Rising to the creativity challenge

February 6, 2009

Preserve and protect — or reconstitute and rise.

That is the fundamental economic question ahead for Ontario, according to a report released last week by Roger Martin, Dean of U of T’s Rotman School of Management, and Richard Florida, Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at Rotman (which, in the interest of full disclosure, is physically located at MaRS).

Commissioned by the provincial government last March, Ontario in the Creative Age shines a light on a hard truth — one that is further exacerbated by the ongoing economic upheaval — that we have settled for a level of prosperity that sells our province short.

“While it is not comforting to admit, we have in fact lost ground against the very best economies over the past twenty years — a period which has seen all three political parties in government. Although we house many world-class industries, not enough of our businesses and industries compete on the basis of the unique and superior goods and services that are required to ensure last global competitiveness.”

It’s no doubt tough for earnest Type As to hear we’re just not as good as we need to be. But we need to not only examine the evidence but face the question: How do we change this?

Certainly, the high-level recommendations in the report are impossible to argue with: from harnessing the creative potential of our diverse and skilled population to investing in early childhood development and immigrant skills development. We need to broaden our talent base and boost creativity in all jobs, the report says.

Ontario’s Innovation Agenda
already identifies investments in workforce talent as a key component in extracting greater value from provincial investments in research and innovation — and companies everywhere have long had to innovate to survive, whether it’s in the design studio, the engineering lab, on the shop floor or in sales and marketing models.

What needs to change, according to the Martin-Florida report, is the scale and sustained focus on generating resilient, creative skill sets for Ontarians that tilt toward analytical and social intelligence vs. physical prowess. Sure, we’re not all going to be CEOs and film directors, but as the manufacturing heartland of the province lives through wrenching upheaval there is simply no more pressing goal than this transformation across all sectors. For longer-tenure workers impacted, the report recommends some form of wage insurance, a “social safety net system for the creative age.”

And herein lies the rub. As human animals we have the amazing capacity to not only conceive of but re-imagine a place and time we call “the future”. As political animals, we all scrounge and compete for attention and resources in a messy place called “the present”.

This report no doubt complicates the landscape for those whose political lives exist in the messy present. Let’s hope we have the fortitude — and the creativity that the times demand of us — to find that new path forward.

To read more, visit the Martin Prosperity Institute website

Click here to download the report (pdf)

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  • Vince

    As a taxpayer funding this report I was disappointed, as I found it really gave no specific policy direction other than very broad sweeping statements like: “We have to invest more in post secondary education” or “We have to improve infrastructure.” Well of course! These are things every politician proclaims.

    -The report speaks of the need and importance of technology clusters, but isn’t clear on the successful strategies of forming such clusters. For example, how many successful technology clusters like Silicon Valley have been formed around the world by intentional Government-backed design? Versus clusters that were spawned organically through anchor companies and small-med business. Most reports I’ve read have shown that clusters cannot be formed by Government design.

    -The report speaks of the need for more managers and improved social intelligence skills, and claims we graduate 45% less business students per capita than the US. Is this metric useful? Do business student graduates necessarily translate to good management? Most large successful technology companies I’ve seen have been formed by college dropouts or people with no MBA or business background. Most MBAs I know have gone into analyst roles in consulting or investment banking firms. I think what we need education wise are resources, encouragement, and incentives for entrepreneurship, not just graduating more business students. (How many successful global Canadian companies were founded by MBAs vs. Non-MBAs? I don’t know the answer to this but would like to see the data)

    -I didn’t read anything about the issue of business “scale”. For example, how do you address the issue of having a whole pile of Canadian small-med size “creative” businesses than then get acquired or wiped out by other large multinationals?

    I think for Canada to be successful we need the scale to compete. The Four Seasons Hotel example is something I think we may not want to see in Canada. A great Canadian company that is formed, grown, taken public, and then bought out by Bill Gates and the Saudis. Don’t we want to keep Canadian companies Canadian owned and operated? I think we are losing too many large Canadian multinationals to other global competitors. So the question is how to grow and then maintain/protect large global Canadian companies? I think sometimes in Canada with think too small and lose out to other more aggressive countries.

    Just some thoughts.

Linda Quattrin @ MaRS

Linda Quattrin was a newspaper reporter and editor before applying her interest in science as communications director at Robarts Research Institute. A member of the Canadian Science Writers Association, she is responsible for media relations and corporate communications at MaRS.

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