When it comes to innovation Canadians have plenty of ideas, but Eric Gales sees a gap between those ideas and a willingness to do something about them. The president of Microsoft Canada, who arrived here five years ago from the United Kingdom to head the company's small- and medium-sized business division, blames our conservative approach. If Canada wants to drive innovation and compete on the world stage, it has to start at the top, with leaders putting themselves out there and taking risks.

"Leaders need to set aspirational goals that force people to think differently," says Mr. Gales, who assumed the president's role in 2009, when business was reeling from the world economic downturn. "Then they need to actually empower people to fulfill those aspirations."

Leaders should also be talking about taking risks, because if they don't, people will shy away from it, Mr. Gales says.

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Companies also need to ensure that risk-takers won't be punished if they fail. "We don't want to continue to hide mistakes, but expose them so we learn from them quickly and do something differently next time."

He'd also like to see Canadians dial up a willingness to celebrate successes, something other cultures are far more inclined to do. One example: Canadians seemed amazed that the Olympic Games in Vancouver were the best ever held.

"I was surprised by how many people were surprised that we could achieve it," says Mr. Gales. "A series of leaders were involved in bringing that to life. That's something we want to celebrate, and look at ways we can replicate it in other jurisdictions and business areas."