Time to act on innovation: Panel
There’s been enough study on whether there’s a productivity and innovation gap in Canada. It’s time to act, according to a panel at the Conference Board of Canada’s Business Innovation Summit in Toronto.


Nitin Kawale, president of Cisco Systems Canada Co.

At Canada’s current productivity growth rate of less than one per cent per year, it will take 72 years for measures of our standard of living to double, Nitin Kawale, president of Cisco Systems Canada Co, told the conference Tuesday. If we were to raise that number to three per cent, standard of living measures would double in 24 years; at five per cent, 12 years, he said. Had we simply kept pace with U.S. Productivity increases, Kawale claims, the average family would have $7,000 more in disposable income, and corporate profits would be up 40 per cent.

And people aren’t the problem, he said.

“People are very productive in their personal lives,” with widespread use of social networking and mobile technologies, Kawale said. It’s businesses and organizations that aren’t willing to invest in allowing employees to work the way they live or make business process changes.


The next generation of employees is going to expect to work the way they live, and for businesses to empower that generation, it is going to have to let go of old notions of work.

“We need to bring the work to the worker,” Kawale said. He encouraged businesses to stop viewing productivity “through the prism – or prison – of the nine-to-five work day.”

Kawale hammered home three points about how business can harness the innovative potential that exists in employees, customers and partners: Change the way you think about work; judge work in terms of productivity, not time spent in the office; and think of work-life blending, not work-life balance.

The conference coincided with the release of the interim progress report of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). NSERC struck the Strategy for Partnerships and Innovation in 2009 to help business and Canadian universities and colleges to work together to accelerate commercialization of research and “position our country as a major player in the innovation race,” said Suzanne Fortin, president of NSERC.

According to the published progress report, NSERC has “accelerated the development of 201 promising Canadian university technologies into the marketplace,” funded 10,000 students working in collaboration with industry in 2012, 225 of them recent PhD graduates, a 57 per cent increase from 2009.

During a question-and-answer session, said it’s not up to levels of government alone to foster innovation; companies, organizations and employees all have a role to play.

“If the government is offering incentives and we’re not taking advantage of them, what do you draw from that?” he said.

Dan Muzyka, CEO of the Conference Board of Canada, said Canadians seem to be hard-wired for risk management – which served us well through the banking crisis that began in 2008. If we could develop an accounting system that viewed lost opportunity as a risk, we’d make more progress on the innovation front, he said.

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