Keynote Address – Saadia Muzaffar – Tech Forum 2018

Keynote Address – Saadia Muzaffar – Tech Forum 2018


Saadia Muzaffar is a tech entrepreneur, an author, and passionate advocate of responsible innovation, decent work for everyone, and prosperity of immigrant talent in STEM. In 2017, she was featured in Canada 150 Women, a book about 150 of the most influential and groundbreaking women in Canada. She’s the founder of Tech Girls Canada, the hub for Canadian women in science and technology, engineering and math; and co-founder of Tech Reset Canada, a coalition of business, people, technologists, and other residents advocating for innovation that is focused on maximizing the public good. She is part of Canada Beyond 150, a policy for a diverse and inclusive future’s feminist government initiative, and an advisor to the government of Canada’s economic strategy, tables for The Access to Skilled Talent working group. Her work on modern leadership explores big ideas and impactful strategies that address growing challenges for business leaders in today’s connected and vigilant markets. And she has been featured in CNN Money, Fortune Magazine, Globe and Mail, Vice, CBC, TVO, and Chatelaine. Saadia is also a Pushcart Prize-nominated short fiction writer, and in February 2018, her work joins that of Margaret Atwood, Gabby Rivera, Hope Larson, and Amy Chu, and Dark Horses Comics new anthology featuring comic and prose stories. Recently Saadia and her team released Change Together: A Diversity Guidebook for Startups and Scaleups. Please join me in welcoming Saadia. I remember that day vividly,
the way you remember things before you’ve learned
what they’re named or what they’re called. I am nine years old.
It’s the middle of July. It’s summer vacation. It’s really hot.
I’m standing by the door in our kitchen. I feel someone approach me
from behind, and I felt something hard and very cold on my back.
I’ve often wondered how I knew what gun metal feels like
against your skin, but somehow I did. They led me through the house and
towards my parents’ bedroom at gunpoint. This part is blurry in my mind.
I remember approaching my mother, who went ashen in her face
as she realized what was happening. For the next hour these strangers
turned our home upside down, they packed valuables
in our pillowcases, they ate the fruit we had and chucked
the pits and skins on the clean floors, and we sat around my mother
huddled and watching. After they had ransacked
the entire place, they left, and none of us moved
for what felt like an eternity. My mother suddenly got up
to go call my dad at work. I found my nine-year-old self running
as fast as I could upstairs to my room. I got there. I reached into my closet
and pulled out a really heavy and big pile of library books
that I had borrowed. I counted them as fast as I could
and then sunk into the floor with relief that they had not taken any of my books. I share this story with you to tell you
that today, this morning, you’re talking to somebody who thinks that
books are sacred and their future matters, and I’ve felt this for a really, really
long time, so thank you for joining me. There’s a lot that we can talk about
that will impact the future of books and that of book publishing, specifically,
when it comes to trends in technology that will have a significant impact.
We can look to the energy sector and draw some lessons from them
as we face a massive overhaul in that sector as renewable energy
changes the game by becoming cheaper and cheaper
and more accessible. What happens to energy
generation companies, much like book publishing companies,
when the marginal cost of producing their main product
gets very close to zero? What do they change in their business
model to when individuals and farms and even some manufacturing places
don’t need them for their energy needs? We can talk about blockchain.
We can look to how blockchain will eliminate several, if not all, layers
of middle people, and what do businesses that rely on distribution and supply
chains do when that layer is eliminated. Or we can talk about retail.
We can see how lowered barriers to access when it comes to online catalogues,
real-time production, same-day shipping changes the game. Where do retailers
add value in the buyer journey when they are not responsible for the one
thing they’ve been responsible for forever which is access to their products? We could talk about all of that,
and you will get to hear about some of those things
from today’s stellar speaker line-up. I want to talk to you
about a different set of things that will also impact also impact
the business that you’re in. And I’m wondering if enough people
are thinking about those things, so to help us dive into that, I’m going
to refer to Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle. Some of you might have seen that talk.
He refers to individuals who lead and businesses and organizations
who are trying to figure out how to do what they do best through
this paradigm, and it’s really simple. So we have three circles in front of us.
He talks about the what. He says, “A hundred percent
of people know what they do.” So for many of you in this room
you would say, “We publish books.” That’s very clear to everybody.
A smaller percentage know how they do it, so the how is more about differentiating.
Why you? Why do people buy from you? So you could say something like,
“We are the category leaders for self-help books,” as an example.
That’s your differentiator. “But very, very few people,” he says,
“know why they do what they do.” And when we say why,
we don’t mean to make profit. Profit is a result,
and it’s always a result. By why he says he means,
what is your purpose? What is your cause? What’s your belief?
Why does your organization exist? Why do you get up in the morning?
Why should anybody care? That’s the why, and that,
you can imagine, is a tough one. So I don’t know what your story is.
I don’t know if the story that you started working in the sector with
is still your story. Is it the story that rides with you
on your commute to work every day? Sometimes we change.
What I do know is that we, the people, need you and your talent and your work
to help us in very specific ways in the coming years. So I’m hoping that our conversation
today will help you answer some of our SOS calls. A few hundred years of following
the cult of efficiency has left us in a place
of sound bites and fake news. It’s a place devoid of reflection
and one that incentivizes polarization and extremism. We need help
in grappling with what brought us here, and we need to hear that
from many, many different people. People with lived experiences, people
who have studied these and are experts, and people who have inherited
this knowledge from their ancestors, we need to hear from them all.
And we need you to help legitimize nuance and complexity.
Again, becoming informed needs to become a worthwhile pursuit. This
requires us to be okay with slowing down, with asking a lot more questions
than we’re comfortable with, and we need to do that collectively
and give each other permission to be okay doing that in our work. And while we’re at it, someone
needs to talk to those 100 books… like “reading 100 books in a year” people,
because I don’t know if that really works. And if you can remember,
that’s a lot of books, even though that would be good
for book publishing. I want to share a story with you.
So on that map you see Silverton, Oregon, a small town of about
10,000 people, Republican, always very staunchly conservative. It is the home to Stu Rasmussen,
who is an avid metal worker, woodworker, and electrician in that town.
He inherited from his father, who inherited from his father,
this movie theatre, that’s the only movie theatre in that
town, and they’ve operated forever. So you can imagine with all those skills,
everybody knows Stu. Like, this is the kind of town where
even if you dialed the wrong number, you’d know who answered. And he describes what he went through
as the slowest transition in history. So many, many years ago,
Stu started to paint his nails very masculine colours like black.
He very slowly, and I mean over years, started to paint his nails
more feminine colours. And remember, he’s like
the operator of the movie theatre. So he would hand out tickets,
and people would be surprised every time his hand would
come out of the teller booth because his nails were painted. This town
was really uncomfortable with that, but they went along.
After a couple of years, Stu added high heels to his plaid shirt
outfit that was, like, his regular thing. Again, very uncomfortable for people,
but he did it so slowly, and he remembers it
like a social experiment. He’s like, “What if I did this?
Let’s see what people will say.” And over time as he made those changes,
Radiolab, which is a podcast, was interviewing people in this town
and asked them, “What do you think? What do you think of this?” And they
were like, “We’re really uncomfortable. We don’t know what’s going on here.”
But they always ended the response with, “It’s complicated.” It’s complicated
because this is somebody they knew. And because this was somebody they knew,
they couldn’t shun him. This was the Stu who had
fixed their circuit breaker. This was the same person they saw
every weekend for the movies. This was somebody they
had taught in their high school. So it was harder to label him
one thing when they knew the person. I share this with you because we need you
to help us to get to know one another so that it would be complicated
to label the other other. So it would be uncomfortable steps
towards a new normal because we all know that we need new normals, and we
need you and your work to show us that. We need less fear,
we need more kindness, we need more curiosity,
and we need more patience. We need you to understand this thing that
somebody shared with me the other day. They said, “We think that the human
species is this warmongering, greedy, violent species because when we
read our history, that’s all we see.” But the fact of the matter is
that historians have always chosen to document turmoil.
I think we need to change that. I think our stories need to change
because nobody has documented harmony, and we feel as though that’s all we are
and this essentialism is harmful and dangerous and false. So we need you
to please remind us of our resilience, that we have done better before
and we should do better again. With the pace of change
becoming more and more exponential, most days most people feel that we are
hurtling towards this inevitable future. It’s mostly dystopian.
We have a ravaged planet, we have profound income inequality,
we have artificial intelligence overlords, and if Elon Musk has his way,
we have tourism on Mars. But we need you to remind us that we
have the right to multiple futures, that this inevitable-sounding progression
can not only be slowed and sorted and reimagined, we can halt some of these
things. We can actually stop them. So we need you to show us the futures
that many people are dreaming of right now that tell us that we can go
in many different directions and imagine a bigger,
fuller life for all of us. Émile Durkheim introduced a sociological
concept called collective effervescence to describe how a community or society can
at times come together and simultaneously communicate the same thought
and participate in the same action. It was coined to indicate
how communal gatherings intensify, electrify, and enlarge
religious experiences. “Bringing people together
in close proximity,” he said, “generates a kind of electricity
that quickly transports them to an extraordinary degree of exaltation.” So what does this have to do
with the why of book publishing? I am suggesting that you and I
rig this spaceship’s destiny, that we actually change
the course of where we’re going by being really intentional and injecting
powerful and transformative ideas. Because you are in this business,
you are in the business of generating, propagating, legitimatizing ideas,
and that’s a huge responsibility but also a lot of power. We need ideas
that are nuanced and complicated because they’re attempting fairness.
Ideas that help us get to know one another so that we are less afraid
and more kind and more courageous. Ideas that encourage us to not settle
for any inevitable future and dream. We can create this collective
effervescence, you and I, because in that future,
guns never trump books. Thank you.

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