Engaging employees fosters innovation: Amanda Lang

Daniel MacEachern
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CBC’s senior business correspondent delivers lunchtime speech at first day of NOIA conference

Amanda Lang, senior business correspondent for CBC News, was the keynote speaker at a luncheon Tuesday during Noia’s 2013 Conference at the Delta Hotel in St. John’s. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

Canada’s innovation is being strangled at home, in school and in workplaces, says Amanda Lang.

Lang — the senior business correspondent for CBC News — drew on her recent book, “The Power of Why,” for her luncheon speech on the first day of Noia’s annual conference, outlining the ways creativity and productivity are often stamped out by the status quo.

She told the story of an insurance company CEO who — after listening to a customer service call with a disinterested sales rep — started putting together a new product group based on a customer request, and found out someone in the company had already pursued the idea, only to have it squashed.

“Somewhere along the way, inside the company, this idea got murdered,” Lang told the packed dining room at the Delta Hotel. “Because that’s what happens to ideas at companies: they get murdered. They get murdered by people and ego and process.”

Innovation blooms when people are encouraged to ask “why” or “why not,” said Lang, pointing to an IBM scientist — working on chip-cutting technology — whose curiosity led him to test the laser he was working with on a turkey leg left over from Thanksgiving dinner.

“He uses the laser to cut into it, and he jots the findings down in his notebook: how deep into the tissue, what was the average temperature, a bunch of stuff that has zero bearing on his wafer-cutting technology. Zero,” she said. “But IBM is a company that understands the value of intellectual property (IP) like few others. It makes billions on its patent portfolio, and so it has a very well-honed system for not missing IP.”

Part of that system is a periodic sweep of the labs, in which their scientists notebooks are checked to make sure nothing gets lost.

“And sure enough, a few months later, this crazy, time-wasting moment with the laser and the turkey leg is being read by somebody at IBM. Welcome to LASIK eye surgery.”

                                                                                                   Continued on page 2 below...

Organizations: CBC, IBM, Delta Hotel

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • Paul
    June 20, 2013 - 17:51

    Amanda Lang is very sharp on business and politics so it is a real pleasure to have her speaking at this event. Thank God Kevin O'Leary was not the speaker.

    • Bobby Rae
      May 04, 2014 - 06:26

      What the hell is that supposed to mean? Just kidding I don't even know who that is have a nice day :)

  • saelcove
    June 19, 2013 - 10:00

    It,s the CBC, and how much did it cost the tax payer

  • Townie
    June 19, 2013 - 07:08

    I note there were no comments from audience. When does a business reporter for CBC become an expert to speak on such tropics? They all have such high opinions of their great knowledge on everything!

    • wavy
      June 19, 2013 - 09:39

      Such as what, Townie? That's what you call a defeatist attitude. How's that working out for you? Seems to me all Lang was doing was spinning a few yarns, relaying the facts of their outcome and simply stating what can be learned from them. What's wrong with that? As one who has worked for one of Canada's so-called "Top 25 Employers", yet has had his own IP essentially trashed on numerous occasions by bad bosses, I can tell you her comments struck an immense chord with me.