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The Art of The Possible

The Peak sat down with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology's Chief Catalyst to ask a few questions. The first of which was "what's a Chief Catalyst?"

We also discussed student mentorship, building skills for the future and much more. Read on for our entire interview with Jim Gibson. 

The Peak: Give us a quick blurb on your professional background and current role - what does it mean to be the Chief Catalyst.

Jim Gibson: I have always been curious about the ‘art of the possible.’ For me, this has meant focusing my work over the past three decades towards understanding how business, society and culture are impacted by advancing technologies and vice versa.

Everything around us is undergoing sweeping, foundational changes at an unimaginable pace, and we need innovative ways of engaging and enabling everyone to learn, participate and thrive in our digital world. The systems for doing this, however, need to be rewritten to keep up. That’s where my role as catalyst comes in.

I come to SAIT as an entrepreneur, investor, author, advisor and co-founder of Thin Air Labs, an early-stage design venture fund. To me, it is critical that we convene like and unlike minds together and engage as many people as possible in co-creating the future. As Chief Catalyst, my job is to bring people and resources together in new ways so we can uncover innovations and breakthroughs from where we least expect.

What are you involved in outside of your company? As in mentoring, boards, volunteering or other activities? How do you recommend others engage in activities outside of work and how do you give and get the most out of them?

I believe a community that thrives is one where people start each day with a “yes, and...” This is engrained in the Social Contract at the heart of Rainforest AB, and is why I strive to lend my time to support the ecosystem in as many ways as I can. In addition to remaining a partner with Thin Air Labs, I’m a member of The A100, board member of Mikata Health and Beakerhead, an advisor to Alberta Innovates, and a mentor with Venture Mentoring Services of Alberta. One of the easiest ways we can shape our city’s future is to support issues and communities we’re passionate about. It’s worth making time for. 

How do you share your experience from being in industry to students at SAIT who are preparing to enter it?

I reference the term ‘ecosystem’ a lot when talking about how we develop programs at SADT. Everything is connected. The stronger these connections are, the more we collectively thrive.

It’s this ecosystem approach of engaging industry, students, thinkers, builders, and creators to co-create in new, agile ways that will foster 21st century skills and a level of digital intelligence to equip SAIT students with the tools they need to compete and lead. 

SAIT offers a range of courses and programs for different career stages and areas of study. Given the current state of the economy, what is most of interest to you today, where do you see the most opportunities?

Our courses will be rooted in the foundations of the competencies of design and critical thinking, as well as agility and human understanding. We’re going to arm our students, faculty and partners with the capacity to continuously learn and challenge their thinking. Digital literacy is crucial to our global economy. By building relationships — global relationships — in commercial and education spaces, we can energize a digital community, embracing new competencies and business models that realize economic and societal impact.

SAIT first opened its doors over 100 years ago in 1916, how does the school remain current and forward looking year over year?

As a technical school, we’re perfectly positioned to be industry’s talent engine. The past century has proven a spirit of transformation with an ability to adapt in ways that other institutions can’t. We’re not going to just remain current – we're going to define it.

What advice do you have for students or young professionals who are trying to position themselves in a competitive job market. What can they do to make themselves stand out?

Mindset and digital intelligence. These are two key factors in your future success. Your ability to adapt and to seek new ‘ways’ to do things will make you stand out. The world is ever-evolving so you need to, too. Second, because we live in a digital world you need to hone your digital intelligence. Not everyone needs to code or create – but everyone has to know what it means to be a digital citizen in a connected, technology-driven society. We’re here to teach you those skills, over the course of your entire life-long learning journey.