Signs of doubt, signs of hope

Signs of doubt, signs of hope

From the Right Honourable David Johnston, C.C., 28th Governor General of Canada and Chair of the Rideau Hall Foundation: Diversity, collaboration, trust and a more inclusive innovation economy
February 28, 2019
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The Right Honourable David Johnston, C.C. was the 28th Governor General of Canada and is currently Chair of the Rideau Hall Foundation.

Think about history’s greatest minds and the process by which their new ideas, methods and products have transformed generations of lives. What image appears? Chances are you’re conjuring in your mind’s eye a person—likely a man. He’s alone, standing before a chalkboard or hunched over a workbench that’s littered with tools or paints, papers or blueprints, wires or test tubes. As you watch him scribble away or tinker with some device, he stops, lifts his gaze from his efforts and proclaims, “Aha!”

If this vision reflects your thinking, you’re not alone. People have long been fascinated by the romance of the lone genius. He is Leonardo, Darwin, Edison, Einstein, Picasso or some other isolated individual whose curiosity and tenacity moves him to reject established practice and conceive a new way of thinking or acting that revolutionizes our world and the way we live. Invention (from the Latin invenire, meaning coming in or arriving at) is exciting to us because it describes the bold, individual search for truth that, over the years, led to the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century and subsequently gave birth to all the modern sciences. Our enduring focus on the exploits of the solitary mind has led us perhaps to believe that the greatest advances are made only in isolation and only by a single person.

Not true. That’s why the word innovate is so helpful. To innovate (from the Latin innovare, meaning renew or alter) implies a deliberate change in the nature or fashion of something, precisely to make it of greater use to more people. By definition, then, innovation is a process in which people improve on existing knowledge or practice. Sometimes that improvement is a slight advance; other times it’s a leap higher and further than previously thought possible. History shows us consistently that high and long leaps occur most often when people of disparate backgrounds and knowledge combine their experiences and perspectives.

Diversity + collaboration = inclusion

SmartICE is an ingenious and—given the season—fitting example of diversity and collaboration in action. The 2016 Arctic Inspiration Prize winner is a social innovation to inform winter shipping and ice-breaking activities in Canada’s north, as well as enable travellers in the region to plan safe travel routes. It does so by taking Inuit traditional knowledge about the conditions of coastal sea ice and integrating this wisdom with a near-real-time monitoring and dissemination system.

Diversity combined with collaboration is inclusion. My informal equation reveals the fact that diversity alone is not the same as inclusion, nor does diversity lead automatically to inclusion. Inclusion comes when people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives work together to make meaningful decisions and take consequential actions. A valuable ingredient in, and by-product of, inclusion is trust. Workplaces, industries and economies rely on trust to make it possible for a diversity of people to collaborate openly, honestly and successfully. These same workplaces, industries and economies strengthen trust when they show they can go from having a diversity of faces to having the people behind these faces play important roles in decisions and actions.

Put another way, we build trust when we enable people to get up and dance (an invitation to action) and not when we summon them to the dance (an invitation to an occasion). My comparison to dance is literal as well as metaphoric. When I served as governor general, we at Rideau Hall made square dancing a central activity of the annual winter party for the diplomatic community in Ottawa. Square dancing may seem a little square to some, yet its gymnastics requires all those taking part to influence and own the experience as a group.

It’s an apt analogy of going from merely including a diverse group of people within an organization and economy, to having those in the group collaborate fully in the decisions and actions of the organization and economy. Another way of understanding the move from diversity to inclusion is to look at it as a progression from optics (a surface diversity of backgrounds and experiences), to outcomes (drawing on the knowledge and talent that stems from these diverse backgrounds and experiences to improve performance), to ownership (using that greater performance to unleash individual creativity, deepen collaboration and ignite our innovation economy). Again, an essential ingredient in, and by-product of, inclusion is trust.

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Kevin Lynch, formerly Canada’s top public servant, sums up perfectly why we need an ever-stronger culture of trust and innovation. Recently, he wrote about how we’ve been told repeatedly during the digital age to move fast and break things. The time has come, Mr. Lynch reasons and I agree, to slow down a bit and fix things.

Trust is in flux

The trust that fuels and flows from inclusion is in a state of flux in Canada and in many democracies around the world. Edelman—the international communications company that surveys the state of trust annually—has noted that the trust held by citizens in democracies dropped between 2016 and 2018. Trust in governments, public institutions and elected leaders dropped to new lows. Likewise, trust in media new and old, in NGOs, in businesses and in business leaders all plummeted. These findings may come as no surprise to many. What might surprise is that even Canada—good old trusting and trustworthy Canada—slipped into what Edelman calls the distruster nations in 2018.

 

In its new findings for 2019, Edelman reveals that Canadians are increasingly divided on how much to trust the key institutions of media, government, business and non-for-profit organizations. The trust inequality between the more trusting informed public and the more skeptical mass population has never been wider in our country. This gap is also evident when Canadians think about their futures and whether the system is serving them or failing them. In fact, Canada’s trust inequality is the second highest amongst surveyed countries. At the same time, Canadians do tend to trust their employers ahead of all other institutions to lead during challenging times, and their leadership is a responsibility as much as an opportunity. Why are these findings important to acknowledge? Any decline or stagnation in trust has grave implications for innovation. When trust is shaken, individuals pull back, collaboration wanes, inclusion suffers and our innovation economy contracts.

I’ve thought deeply about trust recently. So much so that I wrote a book about it—titled, appropriately enough, Trust. What I learned from the experience is that Canadians can take steps to make ourselves, our businesses, our institutions and our economy more worthy of trust. Kevin Lynch, formerly Canada’s top public servant, sums up perfectly why we need an ever-stronger culture of trust and innovation. Recently, he wrote about how we’ve been told repeatedly during the digital age to move fast and break things. The time has come, Mr. Lynch reasons and I agree, to slow down a bit and fix things. I define fixing things as innovating in ways that make us happier and healthier, smarter and safer; that make our communities and countries wealthier; that make our world smaller; and that make everyone and everything in it kinder. Put simply, the time has come to innovate for good.

A measure of our culture of innovation

Former OpenText CEO Tom Jenkins and I wrote a book a few years ago called Ingenious, in which we showcase some 300 Canadian innovations. Researching it, we realized anew just how much being good matters to Canadians—it’s a core value of our country. In our desire to find better ways of treating each other, Canadians throughout time have come up with innovations that have quietly yet emphatically made the world smarter, smaller, safer, kinder, healthier, wealthier and happier.

This historical truth is another sign of hope as we try to strengthen inclusion and advance our innovation economy. A further sign is the emergence of the Tech for Good Declaration. The declaration—which the Rideau Hall Foundation co-sponsored and which was launched at our organization’s inaugural Canadian Innovation Week—is a pledge that businesspeople, professionals and organizations take to ensure they innovate for good. With this declaration, a person or organization pledges to live up to six principles: build trust and respect your data; be transparent and give choice; reskill the future of work; leave no one behind; think inclusively at every stage; and participate in collaborative governance.

A still further sign of hope is the Rideau Hall Foundation’s current work, along with Edelman, to create a culture of innovation index. The index will give Canadians a baseline reference that reflects their willingness to be innovators, their awareness of and attitude toward Canadian innovations, and their understanding of financial and institutional supports for innovation. Equipped with this measure, Canadian organizations, institutions and policymakers can make better decisions about how to expand and strengthen our country’s s culture of innovation. We at the foundation will present our initial results from this work in the spring.

Digging deeper

Another sign of hope is this series of articles. The articles that follow mine will dig into concerns at the intersection of inclusion and innovation: the tech hubs at the frontlines of debates on housing affordability and inequality; the international labour force of crowd workers doing online content moderation and training AI for less than minimum wage; the challenges that low-income individuals and households face in accessing the internet and online services; the tech for good movement and shifting norms around the neutrality of technology; and the discrimination experienced by some workers seeking entry and advancement in STEM occupations.

I salute the Brookfield Institute for organizing this series and the McConnell Foundation and Power Corporation of Canada for sponsoring it. The more we can learn about the deep truths, stubborn challenges and unexpected opportunities of the innovation economy, the more we can do to dispel the myth of  innovation being a force separate from society, drive away the signs of doubt that undermine trust, and ultimately build a more inclusive innovation economy.

For media enquiries, please contact Coralie D’Souza, Director of Communications, Events + Community Relations at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.