Commentary

We Must Use Our ‘Charisma Superpowers’ To Go Do Good For New Brunswick

Erin Flood and Stewart Hillhouse, co-founders of GoDo. Image: submitted.

There’s no question that our province has reached a state of desperation. As Don Mills, someone who has spent the last 40 years building a business based on listening recently pointed out, “The numbers speak for themselves. We’re falling further and further behind the rest of the country every year.”

Now more than ever, New Brunswick needs new and innovative approaches to bring our population back to its feet. Many see the pitfalls we are facing, such as declining population, sinking economy, and rising healthcare costs as the dark and gloomy reality from which they see no escape. However, at GoDo, we have chosen to flip this doom and gloom story into possibilities and opportunity, and so should you.

We spent the last week at the Elevate Tech Fest in Toronto, and while our brains are filled to the brim with new knowledge about how the world around us is seemingly thriving in contrast to our home province, the time in the big smoke has, more importantly, opened our eyes to how we might bring this prosperity home.

During our visit to Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs, a gentleman we had just met asked us this question:

“What does New Brunswick  have in abundance?”

We responded, “Trees? Water? Government?”

He laughed. “Character. You have character and that is a skill that is hard to come by in a big city centre like Toronto. Imagine what you could take from this trip to solve big problems in New Brunswick, and use that charisma superpower to do so.”

Here was a man who we had only just met and who had learned about our company for 10 minutes, telling us that New Brunswick is rich with opportunity if we’d only make use of it.

So let’s get to work.

Growing up, my dream company was IDEO, and this continues to ring true, louder than ever today.  However, I hadn’t quite figured out how we could build our company in a way that modelled IDEO’s philosophy and work. Their work is creative, diverse, and always holds the promise of creating social impact for our world.  We’ve realized a few things during this trip that have helped us think differently about our business and the world.

Entrepreneurs are their own worst enemies and hold the rare skill of complicating things for themselves.

Here’s the thing, technology is moving at speeds we’ve never witnessed before. It’s fascinating, it’s scary and it’s overwhelming all at once. But what I’ve noticed so many times with entrepreneurs is that even though a myriad of technologies exist alongside us, we still choose to create companies from scratch, writing off any help at the risk that we won’t be creating something brand new.

We don’t need brand new and shiny, we need innovation that considers how you might pull together two seemingly unrelated concepts and from that, solve a new problem. Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, sat on stage in Toronto in disbelief as he wondered aloud why there weren’t more people using Google’s free services, like TensorFlow.

“We built it for YOU to use for FREE, so that you could save yourself the trouble and solve the problem faster.”

Recommended read: Steal like an artist, Austin Kleon

We’ve come to believe our own narrative: NB

Have you ever heard the idea that “you are a product of your environment”? It has been an easy scapegoat for why we are the way we are. What if there was another way of thinking about where we find ourselves. What if instead of being a product, we are a reaction to our environment.

We believe that there are two ways of thinking about it:

You can react to your situation and its problems, or you can interact with your environment and its possibilities.

The ongoing economic environment has seemingly shaped the narrative for many New Brunswickers, and as a result, many of them have left, in search of a new environment and a new narrative. We are perpetually driving the negative storyline, so much so, that it seems we’ve permanently convinced ourselves of it.

So, what is there to learn here? That N.B. should start a new industry around writing a scary novel series? Not quite. As with any great author, we have control over this narrative, and as we’ve seen with our current situation, we have the ability to change that narrative to the point that we believe it. Let’s do that.

Everyone seems to want their own sandbox, but what fun is that?

This one relates back to the first point, but on a more regionally specific scale. Mr. Al Gore and Mr. Eric Schmidt graced the Elevate stage, and if they left us with any resounding message, it was that Canada has provided the brains behind a massive share of technology that is used both in the US and globally. Many products and services that have come out of New Brunswick fall into this elite category and have played a leading role on the world’s stage. I could list all of these innovations, but it would turn this article into an hour long read, instead of the 7 minutes that our attention spans crave.

(*Refer to the bottom for some of our favourite innovators, in case you still don’t believe us.)

That being said, what is, in fact, seemingly unusual, is the collaboration between companies. Why? Are we afraid of losing money? If so, have we really looked at the cost analysis of the time we take to build products and services from scratch, rather than reaching out to our neighbours for partnerships that might promise faster growth, with higher quality outputs?

That’s why we have equations built by economists to measure things like The Time Value of Money (TVM) to help assess situations. It reads that the future value of money grows fastest when there are more opportunities to compound the growth in a given period. So if we consider a new partnership an opportunity to introduce more people and their skills to the problem, it will dramatically increase the current value as opposed to waiting longer to bring in others. The more often you compound (learn alongside others), the higher the value over the same period of time.

In other words, collaboration = cash for those involved.

However, we’ve still got to consider the human characteristics required for a good partnership. Luckily, we are a short drive away from our province’s innovators, and for the most part, they are all happy to meet (especially if it has the potential for growth of their own business).  Still a little scared? Here are some quick questions you might consider when choosing your new sandbox play-mate:

1. Do they broaden your perspective? Do they share your values?

2. Do they help leverage existing assets and resources?
3. Do they value balance in the outcome of the relationship?

In order to gain some insight into the answers for these questions, it requires you to get into the wild, and meet these potential partners.We hold our cards too close to our chest, when we should be reaching out to our neighbours to help solve a big problem, fast track the resulting solution and move on to the next need.

Oh, and by the way, we have no shortage of problems to be solved in New Brunswick. And once we do decide to solve these problems, let’s remember to share with the rest of the world. It’s important to get out of our sandbox, and explore the rest of the playground (aka. Global markets).

I was reminded of the competitive nature of the startup community in a bigger city, as I listened to person after person pitch their concept, seeking money to make it happen. One entrepreneur I spoke with shared that they had finally closed a funding round, after speaking with 265 investors, and finding three that agreed to take a risk on his company. No one said it would be easy.

Healthy competition is required and so is healthy collaboration in order to create an environment that inspires creativity and action.

Let’s craft a new narrative, and realize that great stories require many actors to succeed.

So, what now? We write a blog post and the world is changed? Not quite.  We want to hear from you. We want to hear about the big problems you’d like solved and how you’ve thought through how you might do just that.  If you’re sitting there, still scratching your head about what problems we could possibly solve in our own backyard, here’s a Huddle article to get your wheels turning:

Don Mills Dropped These 5 Truth Bombs About N.B.’s Economy

Consider this your call to action. And, by the way, at the root of it all, we’re all human. Let’s not make this complicated.

Talk to you soon and until then, GoDo good.

Here are a few companies we believe really show what it means to think big and sell their products across the world:

  • PanSharp satellite image fusing that is used by the supplier of images for Google Maps.
  • Sabian musical cymbals that are used globally and considered one of the “big four” cymbal manufacturers in the world.
  • Measurand which manufacturers a device to detect deformation in soil and structures used in large projects in the US.
  • SmartSkin Technologies builds pressure sensors to show manufacturers where their assembly lines can be improved.
  • InteliSys Aviation Systems are used to manage cargo and passengers for airlines across the world.
  • C-Therm manufactures scientific instruments that the biggest companies in the world of tech and textiles use to test new materials.