New Brunswick’s economic fate is not an either/or proposition. It’s really more of an and/and/and situation because, let’s be honest, no one really knows what is happening.
Technological change is a disruptive force, creating new industries and business models out of the remnants of the old. It moves quickly and is unpredictable, which means we lack the insight to identify long-term winners and losers in any economic sector.
But that doesn’t stop us from trying.
John McLaughlin and I talk about this and a lot of other issues in our two-part interview with Shift host Vanessa Vander Valk. Have a listen to Part One and Part Two of our CBC interviews and let us know what you think.
As John says in Part Two, we need to broaden the conversation about economic development – and we need to stop using job creation as our favourite metric for measuring growth.
In our ebook, Who Gets to Lead When We Don’t Know Where We Are Going or What We Want to Become, we state that we have overvalued this metric, and in the process hindered the evolution of New Brunswick into a nimble, knowledge-based economy.
For instance, during the recent provincial election the Liberals and the Conservatives presented complicated plans to drive economic development based on the premise that government policy can play a direct role in creating private-sector jobs.
It can’t, but they pedal their job creation stories anyway, because we’ve told them that’s what we want to hear.
Meanwhile, while we are having this false conversation with our politicians, beneath the surface the real work is underway, unacknowledged and unmeasured by entrepreneurs who, truth be told, don’t think about job creation all that much.
Why? Because job creation doesn’t drive entrepreneurship; the coming together of creative minds to develop products and services to serve a real need is its purpose. Customer acquisition, market reach, and community impact should be our new measures of success.
Our fixation on job creation has also warped the development of our traditional resource sector. We must rid ourselves of the mindset that we can socially engineer this sector into a job creation engine.
The primary goal of our resource sector should be to add value to the raw resources – forestry, mining, fishing, and energy – so it benefits our communities.
These are our shared resources, and New Brunswickers should expect to share in the added value in exchange for accepting the shared risk.
Government’s primary function is to create a regulatory environment that enables that. Government interventions such as taxation policies, job creation strategies, and location incentives do not accomplish that goal, which is why government needs to get out of the business of selecting winners.
However, John and I remain big fans of government; it plays an important role in a collaborative world. It sets the tone, representing our society’s values through institutional arrangements, regulations, and policies.
Right now, it’s not working because it is bogged down by the practices of the late modern age, which is now fading from view. It is hierarchal by design and opaque in its practices, a model at odds with a networked world.
This is why we need to reinvent the public service and politics, so both may benefit from the body of knowledge and expertise now being developed by New Brunswickers across their informal networks.
Citizens want in, and our governmental leaders must set the stage to welcome them.
While we improve our practices, we must also address the root problem of today’s cynical political culture: us.
We have placed unattainable expectations on our politicians and civil servants by demanding they solve problems that lie outside their control.
We hold them to false promises, and when they fail – as they have repeatedly over the past two decades – it feeds our cynicism and reduces our levels of trust.
Enough. We’ll never solve New Brunswick’s complex web of economic and social problems until we as citizens demand more of government –and give more in return.
Lisa Hrabluk is the founder of Wicked Ideas. Follow her on Twitter @lisahrabluk.
About our e-book; John and I think of it as a working document, designed to get you thinking and prompt you to join us – in person and online – to expand upon the ideas in this e-book and to add your own ideas to the mix.
But we don’t just want to sit around talking – we want to identify a new cadre of community leaders who will step up and lead the charge for change.
We know who some of you are – and we’re excited to meet more of you and to hear what you’re doing.