Canadian Employers Struggling with Concept of Innovation

A recent George Brown College report titled Toronto Next: Return on Innovation helps interested parties understand why Toronto employers struggle with the concept of innovation.

The study outlines how innovation thrives when tied to concrete and measurable outcomes, especially when it makes an existing process more efficient or effective.

It should be no surprise then that Rogers VP of business marketing Stephen van Bisbergen at Toronto’s Deloitte TMT predictions event suggested your organization should be investing in data scientists. They can create data roadmaps towards achievable innovative goals. Big data is expected to go from a $200 million industry in 2011 to a $3 billion industry in 2013. There are so many opportunities for Canadian businesses to leverage this massive business analytics opportunity.

The George Brown College study indicates that 70% of the 314 Toronto and Greater Toronto Area employers surveyed introduced a new product or service in the last 12 months. Only one-third of Toronto employers introducing a new product, solicited investment and received support. The success rate of new products could go up, if organizations invested in more data scientists.

Corporate Canada is not totally to blame: most of our leading corporate professionals today are only university educated. To be successful as a data scientist or as an information technology professional, one needs to have a university and college educated mindset.

The George Brown College study shows more employers see colleges as the post-secondary institutions of choice to equip graduates with innovation skills by a 41% to 32% margin. Employers who defined innovation as “inventing new” or “improving existing services, products, or processes” or “finding new ways to do with less” are more likely to see colleges as better than universities for hiring from. It was only those employers who defined innovation in terms of “creative ways to solve problems” who were more likely to favour a university grad.

In 2013, the idea that technology and innovation are no longer driving economic growth is gaining steam.  The Economist says this idea is not well-founded, but it is true innovation has been heading beyond the brink of the average person’s understanding. I believe people with the right skill sets are having difficulty collaborating, as a science and technology report for the Government of Canada outlined in the fall. 

The George Brown College study outlines high tech and construction employers were most likely to think of innovation as creating new things, rather than creativity to solve problems. Technology creates unforeseen problems. If we cannot address them, then more technology and innovation will not drive economic growth. A leading example of this prevalent mindset is in our own backyard, where bridges have already fallen down in Montreal, and Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway could in the next few years.

As a result, I am seeing technology become more about creating mass collaboration inside and outside our social networks. This is through social media initiatives like Facebook’s “graph search” and recommendation algorithms found on Twitter and LinkedIn. On an enterprise level, it is through mass collaboration products like Microsoft Lync.

The study indicated only 60% of Toronto employers understood the meaning of innovation very well. At the very least, Canadian business leaders are gathering next month in Toronto to discuss the very topic hurting us economically. Collaboration does indeed fuel innovation.