Hashtag Trending Weekend Edition – Interview with Jim Balsillie, co-founder of BlackBerry and the CIO Strategy Council

Welcome to Hashtag Trending, the Weekend Edition, where we have interviews with experts and thought leaders that help us explore news and trends in technology.

This week we are featuring an interview I did with Jim Balsillie. Jim is known throughout the world as the co-founder of Research In Motion (RIM), the company that gave us the first smart phone – the BlackBerry.

BlackBerry was special to Canadians. It put Kitchener Waterloo on the map as a centre of innovation. And every time someone on a prime time TV show or in a movie reached to answer their BlackBerry, a Canadian would be entitled to feel a little bit of pride.

The rise, fall and thankfully, the rise again of BlackBerry, as RIM is now called has been told time and again in the press. It’s been the subject of countless articles and even a new movie.

So when Jim agreed to come onto our podcast “Leadership in the Digital Era” we wanted to focus less on history and more on what I called “the second act” of his amazing career.  Although, as I will note, there we some questions I had to ask him, one of which was “what did it feel like to know that you invented the smartphone – something that was changing the world?” And I wanted to understand what he had learned about leading a tech company from his incredible experience. It turns out that leading a company is less about the romance of discovery and innovation and often more about rolling up your sleeves and learning about a whole lot of things that might be outside your experience or even your comfort zone.

That theme carries on into what he is doing today.  Some of it is what you’d expect from a billionaire freed of the day to day responsibility of running a large firm. Today he runs his own private firm that has investments in a number of companies. Like Bill Gates or other tech leaders who’ve moved on from the company they founded, he uses his influence to try to make a difference in the world.

But despite playing on the world stage, Jim Balsillie still works tirelessly to enhance Canada’s image. He’s driving an effort earn our country a leadership role in the new digital economy.  Once again, we find out that this is a effort of rolling up your sleeves and doing the hard, behind the scenes work.

Jim has led the creation of a group called the CIO Strategy Council. The Council is a “who’s who” of technology, business and government leaders who come together to advance Canada’s position in the world. They do it largely through the development of standards for emerging and existing technology.

If you are wondering what developing standards has to do with leadership and innovation, you aren’t alone.

Why are standards so important? In our discussion we talked about how the Robertson screwdriver, invented in 1906 in Canada was clearly superior to the diamond shaped Phillips screwdriver. But Robertson didn’t become the standard, and the inferior Phillips screwdriver dominated. The moral of that story is that standards matter more than we think.

When we think about the emerging digital economy, that lesson is even more important. Standards let you innovate on a global basis and to share and build on innovation from around the world.

Our discussion took off from that idea and the rest of the interview was a fascinating lesson on what the CIO Strategy Council is doing. It finishes with an invitation for CIO’s and other leaders to join in that work.

I hope you enjoy this. If you do, you may want to check out the podcast “Leadership in the Digital Era” with more of these in depth and personal interviews with technology and business leaders.

Hashtag Trending is a daily podcast with the top stories in technology from Canada and around the world.  You can get it anywhere you get your podcasts – Apple, Spotify, Google or wherever.  It’s also available on your Alexa or Google smart speaker.

The Weekend Edition is hosted by Jim Love, CIO of ITWC and produced by the ITWC Podcast network.  Our producer is James Roy, our production assistant is Krystle McLean and our recording engineer for this week is Midori Nagai.

See you next week for another edition of Hashtag Trending, the Weekend Edition.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jim Love
Jim Love
I've been in IT and business for over 30 years. I worked my way up, literally from the mail room and I've done every job from mail clerk to CEO. Today I'm CIO and Chief Digital Officer of IT World Canada - Canada's leader in ICT publishing and digital marketing.

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