A Canadian Tech Star Shares His Thoughts

Contributor: Kathryn Anthonisen, CANARIE Inc.

This rainy February weekend, CANARIE is in Vancouver at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting. This is the 178th meeting of the organization, and the first time it’s been held in Canada for the past 30 years. It is a Big Deal: more than 5,000 attendees have gathered to share knowledge and learn what’s new in science.

Among the many illustrious speakers was Mike Lazaridis, former RIM co-CEO. It’s not every day that you are privy to the thoughts of one of Canada’s premier technology leaders, so the seats at the AAAS plenary lecture by Mike Lazaridis filled up fast.

Speaking on “The Power of Ideas,” Lazaridis gave the crowd a bit of history about himself and about how big ideas that changed history often were not thought of as big at the time. Giving the audience a glimpse of his history, he shared that, not surprisingly, he loved electronics and building things as a child. In high school, he was taking both advanced science and math courses and shop class, and a particularly inspiring teacher enabled him to see the connections between them.

Challenged by this special teacher, his electronics shop class enabled him to see the concrete expression of the math and science he was learning about. Later on, when he was a student at the University of Waterloo, another great teacher offered elective evening seminars on quantum mechanics which, as Mike described it, often ended late into the evening as students engaged in rigorous and challenging discussions.

These defining experiences sharpened his curiosity and shaped his passions in ways that ultimately drove him to create Canada’s premier technology company and lead the smartphone revolution worldwide.

But another anecdote was particularly resonant for the audience. Mike described how, at the turn of the century, urban planners were focused on the key issue of the day: what to do with all the horse manure. Horses were key transportation infrastructure, and the results of their efforts posed serious health problems.

He juxtaposed this with Einstein’s work at the time, which was clearly not focused on the problem of the day (manure) but rather on the nature of space and time. His discoveries enable much of the foundations for our modern world, and the technologies we rely on, from MRIs to nuclear power.

Lazaridis’ point was that we cannot be blinded by the urgency of our current problems, but should try to foster research that may not be related to current issues but that can lead to breakthrough discoveries that will change the world in ways we cannot imagine.

His advice to the scientists assembled was to go in the direction their curiosity leads them and pursue their ideas with the utmost passion. He suggested that science is the first successful global democracy, as it is based on allegiance to reason and curiosity, and bound by a system of peer review.

Going forward, providing our children with the best education possible, and fostering the magic that happens between a student and a teacher, will build thinkers who are bold, who are determined, and who will follow their passion with courage and determination.

Inspiring words from an inspiring Canadian leader.

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