Wednesday, October 24, 2007

aren't they asking the wrong question?

A week or two ago I was reading a series of features in Canadian Business magazine about how best to make Canada more competitive globally.

There were arguments about the need to commercialise innovative inventions and ideas, the need to keep skilled individuals in Canadian companies, and in the country, and the need to transform Canada's regulatory environment and cultural bias to one that encourages participation in the world economy, rather than shying away from it.

As one author has pointed out - it's about the way you can buy a Corona all over the place, but you're not likely to find a Molson in a Mexican bar.

The prediction was that since history has shown Canadian business leaders to be loathe to think globally, if things don't change by 2020 Canada will be left behind.

I was almost convinced. But then I started thinking about the individuals I know who are truly outstanding minds. Which is not to say that they are at the top of the food chain in their places of employment. Often these folks are too independent-minded to play office politics well. But I do know quite a few people, actually, who might be classified as brilliant. Inventive, imaginative, well-above average certainly.

And these people live all over the world.

They keep in touch virtually. Share ideas informally and across geographic boundaries. Recruit each other for projects. Ask each other for career advice. Now, when you add to this the fact that Canada has the world's highest rate of immigrants as a percentage of population, you have yet another factor contributing to our outward outlook and outward ties to other countries, cultures, and approaches.

I know that there are regulatory barriers to trade and worker mobility, but my observation is that the truly creative find ways to operate outside of national constraints. They are not bound by questions of sovereignty. (Like our last Prime Minister who was also a shipping mogul, accused of flying different flags on his ships, depending on what port thew were in...but I digress.)

My guess is that the threat is not simply that Canada's regulatory regime is falling behind that of other countries. Or that Canadian entrepreneurs have been too inward looking. Or that there are (not enough) virtually no Canada-based multinationals. Or even that we're suffering brain drain as Canada's best and brightest migrate to the international centres of excellence.

Nope, my bet is that the best and the brightest - in Canada, and the world over - will develop new and informal modes of networking and collaborating that will supersede governments and individual nations in general, making their regulatory regimes irrelevant altogether.

And so as the boomers debate how to make Canada relevant - a debate in which I am keenly interested, not just because of the economic implications, but also because of the political and foreign policy ones - I can't help but intuit that Gen X'ers are going to blast this debate out of the water.

And Gen Y'ers will not even be able to wrap their heads around the idea. Being constrained by country barriers from doing business, commercialising new ideas, or influencing policy in foreign countries? Think Gates, Clinton, and the Google boys.

Surely the web has made it clear that the best and brightest are constrained by nothing of the like?