Tag Archives: Canada

Can We Teach Innovation? For Canada’s Sake, Let’s Hope We Can

How Canada Performs - Innovation - courtesy of the Conference Board of Canada

Source: Conference Board of Canada

It’s not quite an F, but it’s pretty close. Normally a D average gets a student placed on probation, and in this case the student is Canada.

And yes, the overall grade was D.

That’s the grade Canada received from the Conference Board of Canada in its annual study last year on Innovation. 1

In all, the study analyzed 16 developed countries, and Canada placed an abysmal 13th, three from the bottom.

And the study was comprehensive: it examined 21 categories that relate to innovation. Canada got a D in 13 of them (with C’s and B’s in the other categories – and not a single A).

It’s hard to imagine a more scathing report. What’s even harder to understand is how the low grade still gets ignored in most business circles – the circles that ought to be trying to get this student to smarten up.

Is it because many Canadians still think of innovation as just inventing new products?

That’s a big mistake. The Conference Board is part of a growing group who define innovation in the broadest terms: it is “a process through which economic or social value is extracted from knowledge—through the creating, diffusing, and transforming of ideas—to produce new or improved products, services, processes, strategies, or capabilities.”

And the Study has a stark warning for Canadians, particularly those who think innovation is ‘someone else’s problem’:

“Canada’s low ranking matters. Innovation is essential to a high-performing economy. Countries that are more innovative are passing Canada on measures such as income per capita, productivity, and the quality of social programs. It is also critical to environmental protection, a high-performing education system, a well-functioning system of health promotion and health care, and an inclusive society. Without innovation, all these systems stagnate and Canada’s performance deteriorates relative to that of its peers.”

So what’s Canada’s biggest problem?

Actually, the answer jumps out at you when you read the Board’s overall assessment of Canada. Here’s the good news in the Study: Canada got an ‘A’ in Education and Skills. Well, if you get an A in Education and Skills but are lousy at innovating, doesn’t that tell you something?

How Canada Performs - Education - courtesy of the Conference Board of Canada

Source: Conference Board of Canada

It means Canada is great at teaching – it’s just not teaching the right stuff. So therein lies the potential silver bullet: Canada needs to start teaching innovation a whole lot better, such as adding more design schools, or ‘D Schools,’ to business faculties. 

The study also has another key insight: stop blaming the government. Oh if only you could collect a dollar every time you hear someone from the private sector lambaste government for whatever. But this Study shows an interesting finding: as regards Innovation, Canada’s public sector faired quite well. In fact, the private sector ranks well below the public sector. The government scored a ‘B’ in online innovation, while the private sector got straight D’s in all the areas where the private sector ought to be doing its job.

There’s a lot more to the Study, and it’s worth a careful read. But the conclusion we can draw from the above is clear.

Canada: you’re good at teaching. So just start teaching innovation better … now.



  1. Conference Board of Canada, How Canada Performs (2013).