I had the opportunity to attend the Toronto Region Board of Trade’s annual dinner last night. One of the highlights was the keynote delivered by Canada Pension Plan Investment Board president and CEO, Mark Wiseman. That he has led the CPP from dollar one in 1999 to over $240 Billion under management today is remarkable. All the more so given two economic downturns over those 15 years. His challenge to Canadian business leaders was delivered in three slides. I’m paraphrasing a bit here, but in essence he said, focus on what you’re known for / best at; think globally; and think big. What struck me was what Mr. Wiseman identified as the key unique selling proposition for the Canadian brand outside the US: our multiculturalism. Why? Because it works. It manifests itself in the senses of fairness, respect and humility that set us apart.
For some reason, most Canadians don’t see this. Or if we do, we don’t see it as a competitive advantage. As a Canadian citizen who spent the last 25 years in the US and is just now returning home, I can assure you that it is. Frankly, it’s one of the main reasons my wife and I returned. Canada – and Canadians – don’t think about it as multiculturalism; it’s just who we are. And that’s why it works – whether south of the border, or across either pond.
The “Think Big” piece is Mr. Wiseman’s plea for us all to loosen up. It seems another part of the Canadian DNA is conservative decision making. I couldn’t agree more. The people that are changing the world in Silicon Valley aren’t thinking about improving on something incrementally; they want to create something entirely new. Peter Thiel summed this mindset up well in his 2014 book, Zero to One. We need to invest in, and demand more of it here.
Imagine… If we could actually get both of these right, we’d actually solve for something that Silicon Valley has yet to figure out: creating disruptive innovation with a culturally diverse talent pool. That’s a zero to one idea that’s worth backing.