“Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”  It’s not exactly a line you would expect to hear in a panel discussion sponsored by The Economic Club of Canada and titled: “A Connected Canada: Leading the Digital Economy as Technology Transforms Our World.”

Yet there it was, a direct quote from “Dirty Dancing” meant to challenge our complacency on our uptake of technology as a means to innovation.

Why should we pay attention to “Baby”? According to The Economic Club of Canada, by 2016 the digital economy will have an economic impact exceeding $4.2 trillion across G20 countries. By then, more than three billion people worldwide will be connected to the Internet, and among them, one billion people will connect to the Internet for the first time in the next two years alone.

Digital technology is transforming our businesses at lightning speed, changing the ways we communicate, share information and serve our customers. Canadian consumers are embracing this change and are among the most connected people in the world, but by most measures of innovation and productivity, there still exists a looming gap between Canada and its peers, and governments and businesses are seeking to close it.

Now, more than ever, our businesses are being challenged to adapt quickly to a digital economy where e-commerce, social networking and advanced new technologies are causing radical shifts across industries old and new.

The panel asked to address our need to get ahead of this radical shift consisted of Shelley Broader, president and CEO of Walmart Canada; Brad Duguid, Ontario minister of economic development and innovation; James Tucker, principal of The Boston Consulting Group; and Chris O’Neill, country director of Google Canada. The discussion was hosted by CBC’s Anna Maria Tremonti.

There were many great nuggets to take away from this presentation, but as with many discussions on the topic, it was clear that innovation means many things to many people. For some, innovation is all about a focus on solid customer service. For instance, minister Duguid recounted a tale from a tool and die maker who told him that if you are “responsive to your customer’s needs you can’t go far wrong.”

For others innovation is something that needs to be nurtured and kept away from the influences of corporate head office so it can be given room to fail and ultimately succeed.  For others still, integration throughout the organization is the only way to achieve innovation and culture change.

It is interesting how often the issue of culture change comes up when discussing ways to get people to adopt innovation.

Shelley stated that people like to think they’re all about change, but the reality is that, despite all their talk, people don’t readily embrace new ways of doing things.

Chris suggested that we need to show people that what got them “here” will not necessarily “get them there.”

And James noted that culture change doesn’t just happen. It comes about as a result of rewarding behavioural change, providing access to resources and resetting aspirations.

So how does Google, one of the most innovative companies in the world, suggest we create a culture of innovation?

  1. Have a mission that matters.
  2. Be radically transparent.
  3. Give people (both employees and customers) a voice.

What do you think? What three things do you think are necessary for creating an innovative culture? One thing we can all agree on is that we need to create the space to reflect on what works and what doesn’t while forging ahead—no one is going to wait for us to get it right.

Allyson Hewitt

Allyson is the Senior Fellow, Social Innovation at MaRS, where she has been leading the SiG@MaRS program; advising social entrepreneurs; building the social innovation ecosystem; and incubating successful programs such as the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing and the MaRS Solutions Lab. See more…