Start worrying. It’s the only thing that might save you

I remember when my business travels in the ‘70s and ‘80s required me to hand-write memos to my team back in Atlantic Canada about the results of my customer visits. The advent of the fax machine in the early ‘80s revolutionized the speed with which I could circulate those memos. Now I find myself comparing that to just how much I can do today, how many responsibilities I can manage and how much simpler it is to stay on top of what it is you need to know to carry out your responsibilities.

Think about how your own workplace practices have changed over the past 20 years, and even the last 10 years. Look at how young children amuse themselves. My three-year-old grandson can’t wait to get his hands on “Bubbie’s iPad” when I walk in his door. Look around when you are next in a crowded venue. I bet you will see 50 per cent, at least, of those in view busily engaged in peering at their cell phones and typing away at blistering speeds. The world is only beginning to understand the implications of this proliferation of connectivity as it affects our ability to gather and use data in whole new ways. Already, it drives everything from how business is conducted to how elections are run.

What will the next 10 years bring? We are only on the cusp of developing the Internet of things, of appreciating what it will mean to automation and processes, so I can only guess.

Here’s the point: we have absolutely no control over these big macro changes, nor their impact on the environment in which we work and play. We can ignore, we can resist, we can object, but we can’t stop it. Market forces and globalization are too strong. But this is not what worries me.

What does worry me is whether Atlantic Canada is capable of participating in this change, particularly as it accelerates. The greatest economic growth and wealth creation will occur within those cultures and geographic areas best suited to adapting to and embracing such change. What makes Atlantic Canada so special are its caring ways, its sensitive well-mannered approach to accommodation, its strong traditions, its inward focus, its belief that perhaps we don’t have to change, at least at the pace others might or must. All these are qualities to be admired, but they are also qualities which suggest to me that we are ill-suited, culturally, to take advantage of the acceleration in change.

Just a year or so ago, when oil prices were circa $100, thousands of Atlantic Canadians were being whisked to and from Alberta on special flights from places like Deer Lake. Many of those flights have since been cancelled and their passengers find themselves back home with some newly acquired skills but no place to practice them. As a community, what are we going to do about this? Should we have seen this coming? Even if we had been so prescient, is there anything we could have done? These are the kinds of issues which make business, political and community leadership so very tough these days. And that responsibility is only going to get tougher.

What can we do? Stay incredibly openminded. Dismiss nothing as beyond the realm of the possible. Embrace new ideas. Spend more time thinking about how new technologies might apply to you and your business. And most importantly, get educated, whatever your age, and especially encourage that of your children and theirs.

Should we be worried? You bet. Only with the introduction of a healthy dose of anxiety into our everyday lives will we really be able to participate in these next exciting times.

John Risley
About John Risley

John Risley, president of Clearwater Fine Foods Inc., regularly engages in policy debate as a member of the World Presidents' Organization, the Chief Executives Organization and as a director on the Board of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.

2 Comments to “Start worrying. It’s the only thing that might save you”

  1. We need to worry about the younger generation. There are many bright educated creative adaptable tech savvy young people who find opportunities elsewhere, not here. They truly are our future and too many find that because of heavy debt loads they have little choice but to leave. We need to be creative and find a way to allow them to stay.

  2. Avatar Harry Tucker // January 4, 2016 at 7:28 pm // Reply

    Brilliantly stated, Mr. Risley.

    However, words do little to motivate people. People who are fixed in attitude and execution style will adhere to those attributes until the pain of sticking with them is greater than the pain of change and only then, will change come. Even when it comes, many people do the minimum possible to ease the pain, not to eliminate it.

    I wrote a similar article to this that appeared in newspapers in 2006 and I was immediately skewered by people in the media who said that such things were negative and that Atlantic Canada (Newfoundland and Labrador in particular) were poised to dominate the Canadian economy.

    Now, 10 years later, the economy is not thriving and serious government deficits are inevitable.

    Being an optimist is a great thing.

    However, in order to get “from here to there”, with “there” being an optimistic future, “here” has to be defined with reality and not with blind, feel good optimism.

    If one can’t define “here” accurately and is blind about what “there” represents, then the process of creating success will be of limited potential at best.

    Being an optimistic realist (or a realistic optimist) is not being pessimistic. It is recognizing the best way to create a future of potential.

    Great article, Mr. Risley – but I wonder how many people have the vision and the courage to execute.

    Harry Tucker

    Calgary / New York

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