation.  At the very least it is often acting as the enabling platform for innovation to occur.  But please remember - innovation is different from invention!  Invention is the creation of something unique, something so new that it revolutionizes current capabilities.  I would suggest that the wheel was truly an invention.  I would also suggest that innovation is the “aggregation” of inventions and/or processes.  The result of which is a new, improved and more efficient end result.  If you agree with my argument thus far, you should also agree that the horse pulled wagon is an innovation.  It is the aggregation of the wheel technology coupled with horse power permitting transportation of large heavy loads across long distances.

So you have read this far and you are asking yourself – “why am I lamenting on the difference between innovation and invention.”  Fair enough.  What I hope to achieve, is to create a convincing argument as to why innovation is so very important here in Atlantic Canada.  Why do you suppose other jurisdictions around the world are focusing so much time effort and money on innovation strategies?   Why do you suppose these same jurisdictions are placing equal amounts of focus on their technology sectors?  In my mind the answer is simple.  These jurisdictions recognize that the world is poised for change. We are changing the way we do everything.  I am not overstating by using the word – “everything.”  From the moment our children are brought into this world today, we are changing the way we monitor their development from cradle to grave.  We are changing the way we feed them, educate them and interact with them.  Businesses are changing the way they interact with you – their customer.  They are changing the way they ask for your opinion, the way they market to you, the way they collect their revenue.  The automotive industry is altering the way they design their vehicles for safety and efficiency at a rapidly accelerating rate.  They are redesigning how they lease and sell them to you so that vehicles remain a big part of your culture.  Hospitals and doctors are changing the way they monitor your health and administer treatments.  Financial institutions are busy re-engineering how they remain relevant in a world of hyper competitiveness.  These are just few examples of where technology is embedded into so many parts of your day to day activities.  Things we take for granted are experiencing radical disruptions.  Take a moment and digest the word “disruption”.  In this instance, please don’t think of disruption as a negative, quarrelsome or a troublesome thing.  I am speaking of disruptions and innovations that are going to bring positive change to the world.

I recently heard Malcolm Gladwell talk about people that had an appropriate level of “disagreeableness”.  Many of you will recognize Gladwell’s genius.  He is a long time writer for the New Yorker and a much respected thinker and headline speaker.  He has written many entertaining and thought provoking articles, including the Tipping Point and Outliers.  Best of all – he is Canadian!  He is quick to state the difference between being disagreeable –vs- unlikable and obnoxious.  For him, being disagreeable means an individual is comfortable with and willing to test the status quo.  Being able to test old strategies and methods with new ways of thinking is how we advance business and society.  He went on to state that many of these people have a dream or a vision and they are willing to push it through in spite of not yet having unanimous support from their peers.  He suggested this is a trait of real leaders and it is a rare gift.  He is also quick to point out that we often equate success with being big.  Sure, being big has its advantages – sometimes but not always.  At the risk of being trite I will refer you to the David and Goliath example.  The classic battle of size and strength –vs- speed and agility.  I bet there wasn’t a soul in the crowd that day willing to bet on poor little David.  What many failed to recognize was the innovation David had at his disposal.  Notice, I didn’t say invention.  David was obviously a clever cat and cobbled together some rope and wood and stone to create an innovative new weapon that his foe was not expecting. The stone, wood, leather and rope were not new inventions.  It was the aggregation of these tools that permitted David to overcome the impossible with his innovation.  An innovation that turned out very well for David.  Not so much for the bigger lad who remained comfortable with the old tools.

In a very light hearted way, I have attempted to paint a picture of how innovation, smallness, ingenuity and indomitable spirit can create a path to success.  I want to apply each of these virtues to grow this regions technology sector and encourage existing businesses to make technology & innovation part of their day to day routine.  As a region, Atlantic Canada is small – but that is to our advantage.  We have a history of innovating like nowhere else in the world.  And gosh knows, if you tell Maritimers that they can’t do something – well that’s enough to ensure they will NEVER quit!

We already have so many of the ingredients in place to kick start our technology sector and innovation culture into high gear.  In many respects we are the envy of other much larger jurisdictions.  However, if we are to capitalize on the assets we have, we need a well thought out strategy that aggregates all of our assets into one single strategy.  A strategy that brings maximum social and economic benefit to our provinces.  Our success doesn’t depend on how many assets we accumulate.  Rather, it depends on how well we bring them together and utilize them to maximum benefit for all.  We need partners to help us develop this strategy.  So I will ask you a question – do you want to capitalize on this opportunity and are you willing to step up and help?  I am sure you are.