Playing the guitar is a driving passion for many teenagers. But with the drama that often accompanies the teen years, it’s easy to imagine the angry protests of a budding axe player wanting a very high-end guitar on which to take lessons. While it’s true that an expensive new Gibson might help even a novice sound a bit better, it’s clear what is required: practice, practice, practice. Oscar Lopez on a cheap dollar store guitar will still sound better than an inexperienced beginner on the world’s priciest instrument.
So it is with Canada’s economy. The endless whining about low productivity, abysmal innovation, and sub-par investment in research is typically targeted at government, as if it is somehow up to Ottawa or the provinces to make us more productive. We are collectively whining for an expensive guitar. It’s time Canadians grow up and start to take more responsibility for this—both as individuals and as companies. If we’re not happy with our performance, we need to change our own attitudes and bad habits first.
The government does, of course, have a role to play. Its job is to ensure a great structure on which an innovative, creative economy can be built. But we cannot simply wait around for politicians to “make” us more innovative with a better tax credit or some other costly program. Ottawa’s multi-billion dollar annual Scientific Research and Experimental Development tax credit (SR&ED) has not been successful, and Mr. Harper appears ready to take the axe to it in this spring’s budget.
In our new book, “The Boiling Frog Dilemma: Saving Canada From Economic Decline,” we argue that only through creativity and innovation are new ideas born, and these ideas will ultimately unleash wealth-building potential and prosperity in our economy. Yet there’s a problem. Too many Canadians have fallen into the rut of waiting for government policy to spark their creative energies. We are like a frog, comfortably placed in a pot of cool water. But the global economy is turning up the heat under the water; if we don’t take purposeful action, we will end up like the complacent frog that stays in the pot of hot water and meets a terrible fate.
Themes in our book range from how it is possible for Canadians—and the businesses which employ them—to actually become more creative. Like playing the guitar, this takes serious practice and enormous effort. Innovation flows from this, and it is not limited to the self-employed entrepreneur. Every employee in every occupation can benefit from becoming more creative, and if we all do it together, we can become the most innovative economy on the planet.
Canadians need to take responsibility, becoming more outward looking and cosmopolitan rather than restricting our viewpoints to the confines of our domestic economy. We need to become more comfortable with risk while learning the difference between risky and reckless. We need to learn that a “green economy” actually has much in common with the business doctrine of “the bottom line.” And we need to discover that ideas and innovation don’t happen in isolation: they immerge in greatest force when we are in community with each other, rubbing ideas together.
Some may be tempted to dismiss this as much ado about nothing. Canada came through the Great Recession in enviable shape, and the resource-driven western provinces are leading most industrialized nations in employment and wages. Yet there are reasons for concern. Even our resource sectors need creative new ideas and innovation. The application of steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) is one great example of this. But many more are required in the months and years ahead if Canada’s resource industries are to prosper in the future. Simply relying on what we’ve always done—the “stick-with-your-knitting” approach—won’t work.
It’s up to Canadians and our businesses to collectively jump out of the pot. Yes, a good public policy structure is very helpful, especially around reducing red tape for entrepreneurs. Yet not even the most generous government tax credit can actually make us creative, and we fool ourselves if we think it can. Like the teenager whining for an expensive guitar, we have to grow up and first do the hard work ourselves. A creative and innovative economy is without question the key to prospering in a very rapidly changing global economy, but it takes practice, determination, and personal responsibility. We think Canadians are up for the challenge.