“I don’t think our policy and decision makers have a clue…”


Expect ChangeTHUNDER BAY – Similar to my last article, which examined “what is value add?” I wanted to address another message we constantly hear in Northern Ontario and that is “knowledge based economy”. I’m using this topic as a follow up to my rant because like “value add” we hear this term all the time and similar to my previous opinion, I don’t think our policy and decision makers have a clue what they’re talking about when it gets continuously bantered about.

WWe need to move away from the “old economy” and into the “new economy” we’re told. We need a shift in focus from blue collar workers to white collar, knowledge based workers. Based on this rhetoric I’m going to have to assume then this is because the previous jobs people were employed with in Northern Ontario didn’t require knowledge? Really? I guess we shouldn’t have been focused on the ignorance based economy for so long. As usual, when it comes to economic development and job creation in Northern Ontario I have a completely different opinion and viewpoint than our so-called leaders (I use that term loosely).

The term knowledge based economy was first proposed by management guru Peter Drucker in the 1960’s and as usual he was well ahead of his time. I’m not going to waste my time giving a formal definition because I’m assuming your online right now and can read one from any number of sites. My life is consumed by the study and practice of business (which probably explains why I’m such a funny social guy) and I’m a Peter Drucker disciple but I think as usual academics are overcomplicating economic issues with jargon and theory which are meant to replace basic common sense. It is impossible for me to get my head around the fact that knowledge and information hasn’t always been the main drivers of production and distribution, no matter what century we live in. The truth is the term “Knowledge Based Economy” is a made up, meaningless saying like “Rama Lama Ding Dong” or “Give Peace a Chance”. It provides a good excuse for poor managers and business people who are trying to understand how they have lost market share in a highly complex and competitive global marketplace. While we try and figure out the difference between “white collar” vs. “blue collar” the rest of the world is taking our lunch money. There is only one collar of importance in the 21st century and that is the “Green Collar”. “Green Collar” which refers to both the profitability and sustainability in which a company operates. Anything beyond that is totally irrelevant. This is 2011 not 1970, it doesn’t matter a single bit how high tech or analog your job is, you’re wearing a “Green Collar”. Every single person in every company needs to be devoted to continuously enhancing the innovation and competitiveness of their firm. Business is like biology, you either compete successfully and live or fail to do so and become extinct. It’s that simple and no amount of government intervention, policy creation or semantics is going to change that.

The only thing that is old vs. new is people’s mindsets, their paradigms of the world they live in and the state of mind with which they approach their life, work and economic development. The economy doesn’t exist mutually exclusive from people. Yet in Thunder Bay we continually look backwards while trying to build our future and when we can’t figure it out we hire consultants to try and figure it out for us. We create a task force and committees (subcommittees, steering, blue ribbon etc) and endless plans and reports. All to often over the years these reports and consultations aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. If you don’t believe me just take a look at reality. Our economy is completely stagnant, has been for over a decade and the only thing keeping us going are government transfers. These reports, committees and planning groups are all missing the one key fundamental issue to success in business. The key missing ingredient in business today is the same as it was a century ago and that is execution, and execution comes from people. Any great leader will tell you that if you don’t have the people to properly execute, any plan or devised strategies are totally useless. Thunder Bay has a leadership vacuum. There are many people in positions of leadership but very few actual leaders. No amount of science, technology or research and development is going to change the fact that unless we have the visionary leaders, who are willing to challenge the status quo we’re never going to create anything more than reports, plans and committees.

Graham Mailhot

Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre
The Innovation Centre acts as a pivotal player in growing Northwestern Ontario’s innovation capacity. We offer support to innovative entrepreneurs, businesses, and community projects in the region of Northwestern Ontario. In addition, the Centre seeks out new approaches to improve, enhance and invigorate a commercialization system in our region. By encouraging ongoing cooperation between business, education and government, the Centre is a driving force to improve economic vitality.

Located in Thunder Bay on Lakehead University campus, the Centre prides itself on creating linkages, engaging entrepreneurs, supporting management, training people, accessing markets, developing and implementing businesses plans, sourcing financing and building success!

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