36 Radical Ideas to Kick-Start Canada’s Economy

36 Radical Ideas to Kick-Start Canada’s Economy



1

Hire a Chief Innovation Officer

Corporate innovation can sometimes seem like a contradiction in terms. Maybe that’s why so many have long scoffed at the idea of a “chief innovation officer.” A single C-suite executive guiding innovation from the top down, after all, just seems to go against so much of what we know about how creativity works. But when you break “innovation” down to what it really means in a corporate setting—essentially, finding new ways to make money—it can start to seem like a much better idea to have someone in charge of that process.

Worldwide, the number of companies with CIOs is growing fast. The percentage of those surveyed for the annual Capgemini Consulting Innovation Leadership Study with an executive in charge of innovation climbed from 33% to 43% between 2011 and 2012. And all those CIOs are getting results. The Capgemini survey ranks corporations on an innovation scale from “laggard” to “leader.” Fully 59% of those in the leader category in 2012 had a formally accountable executive for innovation; only 28% of those in the laggards did.

So how does Canada stack up? It’s hard to say. No one keeps track of how many Canadian companies have adopted CIOs. But anecdotally, Canadians seem to be well behind the United States in that regard. And according to those who study the field, we’re likely missing out.

Peter High, the president of Metis Strategy, a U.S. consultancy, believes there is genuine value in vesting responsibility for innovation in a single executive. High understands the argument that innovation should be everyone’s job. But in his experience, when everyone is supposed to innovate, what usually happens is that nobody does. “If you don’t have somebody who is keeping score, it is very easy for all of those people who have it as one of many goals to do the easy stuff first,” he says.

That’s where the CIO can come in. Terry Stuart became Deloitte Canada’s first CIO just over a year ago. Since then, he’s worked on both driving new processes and new products within Deloitte, as well as helping external customers do the same. He sees his job as part cheerleader, part instigator and part facilitator. At the same time, he knows his work can’t be just slogans and pep talks. “It has to be real and market-relevant,” he says. “I have a real target of creating $100 million in incremental revenue by 2015—per year.”

Stuart doesn’t think every company necessarily needs a chief innovation officer, at least not full-time. (He has other duties at Deloitte.) “You have to fit the organizational construct.…So what might make sense for a large bank might not make sense for the government or for a larger retailer.” The important thing, he believes, is to have a formal innovation plan and to have one person accountable for it. In the end, what matters more is how that person does the job—not what the title is. – Richard Warnica


2

Go global (even if it means commandeering a cruise ship)

Canadian companies are relative slackers when it comes to going global. Territory-driven innovation strategies are increasingly key to success in a globalized world, but Canadians show little interest in markets outside North America. Only 25% of Canadian companies ranked territorial innovation as a priority in a recent survey.

Maybe a few of our CEOs should climb aboard Unreasonable at Sea, an ocean-faring exercise in “radical” global entrepreneurialism launched in January by Stanford University’s Institute of Design. On board are 11 tech entrepreneurs and a team of 20 mentors, who’ll be stopping at 14 ports of call, from Shanghai and Rangoon to Capetown, Casablanca and Barcelona. Their mission: to accelerate the companies’ ability to scale across borders. How very un-Canadian.

3

Start teaching entrepreneurial skills to five-year-olds

Some innovators—think capital-C creatives like Steve Jobs—may be born problem solvers. Others can use a little help. But how early should that help begin? Terry Stuart, chief innovation officer at Deloitte, says that if Canada wants to create a new generation of nimble, fast-thinking entrepreneurs, we need to begin fostering their skills as early as kindergarten. A report issued by Deloitte in 2011 called for revamping the K-12 curriculum to expose kids to entrepreneurial concepts, and Stuart says government officials and policy experts are even considering the possibility of specialized, innovation-focused schools.Programs like the lecture series currently offered at Toronto French School that brings in entrepreneurs to talk to students can make a difference, he says. “We need to start looking at the question of innovation much more holistically.


2

Go global (even if it means commandeering a cruise ship)

Canadian companies are relative slackers when it comes to going global. Territory-driven innovation strategies are increasingly key to success in a globalized world, but Canadians show little interest in markets outside North America. Only 25% of Canadian companies ranked territorial innovation as a priority in a recent survey.

Maybe a few of our CEOs should climb aboard Unreasonable at Sea, an ocean-faring exercise in “radical” global entrepreneurialism launched in January by Stanford University’s Institute of Design. On board are 11 tech entrepreneurs and a team of 20 mentors, who’ll be stopping at 14 ports of call, from Shanghai and Rangoon to Capetown, Casablanca and Barcelona. Their mission: to accelerate the companies’ ability to scale across borders. How very un-Canadian.


3

Start teaching entrepreneurial skills to five-year-olds

Some innovators—think capital-C creatives like Steve Jobs—may be born problem solvers. Others can use a little help. But how early should that help begin? Terry Stuart, chief innovation officer at Deloitte, says that if Canada wants to create a new generation of nimble, fast-thinking entrepreneurs, we need to begin fostering their skills as early as kindergarten. A report issued by Deloitte in 2011 called for revamping the K-12 curriculum to expose kids to entrepreneurial concepts, and Stuart says government officials and policy experts are even considering the possibility of specialized, innovation-focused schools.Programs like the lecture series currently offered at Toronto French School that brings in entrepreneurs to talk to students can make a difference, he says. “We need to start looking at the question of innovation much more holistically.


4

Spot the best innovators before they hit puberty

“Identification of talent early on is critical. Look at STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)—if we focused on finding early indicators of high performers in our education system, then treated them differently as they progressed through school as potential Canadian innovators, by the time they got to Grade 12 and were thinking about university, they would be wildly ahead of the innovation curve.”

Jordan Banks
GM Facebook Canada

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4

Spot the best innovators before they hit puberty

“Identification of talent early on is critical. Look at STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)—if we focused on finding early indicators of high performers in our education system, then treated them differently as they progressed through school as potential Canadian innovators, by the time they got to Grade 12 and were thinking about university, they would be wildly ahead of the innovation curve.”

Jordan Banks
GM Facebook Canada


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5

Make fracking green

The clean fracking industry should thank people like Jessica Ernst.

Two years ago, the Alberta resident sued EnCana Corp., alleging that the energy giant’s hydraulic fracturing operations had severely contaminated an aquifer that feeds the well she used on her ranch, located between Calgary and Drumheller.

Ernst, whose suit is still before the courts, is hardly alone in her concerns; regulators in both the U.S. and Canada, confronting such messy conflicts, are taking a much tougher look at a technique for extracting natural gas from shale or coal-seam formations using high-pressure infusions of water and chemicals. Now, with billions in new revenues flowing out of these deposits, a growing number of oil-and-gas-field services firms have emerged with solutions to the problem of how to remediate the huge volumes of heavily polluted water that comes out of the ground.

As it happens, EnCana itself has invested in a specialized $10-million plant near its Peace River, B.C., operations that treats “sour” water from a saline aquifer for use in its shale drilling. The company claims that the plant has reduced its need for fresh surface water to 10% of the overall volumes required.

Some huge multinationals, including Halliburton and GE Power & Water, are surging into this space with portable systems for water recycling. GE, for example, recently launched its Mobile Evaporator, a truck-mounted system that can treat 50 gallons of waste liquid per minute.

There are a handful of Canadian firms as well, including Calgary’s Aqua Pure (TSX: AQV), which recently signed a $5-million deal to provide water treatment services on a Select Energy site in the Permian basin in West Texas. The company, which generated $5.8 million in revenues in fiscal 2011, uses a semi-mobile “brine concentrator” and claims it can treat 30% of the flow-back from a well.

Others include Filterboxx, a private firm that makes portable treatment modules, and GasFrac (TSX: GSF), a Calgary outfit that developed a proprietary liquefied-petroleum gas gel as a fracturing liquid instead of water. The company, however, has seen its revenues drop and is in the midst of a management shakeup.

Environmentalists want to see more such innovation. Clean fracking “is absolutely something we should be thinking about,” says Matt Horne, director of the Pembina Institute’s climate-change program. “I would characterize it as part of the solution.” – John Lorinc

Kick-start a radical new funding model

Last year, 26-year-old Eric Migicovsky was scrounging for funding to mass-produce a smart watch. The Canadian entrepreneur was looking to develop a more advanced version than his BlackBerry-synched watch, one that would connect with iPhone and Android smartphones. Called Pebble, the smart watch would be able to display call, text and e-mail notifications, and allow the users to control music on their phones. All he wanted was to raise $100,000 to produce the Pebble. One month after he launched his fundraising drive on Kickstarter, he had $10 million.

Check out the full story

7

Embrace your mistakes

Are Canadians afraid to fail? We’ve got a pretty risk-averse reputation—but there are plenty of Canadian entrepreneurs who have embraced their failures, and credit them for making later successes possible. Albert Lai is the co-founder and CEO of Big Viking Games, a leading social and mobile game-development studio whose games have been played by 40 million users. Lai has been an entrepreneur for 15 years. “No one sets out to be a serial entrepreneur,” says Lai. “Each of my failures has taught me to look at opportunities and challenges in a different light.” Here’s a look at Lai’s early failures—and how they eventually lead to huge success.

8

Gesture with two hands (really)

One study found using both hands to explain a concept prompts the brain to consider multiple perspectives. Hand talkers of the world—rejoice!


9

Reward failure

“Don’t be afraid to fail. When you look at entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, they fail. And the failure doesn’t get branded like a scarlet letter on your shoulder for life. You’re actually rewarded for the failure, if it’s a good failure, because the next version of what you’re trying to do gets that much better.”

Mark Barrenechea
Open text


10

Don’t give up on fuel cells

Virtually ignored by a mainstream media that thought it had heard this one before, Mercedes-Benz opened the world’s first commercial factory to produce automotive fuel cells in Burnaby, B.C., last June. With just 50-odd employees (and a somewhat larger number of robots) putting out three of the graphite stacks a day in a series of gleaming white, sealed “clean rooms,” it falls far short of the dreams of Canadian investors and governments who poured billions of dollars into the technology over the past 25 years.

But don’t count out the advent of fuel-cell-powered cars just yet. True enough, competing electric and natural gas vehicles have got a head start in the marketplace, and their fuelling infrastructure is expanding. But this past winter, five major automakers made new commitments to join forces to further refine fuel-cell technology, roll out hydrogen fuel stations and begin selling these zero-emission cars to European buyers by 2017.

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“This technology has the biggest potential for emission-free driving” compared with other alternative powertrains, Daimler research boss Thomas Weber said. It also makes for faster fill-ups and greater driving range.

The keys to their commercialization will be establishing the hydrogen fuel infrastructure and getting costs down, Mercedes-Benz Canada president and CEO Tim Reuss said at the Burnaby plant opening. The facility can be scaled up to produce as many as 200 fuel-cell stacks per day.

The research cluster in B.C. centred around early developer Ballard Power still accounts for more than a quarter of fuel-cell industry revenues worldwide, said B.C.’s job, tourism and skills training minister, Pat Bell. “Mercedes-Benz has just handed British Columbia an enormous opportunity to stay ahead of the curve.” – Mike McCullough


11

Use the Internet to predict the future

Last year, Kraft Foods inadvertently stirred a hornet’s nest when a South Korean ad for Oreo cookies featuring a breast-feeding baby went viral. The provocative print ad, which had the suckling infant holding an Oreo, and the tag line “milk’s favourite cookie,” struck some as offensive and forced an apology from Kraft. If only the company had known how to predict the future, it might have foreseen the backlash and scrapped the ad.

Believe it or not, there are now tools that allow companies to do just that. Toronto-based Trendspottr is among a wave of “predictive analytics” firms that measure online trends in real-time. While Twitter and many news websites list topics that are “trending,” the reality is that such items are actually old news; they’ve already happened.

Trendspottr, co-founder and chief executive Mark Zohar explains, scours social media such as Twitter and Facebook as well as subscribers’ corporate proprietary data for specific words, language usage, velocity of mentions and acceleration to predict trending topics—before they actually trend. The system can pick up big stories from as few as 35 data points, about three to eight hours ahead.

It’s “Google Alerts with predictive intelligence on steroids,” Zohar says.

Much of the company’s revenue is coming from licensing the technology to big customers such as Salesforce and Hootsuite, although consumer brands, financial institutions and PR agencies are also subscribing to its $99-a-month direct service.

The field is getting crowded with the likes of Recorded Future, Socialyzer and Networked Insights—just a few of the companies offering differing flavours of predictive analytics. But with big data getting bigger and algorithms continually getting smarter, the quality and lead times are only going to improve.

“It’s an ambitious and hyperbolic statement, but it’s becoming easier to predict the future,” Zohar says. – Peter Nowak

12

Tap an innovation exchange to develop new products

The European yogurt-maker had a problem: its product wasn’t attractive on grocery store shelves. Tubs got picked up and then placed back on the rack sideways, or worse, cast aside further down the aisle, leaving unsightly gaps in the merchandise.

So the yogurt-maker (it remains anonymous for competitive reasons) contacted Stephen Benson at the Toronto-based Innovation Exchange, an open marketplace for ideas that pairs companies with problem-solvers from around the world. Could Benson’s community of more than 10,000 innovators in 120 countries find a way to clean up the yogurt aisle?

As a matter of fact, it could—or at least, it offered up a promising concept (though the details remain proprietary): flat-bottomed resealable bags that hang from a downward- angled rail; remove the first package and the rest slide neatly down. The yogurt-maker believed the idea was worth buying and refining (clients pay for ideas they like, in addition to a $5,000 per month fee to circulate their request within the exchange).

Some companies even host their own exchanges—Procter & Gamble pioneered the in-house model more than 10 years ago, and credits it for dozens of its “global game-changer” products, including the Swiffer Duster and Tide Pods.

Canadians, however, are wary of the approach. Since the exchange went live in 2008, Benson hasn’t been able to recruit a single client here—despite the promise of a 35% to 40% success rate. – Carol Toller


Make Toronto the startup capital of the world

Last year, 26-year-old Eric Migicovsky was scrounging for funding to mass-produce a smart watch. The Canadian entrepreneur was looking to develop a more advanced version than his BlackBerry-synched watch, one that would connect with iPhone and Android smartphones. Called Pebble, the smart watch would be able to display call, text and e-mail notifications, and allow the users to control music on their phones. All he wanted was to raise $100,000 to produce the Pebble. One month after he launched his fundraising drive on Kickstarter, he had $10 million.

Check out the full story


Illustrations by Remie Geoffroi. Images: IStock, Patrick cavan Broan, Randy Vanderveen, Pebble Technology, Shenzhen Huashi Future Parking Equipment, Daimler, Janjaap Ruijssenaars, Kevork Djansezian/Getty, Shutterstock, QNX, Mark St George/Rex Features, Q9 Networks Inc




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