Remarks for Joseph L. Rotman, Chair, Canada Council for the Arts, Creative Places + Spaces Conference, MaRS, 101 College Street, Toronto
Friday, October 30, 2009 at 8:30 a.m.
Thank you, Robin Cardozzo (CEO Ontario Trillium Foundation).
Being here today is a privilege and a pleasure. I am particularly delighted that MaRS, with which I have been involved for almost 10 years is where you decided to meet. There could be no venue more appropriate than this for a conference on creative places and spaces.
I want to use my own experience of MaRS, together with my experience as Chair of the Canada Council for the Arts, to illustrate the two topics I will address this morning:
- First is the need, in both the sciences and the arts, to develop a fertile ground for invention, through a process of collaboration, convergence of disciplines and innovation; and
- second is the importance of branding in developing and maintaining this groundwork.
Before I talk about the importance of invention, let me take a moment to clarify the term.
Invention is not the same as innovation.
Innovation is an ongoing process that is important to a dynamic society and helps to lay the groundwork for invention. It can – and should – be planned for and encouraged. The scientists, the start-up companies and venture capitalists working in the MaRS complex are stimulating innovation and preparing the ground for invention.
Invention however is not manageable. It is the outcome of an “aha” moment involving a direct, fresh insight into the structure of reality. Invention comes out of the blue and, when tested out, changes the rules of the game. It is what a renowned economist, Joseph Schumpeter called “the perennial gale of creative destruction”. Examples are the Salk vaccine, the internal combustion engine, and stem cells.
Think of Microsoft’s SharePoint and Google’s Wave, and the transformation of collaboration by being on line.
I prefer the term “invent” to the term “create”.
To “create” is to make something out of nothing. The term devalues the input that is always part of the making of a thing; and by analogy it could devalue the thing itself.
To “invent” is to perceive and bring to light a new pattern, a new way of being, out of existing materials.
On the subject of invention, Shakespeare got straight to the point in the opening line of the Chorus in Henry V:
O, for a Muse of fire that would ascend
The brightest Heaven of invention!
Next, the groundwork:
Invention unfolds in the context of a perceptive overview of a given area of knowledge, the interplay of curious minds, a passionate commitment to an idea, a gripping, if hazy, vision, a willingness to accept a very high degree of risk, and, in the end a willingness to rely upon good luck. This is the story of MaRS, which began in the year 2000 with a passionate commitment to an idea.
We succeeded and opened in the fall of 2005 because of the openness to diversity and the range of skills and experiences of those individuals and groups that were involved. We then created, under the visionary leadership of Ilse Treurnicht, something that one individual or one organization would have great difficulty achieving.
Collaboration and convergence of disciplines are the keys to developing the ground in which invention can thrive. They are understood as the means of fostering both innovation and invention, and so creating value that would otherwise not occur in siloed environments to which we have become accustomed, although frustrated.
Bob Young, the successful entrepreneur of Red Hat, believes that the concerpt of open source has transformed how collaboration can occur. He then reflects on leadership skills through an open framework by combining competitiveness and collaboration. He feels this integration is the most productive strategy for innovation, as we have learned we need both at work, even though they are in contradiction.
This framework requires a new meaning for partnership, including suppression of ego, and as your material states we must rewrite the rules of engagement. The process to work effectively takes root most easily in a structural groundwork of clusters and multidisciplinary crossovers.
MaRS and Canada Council both believe in, and are pursuing, these conditions, and both have become a catalyst in their respective areas for this new way of creating a supportive environment for their clients to invent.
MaRS has become something of a poster-child for the benefits of a culture of collaboration amongst and the convergence of many and varied disciplines. Politicians, civil servants and community leaders from all over the world come to tour and learn about MaRS to try and gain knowledge and insight into how collaboration and convergence can promote innovation leading to economic growth.
Similarly, among Canadian musicians our cultural diversity has led to innumerable collaborations and convergences. Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq was discovered on a promotional CD in a British music magazine by the director of the San-Francisco-based Kronos String Quartet, the world’s most renowned new-music group, with which she has become a featured performer. Lucie Idlout [pron. ow as in how] has made throat singing an integral part of the contemporary rock culture. Both have performed world-wide.
Kandinsky’s exhibition, now at the Guggenheim, demonstrates how he relied upon the composer, Schoenberg in order to reach new meaning in his work as he felt music was much freer in spirit, and more challenging of the status quo, than painting.
The Canada Council for the Arts is a key institution as an enabler of this kind of collaboration through its Canada-wide funding programs. Artists are always telling us about the value of grants that have brought them time to interact in new and different ways, and to let their ideas unfold.
The arts thrive on invention, but for me most importantly they inspire it. I would suggest, and ask you to consider whether the arts provide the experience to create inventive talent in many forms. In this way, the arts can and would deliver value in and across all fields of endeavour. The achievements in the arts we know are of value in themselves. What is needed is to also recognize that the arts stimulate and motivate inventive strength for all areas of society, and needs to be a strong partner in this debate.
The second topic I want to address is also well illustrated by both the Canada Council and MaRS: the importance of branding.
Branding is a practical necessity in a complex and fast-paced world. It offers a symbolical shorthand to the essence, the distillation of a place or thing.
Collaboration is a critical component to successful branding, because it delivers critical mass, which is necessary within globalization. It draws resources – both material and human resources – together.
A Canada Council grant is in itself a very effective brand. Artists tell us frequently that having the Canada Council “seal of approval” has made all the difference, both nationally and internationally, in finding additional funding, in getting bookings, and generally in moving forward with their careers.
The branding process was demonstrated for MaRS last spring, when the federal Deputy Minister of International Trade invited several members of the Board and management to a meeting to discuss how best to brand Canada as a leader in the knowledge economy.
I asked to share my speaking slot this morning with Simon Brault, the Vice-Chair of the Canada Council for the Arts.
Over many encounters with Simon, I have developed a keen appreciation of and respect for his public commitment, his cultural vision and the energy with which he promotes the arts as a defining aspect of life.
This is an opportune moment to bring him to your attention, because he has just written a book about the role of culture in shaping society. Simon analyzes and assembles the jigsaw of cultural and social issues that define our society to ensure the cultural sector is understood as a contributor to society, including the economy.
The book is called “Le Facteur C”, or “The C Factor”, in which C stands for Culture, and I invite Simon now to share some of his insights with us.