16/04/2007: Is Education Crippling Creativity?

Yves Williams, a web entrepreneur, who is now doing AgentSolo, has a lengthy article about the need for the technology community in Quebec to gather and get the provincial government to come up with a digital plan in his blog.

This follows a recent action by Montréal bloggers last autumn, who sent a letter to Quebec’s prime minister, highlighting structural problems in the province’s technology infrastructure, as well as the sad state of small and big businesses which were lagging behind, outside of the innovation-hungry startups.

Yves Williams finishes the blog post about the need to go further and get all actors and the players of the industry to do something. You’d need to go read the post, and also go through the comments, which shows how his thoughts echo pretty much what many were thinking.

I thought it would be interesting to sum up the state of technology in Québec. This is not by all means an exhaustive post, by just links to a few interesting facts.

First, the last major works done by any Québec government was back at the “.com boom”, when the “Cité du Multimédia” was created, when everyone was crazy about the Internet and wanted to invest in everyone who had a website and an idea. The plan didn’t work out: the only industry which spurred from the government initiative was the video games industry, thanks from the likes of Ubisoft. The “Cité du Multimédia”, where new digital companies would be grown, with generous tax cuts, didn’t work out. If you go there currently, it’s mainly used by hip communication agencies and other companies wanting to benefit from the tax cuts. The initiative was a failed one, in my point of view.

Other initiatives, from different levels of government, were to put money in the hands of private angel investors, such as brightspark ventures, who’d in turn help local tech entrepreneurs. They also funded other initiatives such as AngesQuebec or TechnoMontreal (see here), whose goal is to gather the players of the industry and accelerate incubation and expansion of tech companies.

We’ve also seen various fiscal measures and plans for the technology sector in Québec, the last of which was last May.

So it doesn’t really look like the Québec government isn’t doing anything to help tech in Quebec and Montreal.

What I see though from this is that they don’t necessarily know what kind of sectors to invest in, and also, they don’t necessarily “get” the best means to achieve it.

I don’t necessarily have an answer — and I am not even sure that asking the government to take more actions is the answer. What can they do? Install 1Gbps fiber optics networks, like in South Korea? nope, telcos are the ones able to do those things efficiently. Maybe have a law stating that all businesses should have modern websites and upgrade their IT infrastructure? hmm, no, that sounds like what “enlightened leaders” would do in Zimbabwe. Build data centers, install city-wide wireless in Quebec cities, or create more “IT organizations”? nope, again, would do more harm than solve any problem.

One thing I’d like the government to have is to get a highly expert technology person that would tell them when not to f*ck up. France has for instance Ms Nathalie Kosciuko-Morizot, “Sécrétaire d’État en charge de la prospective et de l’économie numérique”, who’s very dynamic in her role (see photos of her visit to South Korea/Japan to view latest technologies). The current US government has also an interesting tech focus, with the guys at Blue State Digital being the masterminds in everything web.

Another thing that the Quebec private sector can’t do is have huge incubator centers like this or this, so this is also something that governments can weigh in, but it would need to be driven as well by people who know what technology is inside out (instead of just throwing money at the thing, and believing the first digital marketing person who does a lot of noise)

I believe the current mayor of Montreal as well as different politicians had plans to “brand” Montréal as a city of culture and arts. I’ve read a recent article, in how Gilbert Rozon stated that Montréal should be instead presented as a city of creativity (french article - english article at the Gazette). He is a wise man, and if Montréal should succeed, I believe that’s how things should be done, a vision which goes from art, cutlure, technology, as well as other areas like design. That’s a city where Montréalers could thrive in, and the québec tech community should support that vision.

Picture Credit: “Do Schools kill Creativity?”, by djenan

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  • http://blogueurcitoyen.com Michel Monette

    «Install 1Gbps fiber optics networks, like in South Korea? nope, telcos are the ones able to do those things efficiently.» J’ai des doutes sur la capacité du marché de le faire sans soutien gouvernemental. Par ailleur, le gouvernement de la France n’est pas le meilleur exemple ; il est beaucoup trop contrôlant. Il faut plutôt regarder du côté de l’administration Obama si on cherche une source d’inspiration.

  • http://heri.madmedia.ca Heri

    Je ne sais pas, j’ai jamais vu d’initiative provenant du gouvernement du QC en matière de télécoms.

    Au niveau fédéral, il y a la CRTC, mais il font juste de la regulation/deruglation.

    Ma pensée actuelle est que donc ils n’ont pas les experts qu’il faut pour soutenir des projets de grande envergure en télécoms.

  • http://heri.madmedia.ca Heri

    A titre d’exemple, Radioactif.ca avait annoncé l’année passé un réseau sans-fil à haute vitesse (basé sur le wimax) à montréal, mais finalement ca c’est pas passé (dû au fait qu’ils aient eu du mal pour implémenter les antennes et l’infrastructure de base).

    Ca prendrait plus de projets comme ca et aussi des réseaux de fibre optique à 1Gbps (au moins à Montréal et à Québec)

  • Peter Barszczewski

    What the Quebec government can do for digital creativity is what they need to do for all small/mid size business. Make it very easy to start & close a business. Keep taxes reasonably low for all businesses. Make tax reporting as simple as possible. Provide accounting and tax preparation advice for all businesses. Make it easy for private investors to invest in small and mid-size businesses. Provide world class health care, education, public transit and snow removal! Basically do what they are doing now, only better (more tdd, refactoring and the government equivalent of pair-programming).

    Besides that, they should just get the fuck out of the way. All governments have a terrible record of picking winners and losers in business. They should just let the market decide what to do and minimize the friction of government bureaucracy.

    Quebecers are not children who need a government daddy to spoon feed them programs. Quebecers are neither stupid nor lazy. Quebec has a vibrant entrepreneurial spirit and deep roots of doing things for themselves. Further, where our native talent lacks, we have large immigrant communities who are more than willing to pick up the slack.

    Sorry for the rant … but that felt good!

  • http://www.enligthen3d.com Christian Laforte

    Great opinion piece Heri!

    One thing the Quebec government could do is tell the hundreds of useless employees in the French Gestapo (Office de la langue française) to stop bothering small start-ups like ours.

    Last time I checked 99.2% of our revenues came from outside of Canada, yet they wanted us to spend thousands of dollars translating extremely technical documentation for open-source projects we had developed for Sony and Google. Needless to say, none of our clients were interested in paying for this useless effort. I was even more frustrated to learn that hundreds are employed at the OLF to enforce French language in such critical areas like making sure that lakes in the middle of nowhere have a good, French name.

    Instead of harassing start-ups, they should fire these idiots and subsidize translation. I would be happy to have our documentation and web site fully translated if it doesn’t cost me a fortune and put our company at risk of losing our edge in 3D graphics consulting.

    Christian Laforte
    President, Feeling Software

  • http://movetomontreal.ca Richard

    Really great article Heri. I tend to go along with Peter’s comments. There is a lot of creativity in this city and the government’s first action should make it easy to turn this creativity into viable businesses.

    There are other actions though the government could take such as providing tax credits for small business to pursue an e-strategy – which would help Québec businesses in all sectors and would help the e-sector too.

    The book you show is interesting – it’s by a government advisor called Ken Robinson who believes that current schooling systems are killing the creativity of our children. Perhaps the heads of all Québec schools should be given a copy?

  • http://www.yveswilliams.com/blogue Yves Williams

    Merci Heri d’avoir repris la réflexion sur ton blogue. Plus d’endroits discuteront des enjeux qui se posent à nous, plus nous avancerons.

    Je partage comme toi certaines réserves face aux capacités du gouvernement à bien intervenir sur le développement numérique du Québec. Ce n’est assurément pas la solution à tous nos défis.

    Personnellement, je vois le gouvernement beaucoup plus comme un catalyseur qui peut stimuler la communauté à prendre le virage numérique. Mais pour cela, il faut qu’il y ait de l’intérêt de sa part. Intérêt pour la question, intérêt à prendre un rôle, voire le leadership. Pour l’instant, c’est plutôt le calme plat.

    Et lorsque je parle de la question numérique, je ne me limite pas simplement à la question de l’accessibilité, ou disponibilité de contenu, mais plus largement tous les secteurs qui sont bousculés par le numérique : éducation, information, santé, gestion, création culturelle, etc… Il est important que le gouvernement saisisse les enjeux actuels, se forme une opinion des options que collectivement nous aimerions prendre.

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  • http://blogueurcitoyen.com Michel Monette

    Il faut distinguer la volonté politique de la capacité gouvernementale. Je ne crois pas que ça soit la capacité gouvernementale qui fait défaut. Par ailleurs, il ne faut pas tout mettre sur le dos du gouvernement du Québec. Les grandes villes peuvent intervenir pour favoriser le déploiement du très haut débit. Québec (la ville) s’est donné un certain nombre d’objectifs précis. Montréal je ne sais pas. Il y a le fédéral aussi qui peut mettre des sous dans le déploiement du THD. Je suis bien d’accord avec la dernière remarque de Yves Williams mais je modifierais «le gouvernement» par «les gouvernements».

    «turn this creativity into viable businesses.» Je veux bien, mais il y a des secteurs où c’est le public qui est le mieux placé.

  • http://heri.madmedia.ca Heri

    Je pense qu’on est plus ou moins d’accord sur la question, et la discussion est quasiment en vase clos.

    Il faudrait voir s’il y a des catalyseurs, quelqu’un au gouvernement qui serait interessé par la question.

    Je pense par exemple à TechnoMontréal (mais bon point d’interrogation puisqu’ils ont tellement changé de directions et puis c’est pas le même focus non plus)

    Michel, je ne sais pas. Peut-être que ca dépend des projets précis? Moi je dirais à priori que c’est le secteur privé qui est le plus efficace pour installer de nouveaux infrastructures. Voir un billet que j’ai montre une des raisons http://www.michaelnygard.com/blog/2009/02/why_do_enterprise_applications.html

  • http://heri.madmedia.ca Heri

    Et puis d’une facon générale, je pense aussi que la France n’est pas un exemple parfait (trop de bureaucratie) mais bon quand je vois ca http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=30337492&view=album&id=1021474023&ref=nf

  • http://blogueurcitoyen.com Michel Monette

    Tout à fait d’accord que le privé est le mieux placé pour installer les infrastructures. Je pensais à intervention au sens de soutien financier. J’ai lu quelque part, malheureusement j’ai oublié où, que le THD est très coûteux à installer. Pour ce qui est des catalyseurs au gouvernement, je vais vérifier auprès de quelques contacts.

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