Now’s the time if you have an idea about how we can become more innovative

> PUBLISHED January 8, 2017

There is a growing awareness that innovative activity is the main driver of economic progress and well-being.


With this is mind, it is of concern that (1) Canada ranks 9th in the world in innovation performance, and (2) that Newfoundland and Labrador is far worse relative to Canada. This is particularly troubling considering the economic challenges that lie ahead for this province. Yet, it can also be viewed as an opportunity: we’ve gotten this far without being really that innovative, imagine what we could do if we were?

Wait, what’s innovation again?

To be clear, when people speak on ‘innovation’, they aren’t necessarily talking about new technologies or inventions. Innovation can be a new or improved product, service, process, or way of going about business. To be innovative, one doesn’t have to invent the transporter; innovation can be as simple as making a change in a policy or procedure, e.g. reducing the width of the font used in printed documents to save on ink and money. And innovation does not necessarily have to be within a business – it can be within organizations of any kind, from charities to community groups to governments. (Read more about what innovation is and can be in our introductory article here.)

We are spending all of our time working in our businesses, and not enough time working on our businesses.

In an article in the Western Star this week, one of our experts on innovation – Jackie Walsh – said there are many reasons we as a province are lacking in innovation, but indicates that it is largely a cultural issue. Many existing companies don’t have the will or the managerial experience to get beyond mere survival of their operations, Walsh said.

In other words, we are spending all of our time working in our businesses, and not enough time working on our businesses.

There are a number of indicators which can assess an economy’s performance in innovation, and areas where Newfoundland and Labrador ranks particularly low are in: research, business-led research and development, the filing of patents, and engagement in international business.

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Innovation Agenda Discussion Document

So… how can we address this?

You can’t corner a group of random people at the Avalon Mall and tell them to go paint a landscape and expect a handful of great paintings. In the same way, businesses can’t be told to ‘go be innovative’ and produce the desired results. What we can do is (1) remove the barriers that exist for firms to be innovative, (2) establish appropriate incentives to encourage firms to engage in innovative activities, and (3) provide support for them so that there is less risk to do so.

With this in mind, our provincial government is engaging in a process to develop a new innovation agenda. They’ve launched a website, have been sharing a discussion document, and have been holding engagement sessions throughout the province since December.

Do you have any ideas on how the government can help support innovation in Newfoundland and Labrador? If so, now is the time to contribute. The government is accepting input until January 18 – before it begins putting its plan together.

Perhaps sometimes we expect too much from our decision-makers when we aren’t actively involved in helping them make their choices. Maybe this goes without saying, but the more information they have from the grassroots on how they can support innovative activities, the more likely they are to create a framework that helps the grassroots be more innovative.

While the government can’t control to what extent Newfoundland and Labrador firms can be innovative, it can help to create better conditions for that innovation to take place. Teaching our group Avalon Mall folk how to paint and providing them with the paints and brushes won’t guarantee good results, but it certainly will increase the odds of success.

If you have an opinion, make it known. We, “we” as in Newfoundland and Labrador, need your input.