What some of Canada’s business visionaries learned in 2016

We asked 10 lobbyists, pundits, policy-makers and champions of innovation to share the best lesson they learned in 2016. Here’s what they said

Automation has consequences

“The disappearance of the good-paying jobs of assembly-line workers is likely occurring faster than the addition of new jobs developing artificial intelligence and robotics. Never in our industrial history have we had to deal with displacement at this speed. This year, it really struck me hard: Every single investment that I make is a double-edged sword. Just because we can build it doesn’t mean that we should.”

John Ruffolo, CEO, OMERS Ventures

There’s talent everywhere

“Our organization expanded nationally this year. Going through that process made me realize what an immense pool of talent we have in Canada—there is a huge pipeline—and what power we have when women engage in initiatives and objectives together.”

Jennifer Reynolds, president and CEO, Women in Capital Markets

Flexibility wins

“I think 2016 has seen a lot of plans go out the window, and demonstrated that you can’t afford to plan too far ahead. It really is necessary for manufacturers, in particular, to have an idea of what you’d like to do, but to be flexible enough to respond to wildly changing circumstances. At the start of the year, the dollar was at 80 cents. In February, it was 68 cents. Manufacturers have to be flexible enough to weather that, but they also can’t be reactionary. If everyone responded to market conditions on a day-to-day basis, we’d really be in a tough situation. It’s a very difficult balancing act.”

Jayson Myers, principal, Jayson Myers Public Affairs and former CEO, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters

Have a Plan B. And C.

“This year reinforced to me how quickly things can change. It reminded me of how important it is to have contingency plans for all sorts of things that can befall your business. Of course, you can’t plan for everything, but you can plan for a variety of eventualities. And it’s equally important to be able to react. Smaller businesses are often resource-starved in terms of being able to make change happen quickly. It’s so important to make sure you have the best quality people around you—people able to keep rolling in whichever new scenario might hit you. Because surprises happen all the time.”

Dan Kelly, president, CEO & chair, Canadian Federation of Independent Business

It was a surprisingly good year for Canada’s tech scene

“Canadian tech is back on the map. 2016 is going to be a near-record year for investment by Canadian venture capitalists into innovative companies. Even Silicon Valley VCs are noticing. I don’t think folks would have said that in 2008.”

Mike Woollatt, CEO, Canadian Venture Capital & Private Equity Association

We need to get faster

“What I’ve noticed in 2016 is the impact of an accelerated speed of change: not just in Canada’s startup community, but also the challenges that has posed for our public sectors as they work to keep pace. One example is on the public procurement front: the whole ecosystem has been trying to open up government procurement to buy more from SMEs, from Indigenous businesses and from women-owned businesses. This doesn’t cost the public anything, and is a wonderful tool to effect change, but it’s gone absolutely nowhere all year. Companies want to scale, but the infrastructure is not there. Our policymakers need to adapt.”

Victoria Lennox, co-founder and CEO, Startup Canada

Don’t get too comfortable

“Being based in Canada, we have all the ingredients we need—from capital to talent—to become the most innovative country in the world. However, it’s important not to take this for granted or become complacent by it because complacency kills innovation, backtracking the steps we’ve taken. If we become too comfortable with the advancements we’ve made, we’ll stop challenging the status quo, which is a driver in taking an innovative idea and turning it into a reality. To remain competitive on the international stage, we must remain curious, take risks and empower entrepreneurs to think on a local and global level.”

Abdullah Snobar, executive director, The DMZ at Ryerson University

Inclusion matters

“Given developments in other parts of the world, I think what’s been reaffirmed to me is the importance of building an inclusive innovation strategy for Canada, one that focuses both on economic and societal prosperity for all Canadians, and how fundamental that is to our long-term flourishing of our society. We have to think of innovation broadly, as impacting all sectors and aspects of our lives. And it certainly goes beyond cool gadgets and technology. I think this is a brand of innovation that is, in a way, sort of uniquely Canadian. And the world really needs it.”

Ilse Treurnicht, CEO, MaRS Discovery District

It’s time for some hard introspection

“It was very frustrating to me to see Canadians pat ourselves on the backs for not electing Trump. Yeah, we didn’t do that, but there is a lot we have to do. 2016 has been a year of total disruption; it’s been a hard, mean reminder of how extremely unpredictable the time we live in is. Canada has to take a really hard look inward. What do we want to be and what do we want to represent? We’re going to need boldness, and to react to issues that are happening within our borders and on a global scale in a much more innovative way.”

Rhiannon Trail, president and CEO, Economic Club of Canada

We’re competing with the whole world

“The last year has been very difficult for our industry, thanks to global prices. It’s more important than ever for us to compete globally—with the U.S., the Middle East, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela. We have to get our costs in line and be laser-focused on margins if we want to succeed in 2017. It’s been hard for our industry to do that, but it’s so important.”

Tim MacMillan, president and CEO, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers