Innovation Luncheon Meeting
London, England, Monday, July 30, 2012
Thank you, Your Excellency, for your kind introduction and for the hospitality you have shown all of us this afternoon.
Good afternoon to our distinguished guests. Thank you for joining Mr. Campbell and me here in historic Macdonald House.
It is altogether fitting that we have gathered here in London in a building named for Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, who was a fervent admirer of Great Britain.
As Richard Gwyn, one of Macdonald’s most insightful biographers, noted, the Canadian prime minister loved Britain—its history, literature, and legal and political systems. Macdonald was also devoted to the values that the people of Britain and Canada have always shared: freedom of the individual, representation through parliamentary democracy, and equality and fairness through just and impartial laws.
At the same time, his fondness for Great Britain was intimately personal. He was exhilarated by the bustle and buzz of London’s streets. The city’s sights, sounds and people made it one of the few places outside Canada where he truly felt at home.
This sentiment was certainly reinforced by the fact that when Macdonald strolled through the streets of London, he was often mistaken for Benjamin Disraeli. The physical similarity between the two men was uncanny. Gwyn tells us that, after visiting the legendary former British prime minister on his deathbed, a friend of Disraeli’s spotted Macdonald waiting for a train at Euston Station and, for a few bewildered moments, believed Disraeli had somehow made a miraculous recovery.
Now, I do not look anything like Macdonald or Disraeli, but London is one of the places in the world where I too feel remarkably comfortable. I know many Canadians share this sentiment.
This is the second trip my wife Sharon and I have made to London this year. We were honoured to represent Canadians last month at the official Diamond Jubilee celebrations for, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada.
Of course, this current visit coincides with yet another historic international event. The Olympic Games are the world’s premier athletic competition: where the finest athletes from around the globe test their skills, strength and stamina on the most demanding stage in sports.
While most of my time in London will be spent cheering on Canada’s athletes, our gathering here this afternoon is proof that the Games are more than just a showcase for athletic excellence. After all, what other occasion makes it possible for tens of thousands of people from over 200countries to share experiences, exchange ideas and develop friendships, alliances and partnerships whose influence may reach far beyond these three weeks in this one city?
In this simple way, London 2012 is a perfect venue to practice what I call the diplomacy of knowledge. It is a straightforward concept that has significant consequences. The diplomacy of knowledge is our ability and willingness to work together and share the information we uncover and refine—across disciplines and across borders—to create a smarter, more caring world.
Looking at this definition—especially the idea of working across disciplines and across borders—we see that the diplomacy of knowledge is a perfect way to stimulate innovation.
Innovation is a word that gets bandied about quite a bit. So much so that it no longer has any universal meaning.
Contrary to what many people believe, innovation is neither discovering nor inventing. It is changing something that is already established; it is taking an existing idea or concept and approaching it from a different perspective, or combining it with a seemingly unrelated idea or concept to improve it or create something wholly, radically new.
Canadians truly believe that the diplomacy of knowledge leads to innovation, as Canada is—and has always been—a fertile ground for innovation.
This is likely because we have been practicing the diplomacy of knowledge for generations. Our country’s Aboriginal peoples first shared the concept of working across disciplines and borders in a very concrete way with Canada’s original French and English settlers. The newcomers quickly and enthusiastically adopted and adapted Aboriginal practices with respect to the food they ate, the shelters they built and the transportation they used.
Samuel de Champlain, the first governor of New France, certainly took the concept to heart. He was acutely sensitive to the differences between the people he brought with him to the shores of the St. Lawrence River valley. He knew that building and sustaining a thriving community in that bountiful yet intimidating land required a blend of men from numerous walks of life—farmers, fishermen, entrepreneurs and a variety of tradesmen.
Generations of Canadians since have heeded these early lessons. Our country is too vast, our population too sparse and our climate too harsh for any one person—no matter how strong or resourceful—to make it on his or her own. We have needed to practice the diplomacy of knowledge—to share, test and refine approaches—not merely to thrive, but to survive.
Our ability to overcome this combination of vastness, sparseness and harshness is reflected in the innovations we have developed over the years in certain industries. Communications technologies provide telling examples.
Canadians did not invent rail travel—the foremost communications technology of the late 19th century. But we did expand the use of surveying and engineering, which made it possible for our railways to span seemingly impassable terrains.
Canadians did not create the concept of time. But by standardizing it, we did make it more valuable and reliable for transportation and communications use.
Canadians did not originate human flight. But we did create a trustworthy, reasonably priced aircraft that is now used by airlines around the world.
Canadians did not discover wireless technology. But we did develop an incredibly ingenious yet practical handheld device that has brought wireless voice and data communication to hundreds of millions of people around the world.
And Canadians have not had the last word on the influence of communications technology—indeed, no one yet has. But Canadian communications theorists have been pioneers in the study of media’s effects, revealing that our relationship with the world is influenced less by war, religion and politics, and more by the invisible and inexorable force of communications technology.
You all have examples of your own to share. And we Canadians are certainly not without our faults when it comes to promoting innovation. But we have learned from our mistakes.
We know that, while governments do not have all the answers, they must play a role in fostering and supporting innovation. They do so by ensuring that all citizens have access to quality schools; by creating solid organizations that encourage people to work together and share; and by nurturing a national economic climate that rewards people for producing innovative methods, products and practices.
We also understand the practical value of innovation; that it can spawn new businesses and even new industries, create jobs, and help raise incomes and our citizens’ standard of living.
That is why Canadian businesses are increasingly funding research and development at our universities. But we know we must do more.
That is why Canadian companies are investing in new machinery and equipment, and more advanced information and communications technologies. But we know we must do more.
That is why representatives from Canadian universities, colleges and research organizations are reaching out to their peers around the world like never before. But we know we must do more.
That is why Canadian governments and businesses are developing trade links with countries and regions around the world—not only to compete for access to lucrative new markets, but also to form cooperative bonds. But we know we must do more.
That is why we in Canada have created a central agency—the Canada Foundation for Innovation—to train the next generation of researchers, to support private-sector firms in their quest to develop innovative products and practices, and to help our universities and hospitals attract and retain top researchers. But we know we must do more.
And that is why we in Canada are taking steps all along the so-called innovation chain to speed the transfer of knowledge from research institutions and government facilities to the marketplace. But we know we must do more.
The knowledge that we need to do more to stimulate innovation is what brings us all to London. My eagerness to speak with you today stems from a particularly urgent need. I believe we have reached a critical juncture in our efforts to realize the full potential of innovation.
We have all talked about innovation for many years in our respective countries.
We all realize how important it is to use innovation to spawn new businesses and industries, create jobs, generate revenue and raise our citizens’ standard of living.
We have all examined or ourselves prepared studies, reports and position papers that spell out the importance and value of innovation.
We have all educated our citizens on the need for our countries and the key players within them—entrepreneurs, scientists, researchers, public officials—to be more innovative.
We have all established institutions, programs and processes to help our schools, businesses and research institutions become more innovative.
But now it is time for all of us to take even more meaningful action.
I would like to issue you this challenge. Since innovation must not take place only in science and technology labs, let us identify some unconventional yet critical areas where we can use innovative advances to build a smarter, more caring world.
How about volunteerism? What innovative steps can we take to get more people to volunteer and to make their generous contributions of time and talent more meaningful and valuable?
How about learning? A key ingredient in creating a smarter, more caring world is giving men, women and children more opportunities and resources to learn. What are some innovative ways to unleash these opportunities and to make these resources available?
Societies also learn. They do so in four stages: by accumulating data, compiling information, attaining knowledge and gaining wisdom. How can we accelerate this process and share the wisdom we gain in ways that will generate real results for people all around the world?
And how about families? They are the bedrock of a smarter, more caring world. How can we work across disciplines and borders to create, test, refine and share innovative advancements that support and strengthen families?
Canada and Canadians want to play a role in answering these questions and taking meaningful action. We want to work with you as business partners, research colleagues and development allies. Several business leaders, university representatives, research experts and government officials from Canada are here today to meet you. I encourage you to talk to them. Exchange business cards. Share experiences. Discuss ideas. Start developing relationships that may lead to close partnerships.
While the finest athletes of the world are in London, so are some of the finest minds—yours. Let us put them to work. Let us put the diplomacy of knowledge to work. Let us take action across disciplines and across borders to uncover, share, test and refine ways to truly stimulate innovation and use it to create a smarter, more caring world for us all.