Navigating the Innovation Gap: Does Canada Have a Leadership Deficit?

May 4, 2017 Sara Audisho

We hear a lot about leaders. How to be a good one. How to inspire and cultivate. How to produce results. How to be liked (and maybe not liked, if that’s your style).

Not all of us are meant to be leaders. But for those of us who are, the world of difference is made in knowing what’s really going on. Having the insight to answer the “why’s.”

This week in a nutshell? To stay at the top, you’ve got to get to the bottom of things. Throwing inspirational ideas at problems won’t cut it. Realizing there is an industry-wide issue and addressing it within your organization will.

Studies show that leaders are dissatisfied with the level of innovation being accomplished in their companies. In Canada though, it turns out the feeling is a two-way street: employees are just as frustrated as their employers about lost potential.

Compared to our neighbours south of the border, Canadians feel less able to contribute revolutionary and useful ideas in the workplace. They tend to think it’s because of the structure and culture of the workplace, particularly in big companies that are more adverse to risk taking and embracing new technologies.

Only 58% of employees in our country believe that the leaders in their organization value the kind of creativity that produces innovative change. Researchers warn this is an indicator of a larger leadership issue in Canada where workers feel discouraged to be creative on the job, which is in turn stunting innovation.

So leaders know it. Employees know it. Who’s responsible for taking the next step? Let’s call a truce. Why can’t we be friends? Maybe not literally, but you get the picture. It’s not just the parties involved that are noticing, it’s the third parties too. Like World Economic Forum-kind of third parties.

The WEC releases a Global Competitiveness Index every year that ranks each country according to a whole bunch of fun factors, like the functioning of institutions and infrastructure, healthcare and education, market efficiency and, you guessed it, innovation.

Let’s not get into the fancy methodology they use. All you need to know is that it gauges a country’s level of innovation by that country’s progress in technological innovation. Technological breakthroughs are a sign of corporate environments that support healthy investment in R&D, high-quality scientific research and extensive collaboration between universities and industry.

Why does any of this matter? Because of where Canada lands on the index. We slipped 13 spots in four years – 12th in the world in 2010 to 25th in the world in 2014. The US in contrast ranks 6th.

Yikes.

It’s not all doom and gloom though up here in the Great White North. We have many small companies in Canada that are innovative but not well established. To top it all off, they’re actually looking stateside for partnerships because there’s more opportunity for innovative ventures. There is a marked sense of urgency in the United States to stay competitive despite its other current woes (let’s not jump to saying things are peachy down there).

The difference between our innovative progress and that of our neighbour’s is worth paying a lot of attention to.

Being adverse to risk is natural for big companies – if they’re still observing positive growth, then why fix something that isn’t broken? However, if these companies are concerned about their longevity, these indicators of slow innovative progress should serve as a giant, waving red flag.

But hey, their employees are ready. Especially the younger ones.

Doug Meredith of consulting firm Meredith Page & Associates says, “Clearly, Canadian employers need to do a better job of listening to creative and innovative ideas from their base of younger employees. This might help explain why 350,000 Canadians are working in the Silicon Valley.”

Maybe that’s too easy of a statement to make, but it’s not far from the truth and it’s really starting to hurt us. They say hindsight is better than foresight. It may actually be a good balance of both, and right now we need more of the latter. 

Employees are waiting for leaders to facilitate the right environment. Sure, there are risks involved, but there’s a bigger a risk of not doing anything and falling behind. This is leadership’s cue to start encouraging more creativity in the mainstream workspace.

So for all you leaders out there, get leading.


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