What does it mean to be successful in Canada and how do the education and public institutions support and cultivate talent and success in this country? These and other questions were discussed at this year’s annual conference organized by the McGill Institute of the Study of Canada and its director, Will Straw.
The opening panel “Incubation and Lift-Off” featured four panelists in various cultural and entrepreneurial spheres: Jean-Sebastien Cournoyer, Co-founder and General partner, Montreal Start-Up and Real Ventures; Jennifer Heil, Olympic Athlete and Community Service Activist; Béatrice Martin (Cœur de pirate), Felix award-winning musician; and Tamy Emma Pepin, Director of content and media personality (N/A, CNN, Huffington Post, Journal de Montréal). Together they addressed the questions of how talent is spotted, what forms of support are available, and what role failure plays in the quest for success. Their discussion can be summed up as follows:
Self-motivation, discipline, and self-determination for success are the driving forces behind successful careers. Family support is essential; internet presence is vital; and 10.000 hours is indeed what is needed to nurture talent. The ability to go to the core of one’s weakness and rebuild oneself and create success is what turns failure or disadvantages into success. Failure is a chance to reinvent oneself; overcoming fear and embracing failure opens you up for best performance. Happiness is not something you achieve, but a state of mind.
The second panel “Technological Innovation” included Sean Ferguson, Dean, Schulich School of Music, McGill University; Raja Khanna, CEO, Television & Digital Groups, Blue Ant Media Inc.; Sylvie LaPerrière, Chair, Board of Directors at NANOG/Program Manager, Network Content Distribution at Google; and Ilse Treurnicht, CEO, MaRS Discovery District. Together they addressed questions such as Canada’s success in technological innovation, how technological talent is nurtured, and the role of Canadian universities in encouraging success in the technological field.
Their main discussion ideas included: moving towards culture of technological literacy and encouragement of open-sourced technology. The integration of soft-skills into university and school curriculum is necessary. We should think of more ways in which universities can help bridge gaps between technology and humanities. The problem with technological innovation is Canada is not the lack of talent, but the lack of capital and access to infrastructure.
The Keynote Address was presented by Bertrand Cesvet, owner of the Canadian creative powerhouse Sid Lee, Inc. He outlined the strength and weaknesses of the Canadian creative economy. According to Cesvet, attracting talent is easy, but retaining it in Montréal is hard. Thus, his agency had to expand its operations to New York, Toronto, and Amsterdam. Cesvet explained that “Canada does not make it easy for talent to come here. If Canada wants to be a world-class competitor, we have to open it up to world-class talent from around the world. We need that diversity. Quantity and quality of talent in Canada is not the issue, but the diversity is an issue. Amsterdam and New York can attract a Brazilian copy-editor to write about soccer, but for some reason Montréal and Toronto cannot.”
To close off the day, Jim Balsillie, Retired Founder and Co-CEO of RIM and BlackBerry delivered a Special Presentation on the role of government support in Canadian business. According to Balsillie, American government is deeply engaged in supporting US businesses. In Canada, on the other hand, government support is lacking. Balsillie believes that “we need to get the public policy right in Canada if we want to talk about business innovation, so we can have more successful global companies here.”
Day Two of the conference offered more interesting discussions on Canadian culture, sports, and music. The topic of “Staying Power: Sustaining Careers in Canada“ was addressed by the first panel that includes Jennifer Jonas, Film Producer; Steve Maich, Editor, Sportsnet; Andy Nulman, President, Festivals and Television, Just for Laughs; and Kitty Scott, Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art, Art Gallery of Ontario; former Director, Visual Arts, Banff Centre.
The running metaphor of the panel became an elephant, after Andy Nulman’s joke about an excellent elephant hunter standing on the corner of Peel and St. Catherine in Montréal. “Either you go where the elephants are, or stop complaining that there are no elephants!” The internet offers an international platform, so young people should stay in their basements and continue to be creative! Successful Canadian artists are internationally renowned and have a great network, but Canadian museums struggle to attract the audiences London and New York do. In sports, the elephants are in the US or Europe; even at the Olympic level, Canada is a participant culture, “creating a safe space to fail,” but not creating elite talent. For that they go to the States and never come back. “We can’t create an elephant farm in Canada,” Steve Maich concluded. “But there are spin-off benefits for the country, even when the elite-talent people leave.”
The second Keynote Address was given by Georges Laraque, retired NHL player, former sports commentator (TVA), outgoing Executive Director of the Canadian Hockey League Players Association, and Green Party of Canada Deputy Leader. Laraque gave an inspiring speech about treating obstacles as motivation. “What you do on the ice doesn’t define you as a human being. So I joined the Green Party and became vegan and own the two Crudescence raw/vegan restaurants in Montréal.” He likes being a spokesperson and inspire people to care about health and environment. “In Montréal we put too much emphasis on hockey, it’s like a religion here, or like a soap opera. There are more important things in life than hockey! Enjoy life, do what matters, and help others! Do everything you do 100% and you can achieve anything you want!”
The panel on “Sports and Athletics” included Richard Pound, OC, OQ, Canadian lawyer, former president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, former Chancellor Emeritus, McGill University; Ross Rebagliati, Olympic Athlete; Danièle Sauvageau, First Olympic women’s hockey gold-medal-winning coach; Madeleine Williams, Olympian and law student with a research focus on gender equity policy in elite sport.
The panel “Lifting Off and Looking Back” presented a conversation between Len Blum, Screenwriter, Film Producer and Film Composer (Heavy Metal, The Pink Panther, Howard Stern’s Private Parts) who is the husband of the current McGill Principal Heather Monroe-Blum, and Fred Einesman, Screenwriter, producer (ER, Private Practice), who graduated from McGill with a medical degree. Both men shared their experiences as filmmakers and writers in Hollywood, as well as many anecdotes from the sets of ER and about working with Bill Murray. They concluded with the idea that “You have to have a life. Your artistic work is an expression of your life, but not your life!”
The closing panel “Culture and the Arts” included Tantoo Cardinal, CM, First Nations film and television actress; Deborah Chow, Director, screenwriter (The High Cost of Living – 2010); Jack Rabinovitch, OC, Founder of the Giller Prize; Patrick Watson, Singer and Songwriter. The panelists were asked to define success in today’s digital age. According to Patrick Watson, “success means having the freedom to do what you love. There are specific types of machines for specific dreams and you can’t be naive about it.” Tantoo Cardinal defined it as “finding people of common vision.” And Deborah Chow remarked that “what you think is failure sometimes actually works out for the best.” Jack Rabinovitch shared a few anecdotes about sitting at Grumpy’s Pub on Bishops St. with Mordecai Richler and deciding to establish the Giller Prize. Patrick Watson dispelled the myth of Justin Bieber becoming famous over night through You Tube: “That kid toured so much before he was discovered it’s almost child abuse!” In regards to his home town Montréal, Watson remarked, “When you’re building something, you should do it far away from expensive cities like LA and New York. Once you’re done building it, you can take it there and enjoy it, but while you’re still in the process of building, don’t go there, they won’t let you do it the way you want to do it.”
Tantoo Cardinal concluded with a beautiful image, when asked about cultural formulas for success, she encouraged creative people to be who they are and do what they do, especially women because in her native language the word for fire is made up of two words, woman and heart: “Fire is a woman’s heart!”