Insights - Oct 12, 2017

Innovation, technology and human adaptability

Nyla Ahmad shares her insights about tech innovation and how it affects people

“Innovative thinking is habitual,” according to Nyla Ahmad, Senior Vice President, Marketing and Planning in the Enterprise Division of Rogers Communications. “Anyone can do it. You needn’t be technically trained or gifted to innovate in a tech world.” However, you must consider your innovation’s human impact.

At EDIT, a recent 10-day event in Toronto spotlighting how technology, design and innovation can improve global living conditions, Ahmad discussed innovation and our ability to adapt to change.

Emphasizing that it is not invention, Ahmad defined innovation as doing something for the first time, not creating something new. “This means it can occur or be applied anywhere, for example, in processes.”

Innovative thinkers share several key habits, including:

1. Perspective. Innovators see opportunities and potential where others don’t.

2. Simplification. They focus on the big picture, not the small stuff; often, a simple and straightforward response is best for complicated problems.

3. Embracing diversity. True innovators always look for people smarter than they are because they know they can learn from others. This means being open to working with people with different perspectives and experiences.

4. Trusting their instinct. This “critical but misunderstood quality” helps innovators continue pursuing their dreams in the face of adversity.

5. Taking “moon shots.” Deep ambition is crucial, Ahmad concluded. We must “aim big and aim high,” for then “global impact is possible.”

Innovation uses all the tools in the toolbox—and we have many tools to work with after the incredible tech advances, particularly of the last ten years. This cornucopia of ideas and opportunities has created what Ahmad termed “the innovation economy.”

In 2007, the first iPhone, Facebook and the building blocks of big data (via Hadoop) hit the market. Almost immediately, innovators began combining these new products and services among others to create larger things.

Much has changed, but has it all been to the good? Ahmad sees people as generally comfortable with tech change, and she is personally inspired by how it can positively change our everyday lives.

That said, technology is now “actually moving too quickly for us.” Citing a recent Atlantic article showing how constant smartphone use can adversely affect teenagers’ social interactions and mental health, Ahmad emphasized that innovators must “be mindful of the human component of all this tech change.”

With our federal government working to reduce fragmentation and increase collaboration between organizations and industries through initiatives such as smart cities and innovation corridors, Canada is ready to lead in global technology innovation.

That’s good news, as is our country’s reputation as “responsible and ethical,” Ahmad said. “We’ll do this right, for example, with the privacy concerns” associated with artificial intelligence and big data. “We’re capable of humanely negotiating these changes.”

And our approach to innovation cannot be insular; as Ahmad concluded, Canadian individuals and organizations should emulate other countries and companies that are doing innovation well. We must continually embrace great ideas and take risks, because “only the bold, the brave and the well-informed end up on the right side of the opportunity.”