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Ibrahim Gedeon
Chief Technology Officer - TELUS
Part of the Spotlight on Skills Development for Canada’s Future Innovators

Cultivating Entrepreneurship at Work

Takeaways

  1. Leaders within companies need to encourage social dynamics and interactions at work to transfer knowledge and skills between generations and to ensure teams can function fully and innovate.
  2. All Canadians should become savvy with artificial intelligence and machine learning tools in their workplace when those tools become available.
  3. Canadian companies need to plan for a work from home force after COVID-19 and supplement it with new ways to encourage social interaction among employees.

Action

To encourage entrepreneurship at work, organizations need funding to launch innovative ideas, a supportive work culture and a go-to market.


What are the skills needed for the future of work and how do we promote them for Canada to lead in the future economy?  

There are two things to consider. The first is the mental wellness of a team member. I am not worried about them going postal but that level of camaraderie that comes with socialization, like getting a coffee at Tim Horton’s with a co-worker, will be missed—and it is critical for leaders to invest in it. We need to replicate that camaraderie, so that junior engineers learn from senior engineers and skills are passed on from the older employees. It is very critical that we talk about the dynamics of human interaction as we work from home, and I do not think enough is currently being done on that. We tend to think that tech will solve this problem, and video calling is a step up, but let’s be honest—we have always had video calling. The question is: how do I collaborate with you? How can I empathize to understand what situation you are in? That is what we need to spend time on and invest in to build better teams that can function fully and innovate.  

“It is very critical that we talk about the dynamics of human interaction as we work from home, and I do not think enough is currently being done on that.” 

In terms of working hours, I believe working from home has caused us to work much longer hours by default. I asked my colleague from Germany how he was finding working from home, and he said, “You mean sleeping at work?” It’s true—I take my coffee at 6:00 a.m., and then go to my home office, and I realize I am working all of the time except for meals. This is especially true with COVID-19. We have to plan for a work from home force after COVID-19, that is critical. We have to map out the future.  

Next, we need to look at why we drive for so long. I live in Edmonton, five minutes away from my office, but I am originally from Montreal. People are realizing how ridiculous it is to drive an hour and a half every day of their lives. If you are working eight hours a day on average, and you are spending an hour and a half to two hours driving, your overhead at the office is 25 per cent—is that not ridiculous?  


What would you like to see from governments, industries, employers or academic institutions to make Canada’s workforce more competitive?  

I am of the view that if something is uber specialized, it is not for the nation but for the individual. One of my biggest fights globally is the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning as a skill set. Every person in any role should be able to use these tools and innovate with them. The assumption by certain academics is that AI and machine learning require a specialist. It is like when you go to surgery, you go to a specialist and not a general practitioner—we all need to be general practitioners in the use of these tools. We need to upskill our understanding. Everybody should have a course on how to use these tools when they become available.  

“One of my biggest fights globally is the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning as a skill set. Every person in any role should be able to use these tools and innovate with them.” 

As a nation, we are either going to be users—which is great in a resource economy—or we are going to be participators. If we are going to be participators, we need the best tools in the world—and the next gen tools are basic. I do not need a Master’s or an engineering degree to use AI. There should be an artificial intelligence programming package, just like Excel.  


How can government help Canadians develop the skills they need to lead in the future of work?  

I am a firm believer that if you do not have big aspirations, you will only deliver small things. If we do not have a target of where we want to be, we will never get there. If you want Canadians to ingest services or be part of the nation that delivers and participates, we need collaborations like those between TELUS and the Vector Institute, the artificial intelligence think tank at the University of Toronto. We also work with the Alberta Machine Learning Institute and Mila, which is a top three think tank in Canada.  

The key is not to publish more papers. I agree that academics will be funded by the government to publish more papers on artificial intelligence—but do we have AI goals in the schools of nursery, medicine and agriculture? We need a systematic approach, and that is where government can assist. 


How can we promote a culture of intrapreneurship within corporations and nationally?  

There are two things. First, what is your budget for playing around? If you have no budget to go and try things out, you will never create a culture of intrapreneurship. When someone comes to you with a good idea—and assuming you like it—they will need time off, tools, and money to spend, and if you do not make this available then why would someone be entrepreneurial within a place like TELUS? There has to be a clear business case for the enterprise, and you have to be providing more revenue for the company, saving costs or creating efficiencies. If you pitch something that is not mainstream, that pitch needs funding, so that is one.  

“There has to be a clear business case for the enterprise, and you have to be providing more revenue for the company, saving costs or creating efficiencies.” 

When someone comes with a negative business case, you cannot have a culture saying that that it is stupid or it will not fly. You need to have enough leeway and a committee supporting you—you cannot do it on your own. An intrapreneur within a company needs multiple people saying, “This is cool.” Cool is enough. Then, once you get that approval, you have to go to market. 

One of our fights with academics, professors and governments, is that they believe the problem is funding. It is not. Of course, you need funding if you are going to ask someone to sacrifice time and effort, but ultimately it is someone being able to buy from you that is the most important factor. If someone says, “I have clients coming out of my ears, I need to build this,” I would put money down in a heartbeat.  

Therefore, we need funding and the ability to see the light at the end of the tunnel, whether the entrepreneur remains at TELUS or whether they incubate and take their idea outside. Those are the critical pieces: money and the go-to market.  


What advice do you have for youth to help them lead in the future economy?  

I have to tell you I champion the TELUS Graduate Leadership Programs because—I know Canadians love sports analogies and hockey—if you do not have a good farm team, you will not have enough good skills at a senior level. You need that culture and that ecosystem to be built and to propagate.

One of the things that has hit youth harder than anyone else is their mental health. Even though they live on their chats, Instagram and Facebook, they are very social individuals. We have to prepare them, and we have a responsibility to add colour to their jobs so that they feel they are part of an ecosystem and a team. We need a different level of tooling and collaboration. It is critical that we give them the arsenal and that they have all the tools they need, rather than a specialization. 

“I urge all engineers to study business, and business students to study literature and engineering.” 

It is unfortunate, because education has become more difficult, not in terms of difficulty but in terms of the amount that you can study these days. I tell our educators and young engineers that is very important to look around the ecosystem and potentially not do a Master’s, but to do a minor or something else. I urge all engineers to study business, and business students to study literature and engineering. I did biomedical and I learned so much by working on cochlear impacts, and the project that excited me most was giving deaf children the sensation of hearing.  

Some say that I wasted many years doing graduate degrees, but in the new world order opportunities in entrepreneurship are in adjacencies. Success in your job is about adjacencies, not being well-rounded and average at best. Whatever your skill sets are, gain more skills around them. If you take that thing which is X, how does it become 2X? How do we get one plus one equals three with our next generation? That is what I urge, and I do not think our education institutions are there yet—although some are, fantastically, getting there. That is where government can help, because they fund them.  

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Ibrahim Gedeon
Chief Technology Officer - TELUS

Bio: Ibrahim Gedeon is the Chief Technology Officer of TELUS and a former Vice Presdience and Director of Data Network Engineering at Nortel Networks. He began his career in telecommunications engineering and research in 1990 when he joined Bell Northern Research. He joined TELUS is 2003 and is responsible for technology strategy, service and network architecture and more.  

 

Organization Profile: TELUS is a Canadian national telecommunications company that provides products and services including internet access, entertainment, healthcare and more. TELUS was founded in 1990 and is headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia. The company is a member of the British Columbia Technology Industry Association and had over 65,000 employees in 2019.