High-Performance Healthcare

You could hear a pin drop. You could feel the goosebumps in the room. Twelve hundred people in Hall D sat in wonderment as the mysteries of healthcare began to be unveiled.

Darren Entwistle, CEO of TELUS, and the 30th recipient of the Alberta School of Business Canadian Business Leader Award, brought to life a vision that blended public and private, technology and humanity, research and delivery, data analytics and mother’s intuition.

I will never forget that speech. Enlightening. Compelling. So Promising.

As an Edmontonian, I felt the momentum. Capital Health was the pride of the city and the gold standard across the country. Our advances in medical research filled the headlines. New products and new companies attracted capital. And we were attracting the best and the brightest on a weekly basis.

Edmonton was the center for health care excellence in Canada …
… and our entrepreneurial spirit needs to rise once again.

Building on our strengths and capitalizing on our resolve to be the leader for the country, it is time for Edmonton to advance the conversation about high-performance health and health care.

High-performance means doing what others believe to be impossible. It’s a mindset that needs to permeate everything we do, every day. It is a mindset that will bring about criticism. It is a mindset that will be challenged publicly and we will be ostracized by our peers … because it is a mindset that will create progress and excellence … the very things that are the enemy of the status quo.

But that is what leadership is all about.

And at a time when we have a new Premier, a new Health Minister, a new CEO of AHS, a new President of the University of Alberta … we need a new ambition and new intention … and the entire community will rally with you to make Alberta the very best.

As spoken once by Mr. Entwistle … Boldly Go.

Dare to re Discover

Eras are often defined by the visions of leaders: the Carnegie era defined the important connection between industrialist and philanthropist; the Kennedy era defined the culture of US risk-taking by charting a path to the moon; and the Jobs era defined unlimited innovation with the interdependence of technology and humanity.

Whether those leaders are local, global, political, industrial, dictatorial or libertarian, leaders with commanding visions define their eras.

On a local level, we had the Stephen Mandel era, the Cal Nichols era, the Don Lowry era, the Tony Franceschini era, the Dave Mowat era, the Indira Samarasekera era, the Shelia Weatherill era and the Ross Grieve era … all different leaders that left their mark in different ways.

What is important to note is that they all progressed their causes and left their mark. Leaders have to leave a mark … have to move their organizations forward … or they are often forgotten as part of “a lost decade” era … and that is a tragedy of leadership, especially when that leader was brought in specifically to steward a public-facing organization in a defined direction.

The University of Alberta is in need of an era … and it has the opportunity to define its next decade with the selection of a leader that heightens the vision, determination and relevance of this amazing institution. Our university has the opportunity to select a President that has the following:

– Clear vision for campus development focused on enhancing the student experience;
– Understanding of our industrial and societal needs for entrepreneurial graduates;
– Capability to engage alumni, to build pride in the community and to raise capital;
– Clarity of expectations for research & teaching excellence across core faculties; and
– Ability to align all Deans to one vision, one voice, one goal … of being the best.

If we get it right, that leader will not only define the next era for the University of Alberta, but also for the City of Edmonton and the Province of Alberta. If we dare .. strive … and take risks … it will be a defining decade for all. The combination of our K-12 System, NAIT, MacEwen, NorQuest and University of Alberta has the ability to position Edmonton as the place with “the Brightest Kids in the World” and the University of Alberta is a critical cornerstone of that reputation.

So let’s Be Bold. Dare to Discover. Be Indisputably Recognized. Be a Leader.

Commercialization Redefined

It’s convocation season … that spring season when the University of Alberta commercializes 9300 new products into the Edmonton market … all of which walk across the stage on two legs.  Our new medical students can save more lives.  Our new engineering students can build better bridges.  And our business students can start new companies.

Everyone is excited about the possibilities … except … there is a quiet hush and whisper that surrounds the liberal arts graduates.  Engineers become engineers.  Teachers become teachers.  Nurses become nurses.  But arts grads … what do they become?  This is the question that stumps many of our elected officials, who are quickly swinging the education pendulum away from “intellectual exploration” and rapidly towards “technical training” such that our youth can immediately become … as we say in economics … factors of production.

So for the public policy pundits, whose vision for Alberta is to be the industrial engine of Canada and the Banana Republic of North America, I offer the following perspective for consideration:

  • Not all liberal arts graduates work as baristas at Starbucks.  This fact disappoints many who love to point to the liberal arts graduate as the poster child for unemployment … but it is far from the truth.  You see, only some liberal arts graduates work at Starbucks, and thank God they do … because someone has to be responsible for weaving human psychology, anthropology, addiction and economics into a $50 billion empire built on $5.00 non-fat lattes.
  • Not all graduates with history degrees are unemployed.  Some are.  Some probably should be.  But some make a lot of money understanding that societal unrest in Chile affects the price of copper, and thus the price of electricity and the price of houses … and they tend to make terrific long term investors.  History grads also tend to understand that markets are driven by world events, and world events are driven by markets … making events like the Arab Spring – Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain – highly predictable.
  • Not all political science programs are the same, contrary to what some people might think.  But what all programs teach in common is that empires always overreach and they always overspend … and that politicians will always come up with ways to create more money while finding creative ways to avoid discipline.  Political history shows that debt ceilings and quantitative easings are often a band-aid solution to a slightly larger problem called fiscal hemorrhaging.
  • Not all fine arts students are street performers.  Some work at Apple Computer … because a guy named Steve Jobs believed that technology needs to be married with the humanities, and human beings need to interact with technology in ways that bring both joy and productivity.  Not sure if Apple will remain as the most valuable company in the world, but I have a feeling it has forever changed the way the world sees industrial design.

The case for liberal arts education needs to be reframed.  Not only is there economic return as shown through these cheeky examples, but there is massive societal return given that the root causes of our global challenges are often grounded in human behaviour … and the understanding of how people live, think, co-exist, network and interact … and frankly I’m not imagining a world where adding more engineers will help us answer the most important questions that seem to all start with the word … why?

The public policy pendulum across the country is swinging, and I am gravely concerned with the narrow direction we are taking around technical training at the expense of intellectual exploration.  It is not one or the other.  We need both.  We need the technically trained, but not at the expense of our need for interdisciplinary, liberal arts graduates to help us shift from an industrial powerhouse to an intellectually curious city that embraces creativity, entrepreneurism, thought-leadership and democratic freedom.

Great cities, provinces and countries have great universities … and our University of Alberta must continue to commercialize liberal arts students as part of the portfolio of youth that will help make us remarkable.