In 1986 Sharon Wood became the first North American woman to stand a top the summit of Mount Everest. That mountain, known to the Tibetans as Chomolungma or "Goddess Mother of Mountains", is the highest place on Earth and the original podium.
In Alpine pursuits on the global stage, Canadians have done well to distinguish ourselves. This makes sense from a branding perspective. It's icy and cold up here and moving through the mountains on snow and ice is a natural strength. We should be good at this type of thing.
Like many Canadians, I know precisely where I was on that Saturday in the winter of 2010, when Iginla dug the puck out of the corner to a vigilant Crosby who ended a tense final medal round game to earn gold for the homeland. It felt different the next day. We had discovered a national pride we were too polite to own before that. We now had brio and we were no longer afraid to win.
I outfitted the 1986 Everest Light expedition with climbing mitts I had designed and manufactured (I prophetically called them "culmenators"). I was not there but I had lofty ambitions–climbing mitts are something Canadians should be good at. A professor who was running the industrial design program in Calgary also bought a pair of my mitts and recruited me into to design school. Dixon Thompson introduced me to the social science of innovation and what I later came to understand to be the "national inferiority complex" or what Anthony Lacavera calls our "bronze medal mentality." Canada is a former colonial nation: a drawer of water and hewer of wood that exported raw materials to superior nations and imported back the higher margin, value-added products.
Even when we invent or pioneer some powerful new technology like the lightbulb (Mathew Evans five years before Edison), the telephone (Bell placed the first call from Brampton), the smart phone (RIM) or machine learning (U of T), it often ends up going south to enhance the US tax and job base. We have not yet on mass had the brio or infrastructural support to commercialize what we create, but that could be ending with generation next.
The capacity of a person, team or organization to compete on global stage is founded on natural strengths but only manifests if nurtured and developed. As Lacavera points out in his book on Canadian competitiveness, the Own the Podium program came out to criticisms of being un-Canadian because it gave people with greater prospects of excelling more money and more support. But results speak and it required strategy, infrastructure and the will and foresight to develop it.
I have a great confidence in the creative spirt of Canadians and our capacity to learn how to commercialize what we create and win on the world stage. The generation of millennial entrepreneurs coming up now may well get on a summit that has eluded our previous generations. Go Canada Go!