The Ivany “Now or Never” report talks about the need to shift attitudes in Nova Scotia. This is bang on, and particularly helpful for our new government. Often new governments set about changing structures and programs, sometimes creating years of lost productivity as the best minds in various organizations direct all of their efforts to reinventing the process wheel. All the while, the challenge is seldom with programs but with attitude.
Recently, the Governor of the Bank of Canada pointed out that Canada is operating in two economies. Some places are just lucky. They find themselves in the middle of a resource boom like Calgary and St. John’s. They find themselves at a crossroads or a gateway like Toronto or Vancouver or they find a benefactor with deep pockets — the Capital Region (Ottawa) comes to mind. Other places without these accidents of location are growing slower.
Some of us have to make our own luck. Successful economic development requires shifts in four attitudes: optimism, trust, passion for success, and leadership.
Economic development, at its heart, is about optimism… optimism about your business, your community and your province. Positive attitude fuels success. It’s my observation that confident cities and confident businesses just grow faster. They enter into local and international partnerships easily and they don’t fear failure. It’s impossible to succeed at economic development and be a pessimist. To grow our province we can’t believe we have already peaked.
We also have to trust more. In an environment governed by attitudes of scarcity, we don’t trust potential business partners because they could take our ideas or our clients. Government doesn’t trust anyone and lack of trust shows up in the form of mountains of regulations built up over generations. In his book “The Speed of Trust”, Stephen M.R. Covey points out that in environments where there is a high level of trust, initiatives move faster and are cheaper to implement. Years ago, you could propose a project to a government over a cup of coffee and if you shook hands the deal was done and the paperwork followed. Now, largely because some government clients abused this trust, compliance cost and timelines for approval for most government-funded programs have grown massively. Somehow we have to build trust in our communities.
We have to become more success focused. We’re just off another Olympics where Canada’s Own the Podium Program generated great results. OTP focused significant resources on our best athletes competing in sports where Canada has a competitive advantage. In economic development, communities and provinces sometimes take the opposite approach focusing on our worst performing regions and industries in decline. Opportunities and areas with the best potential are ignored because average is good enough for them. Unfortunately, the math of that approach doesn’t work for us. Average plus below average equals below average. And that’s where our growth has been for a generation. It will stay there unless we begin to drive and celebrate success.
Economic leadership is about having that gut conviction that you can change the future of your city or province or business and maybe the world. It’s about a belief that prosperity is not just about the accident of location and proximity to markets, or what kind of carbon or metal is under the ground in this place. It’s about people and organizations that believe that their effort and personal commitment can set a new path and remake the future.
Perhaps the toughest attitude shift will be for us to leave behind our pessimism and become hopeful about our future. It’s not easy. But you know what, it’s not that hard either. Optimism is not about blind faith or a cheery attitude. It’s about seeing a path forward when others only see a dead end. It’s about seeing obstacles as challenges to go around, not stop signs. Sometimes it is about just seeing and accepting the reality around us. In Nova Scotia it is about recognizing that the massive construction underway at the Halifax Shipyard means the yard is actually getting ready to build ships… and that two major oil companies are putting more into offshore exploration in Nova Scotia than any other offshore in the world… and that having more building cranes in Halifax now than at any time in the 250-year history of the city is significant. It is recognizing that we have good businesses doing amazing things all over Nova Scotia.
Optimism is where economic developers like me, an organization like the Greater Halifax Partnership and good businesses get their energy and their drive. Pessimism is our kryptonite. It will kill good organizations, a good city and a good province. It’s time to change our attitudes Nova Scotia.
Fred Morley is the executive vice president and chief economist of the Greater Halifax Partnership. He has written over 100 articles on economic growth issues and presented his views to dozens of organizations and governments around the world. You can reach Fred at email@example.com.