To truly understand innovation, you have to go where it is happening. And in Canada, innovation happens in local centres and not immediately on a national scale.

The discussion about innovation and productivity in Canada has carried on for decades. It has resulted in a plethora of reviews, reports, analyses and statements, and especially in recent years has led to a growing understanding of the problem. We have the macro analysis down pat: not enough business investment in R&D, a weak commercialization record, too little focus on driving strengths and competing globally, and a high aversion to risk are the most significant reasons for our lack of performance.

But the question of what we can do about these shortcomings still remains.

The focus of Leading Innovation has been to engage entrepreneurs, funders, and connectors on the ground to better understand the efforts being made in locations across Canada to drive innovation. Taking a micro approach has provided a first-hand opportunity to hear and address the challenges and opportunities that are faced by individuals and companies seeking to be successful on a global scale.

In recent years, more and more groups have become engaged in the debate about innovation. There is a growing sense of the importance of the issue, as seen by the many analytical and descriptive reports, the strategies of governments, and the specific policy and program initiatives which address aspects of the innovation continuum.

However, we have not been able to establish any discernible change in our innovation and productivity performance. In fact, when measured against our major trading partners and competitors, our performance is declining. In most significant indicators – business spending on R&D, business productivity, ICT and machinery and equipment intensity – Canada is actually falling behind. Set against a rapidly changing global economy, and rising economies in all parts of the world, we need to treat these issues with a new sense of urgency.

What is clear is that innovation will be driven in Canada by local leaders from business, government and higher education advancing new ideas and new enterprises. They will also be supported by connectors and funders who will be first engaged locally. While innovation and enterprise are ultimately global, their origins are intensely local.

For Canada to be a true ‘Innovation Nation’ we must support and build strong local eco-systems, including encouraging more active collaboration across and within sectors and clear cluster strategies in every part of the country. Driving local innovation will inevitably establish national and global success.

What is most needed now is a dual sense of purpose and pace. Our purpose should be to drive Canada’s economic performance against the increasing competitiveness of the global economy. The world is changing rapidly and we simply can’t afford to be mediocre in our performance. Instilling innovation and enterprise, whether in business, public policy or social purpose, is critical if we want to address our productivity challenges and ensure Canada’s resilience for generations to come. It must be embraced at the firm and organizational level in order to see success. We equally need to treat this issue with a far greater sense of urgency. We have tended in Canada to be complacent about our national wealth and favourable trading situations. We need to pick up the pace as we not only tackle these issues but also develop the new ideas and enterprises that will ensure Canada’s long-term economic place in the world. This too is a firm and organizational imperative.

Much of this drive is emerging locally. This provides us with a better sense of what is needed at the micro level for greater innovation success. Leading Innovation seeks to uncover these on-the-ground experiences and help us set direction and action for a Canadian approach to innovation.