Digital Disruption: It’s Global, Continuous, and Messy

In by contextere

Recently, contextere partnered with Invest Ottawa to host the Canadian American Business Council’s (CABC) ‘Digital Disruption: Analog to Algorithm’ event. The day was a resounding success where business leaders, students, and bureaucrats came together to exchange ideas and discuss ‘digital’. Those in attendance who’ve had the opportunity to work abroad reminded us of the privilege we enjoy in Canada, while those who are newer to the workplace reminded everyone of emerging expectations and the need for continued innovation. Throughout the course of the day, three overarching themes emerged: digital is global, we must strive for continuous improvement, and disruption is messy.

Michael Tremblay, CEO of Invest Ottawa (left) and Brian Lang, President of MasterCard Canada (right).

Digital is Global

First, everyone agreed that a conversation about digital shouldn’t be considered in a Canadian or American context, but a global one. Brian Lang, the President of MasterCard Canada, highlighted the need to consider how companies can positively impact countries around the world with their digital solutions. For example, he recalled his time working in the Middle East where he witnessed construction workers burying their money in the ground because they didn’t have a bank account. As you can imagine, this left the worker with the burden of memorizing where their savings are buried and often resulted in theft, leaving the worker without money to sustain his or her family. He suggested that, though Canada is fortunate to have one of the most sophisticated digital payment methods in the world, there are countries who do not have this luxury and we should continue to help stimulate progress.

Similarly, we were also reminded that the world is an interconnected and, often, interdependent place. For example, Scotty Greenwood, CEO of the CABC, recalled when the planes hit the Pentagon on 9/11. Due to issues with network connections, almost no one was able to contact loved ones in the unfolding chaos except for those with Blackberries since the connection ran through the city of Waterloo in Canada, rather than through the United States. This is meaningful for two reasons.

First, the fact that critical communication between top-level government officials could be entrusted to a network outside of USA borders highlights the strong and trusted relationship between the USA and Canada. And, second, it illustrates the strength and resilience that can arise when nations work together.

Scotty Greenwood, CEO of the CABC (left) and Lena Trudeau, Co-founder and CEO of Nuage Strategies (right).

Striving for Continued Improvement

Sukhmani Dev, MasterCard VP, Market Product Management, Digital Solutions, reminded us all that we cannot rest on our laurels. She highlighted that “explosive technological innovation and changing trends are resetting consumer expectations”. This means companies must keep pace with the rate at which digital is progressing to meet consumer expectations, a concept which governments should consider as well.

Iain Christie, Vice President, Aerospace Industries Association, noted that if we want Canada to be able to attract globally competitive talent, we must put in place the infrastructure that will attract them. For example, governments shouldn’t force companies to conduct R&D, but rather should attract companies that want and must conduct R&D activities to remain globally competitive, thereby attracting the desired talent and elevating the country. Similarly, Stephen Benoit, Investment Manager- Funds, Export Development Canada, reminded us that part of ensuring Canada remains globally competitive is maintaining and modernizing infrastructure across the country.

Disruption is Messy

Lastly, Trish Durkin, a renowned freelance journalist who’s written for the New York Observer, The Atlantic, and Rolling Stone, discussed the qualities of disruption and its effect. In short, she explained, “at its best, disruption destroys the old and creates the new. At its worst, it destroys the old and poisons the new. Either way, it makes a giant mess.” Though messy and sometimes unpleasant, we all agreed that disruption and digital disruption are integral parts of society. We should pursue it quickly, but cautiously, searching to create value and solve problems. As Gabe Batstone, CEO, contextere, quoted Warren Buffet:

“I’d rather be approximately right than precisely wrong.”

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