Yesterday I heard the Premier of British Columbia, Gordon Campbell, speak at The New York Yacht Club, reassuring a mixed crowd of potential investors and expats of BC’s “cool, cutting-edge, high-tech” booming economy. While he raised some mildly compelling arguments about why BC will be the next gateway to Asia (“our port is 30 hours closer!”), I couldn’t help but think back to a conversation I had with Canadian management thinker Henry Mintzberg a few months back when interviewing him about fellow Canadian Malcolm Gladwell (January 2005):
“I define Canadians sort of half-humorously as Americans with the edge off. There’s much less pressure here, not only pressure to produce, but pressure to conform, pressure to be part of things. I’m always amazed in the United States when something becomes popular, everybody, no matter who they are, tends to get on that bandwagon. That’s why you get these bandwagon effects, like the Congressional attitude towards the invasion of Iraq…and what’s going on in American corporations today.”
After the speech and buzzing lunchtime debate (“is this Canadian Atlantic salmon?!”), I tracked down Ken Ottenbreit, co-president of the Canadian Association of New York, to get his take on Mintzberg’s notion that American business had much to learn from our Canuckian neighbors. “My sense is different,” he said. “I think Canadians are as competitive as Americans. Despite their inherent cultural differences, in order to stay competitive in a global marketplace they have to be.”
Maybe Ottenbreit was just attempting to shake Canada’s reputation of being nothing more than “a haven for ‘nice, benign people'” (as the Vancouver Sun reported today), or maybe Canadian business is changing? Are Canadians just as hip to the bandwagon as the rest of us or is Mintzberg on to something – could we find a better way of doing business from our friends up north?
Are there any Canadian companies or business figures you think we have something to learn from?