“The Power of Why” and the Government’s Blueprint 2020 Agenda

Ms. Amanda Lang, CBC Senior Business Correspondent and co-host of its popular daily business journal “The Lang and O’Leary Report”, has been touting Canada’s lack of innovation and its negative impact on productivity for years now.

Earlier in 2013, the Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum concluded that Canada’s performance growth is at its lowest in five years and, subsequently, the Certified Canadian General Accountants Association of Canada determined in its report that some of the contributing factors included insufficient investments in higher education, excessive business regulation, and insufficient employee job training. So do better on these items and we should start to see results, right?

In her most recent book, “The Power of Why”, Ms. Lang describes some of the reasons for Canada’s innovation struggles and encourages us to change the way we think about creativity and innovation. Ms. Lang details how there are deep and fundamental flaws in Canada’s innovation fabric, such as our business culture of politeness and conformity, along with an outdated educational system which seems to drain the very last ounces (oops, millilitres) of our children’s’ curiosity and inquisitiveness  – the nuclei of innovation – which transcends into the workplace as adults.  According to the “Power of Why”, some of the answers could lie with:

A return to our “childish” ways. To question everything, re-discover our curiosity and to never stop asking why we do things the way we do – or is there a better way? Has someone else tried this already? Innovative organizations, such as IBM and Federal Express, are not afraid to question themselves regularly about what they’re doing and how to be better.

Forgetting what you know.  The world has probably already changed and you don’t know it – your clients’ needs, your competitors’ products. ‘Project Darwin’ at Canadian Tire started with a seemingly simple question about the reasons for declining male traffic in its stores, which morphed into an examination of the changing male condition in Canada and what it means to be a man. It resulted in a complete overhaul of its marketing campaign. (This is worth the Google search.)

Promoting a culture of inquiry. Throughout 3M and Google, they regularly provide employees with free time to dream up new ideas and “what if” scenarios.  More importantly, they also create a channel for discussion and action.

Dreaming big and setting a gold standard.  Who would have thought that, when entering the athletic apparel market against established giants such as Nike and Reebok, Lululemon would be the huge success it is today? It decided to design and produce a premium product in a growing market segment. Yoga and Lulu’s are synonymous.

Not minding the ‘F’ word. Embrace failure as an important step in the process to success and innovation.  Allowing employees to fail enables more questions, more ways of looking at problems, more creative solutions, and fosters a culture of curiosity, intelligence, innovation and success.

As the Public Service examines news ways of working to modernize itself looking to 2020, part of the solution could lie with Ms. Lang’s messages so that creativity and innovation can flourish well beyond these special initiatives to become a regular part of the Public Service culture.


David LeBlancDavid M. LeBlanc works with individuals and organizations in the areas of strategic planning and developing current and future leaders. David contributes his time to the Telfer School of Management and the Sprott School of Business by guiding MBA students and grads in making a successful leap to the work world. David also acts as a career mentor to internationally educated professionals in Ottawa. You can connect with David at david.m.leblanc@dfo-mpo.gc.ca and on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/pub/david-m-leblanc/3/8b5/115.

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