Game Changer: Jean Filion, CEO, Uncharted Research and Development Inc.

Jean Filion started out looking for a job with many big companies but was unsuccessful. After a while, he realized that he was not going to be “given” a prestigious job. Instead, he would have to either “earn it” or “create” the job that he really wanted. That led to “prototyping new technologies for surveillance applications” in his own apartment.

“I set out to reduce the risk of pipeline failure by creating what was, at the time, a novel technology using robotic crawlers equipped with low light cameras to collect optical data inside pipelines,” he said. “I wrote software to register large sets of imagery into a common coordinate system, project the transformed imagery onto a 3D model, and then present it in virtual reality.”

This led to the start of Uncharted Research and Development Incorporated where Filion is the Corporate Executive Officer.

Here is full Q&A with Jean Filion, Vanguard’s Game Changer.

What is your role in your organization today? 

My role is to pilot the mission, vision, and execution of our research projects. In addition, I write, design, code, solder, weld, fabricate and dream on behalf of the company.

What was your worst moment?
I was awarded an internship at Siemens AG in Munich, Germany. It was my first prestigious job. In my office sat two doctors of computer science and myself. One was from France, the other was from Germany. One day, the French doctor brought in a homemade cheesecake in its entirety. I could feel the pride of her entire country as she offered me a slice. I grew up in Northern Ontario. This was my first cheesecake experience. It resembled a dense matrix in the yellow colour family, supporting a ¼ inch clear gelatin layer with small black deposits located erratically on its surface. It smelt of sweaty feet and decomposing corpses. It tasted even worse. She wouldn’t stop looking at me to make sure I was eating it. I proceeded to scoop one fork load at a time and sneak it into the unprotected pockets of my dress pants. They were my only pair of work pants that summer.

What was your aha moment or epiphany that you think will resonate most with our reader, tell us that story? 

I realized that, regardless of academic and professional credentials, I was not going to be “given” a prestigious job. Instead, I would have to “earn it” or “create” the job I wanted. I immediately started prototyping new technologies for surveillance applications on my own in my apartment.

Step back and analyze your journey, what is the take away you want to give to our audience? 

Don’t waste your years hoping that someone else will pay you to do something great on their behalf. Do something great with your talents because it needs to be done, and do it now. Start that company. Produce that product. You are ready enough.

What is the one thing that has you most fired up today? 

I am fired up to fix systemic environmental problems in our country. Someone has convinced the engineers that it’s volunteer work, that it’s a political or a scientific problem. Instead of chasing paychecks in cubicles we should be maximizing the impact of our talents. We need to change the narrative to inspire engineers to address environmental collapse through technological innovation. The next war will likely be fought over access to clean water. Even with our tiny population and our youthful industrial age we can’t eat the fish that we catch in the great lakes due to contamination. I smell opportunity!

What is the best advice you received? 

When someone tells you that you can’t do it, remember that they are telling you the story of their lives, not yours.

What is a habit that contributes to your success? 

I take time every day to relax the mind and think about the big picture. I try to contemplate the global system as a whole, where we are, how we can improve, and how our actions will impact the narrative in our time period. This time is well spent. It’s where breakthroughs have happened for us in diverse fields of science and engineering.

What people or organizations do you believe best embody the innovation mindset?
I like the style of bold disruptive innovators such as Richard Branson and Elon Musk. The experts tell them it’ll never work. They like to reply, watch this!

How is your organization changing the game within your industry sector?

Uncharted Research and Development Incorporated is an environmentally conscious micro corporation that specializes in disruptive technologies applicable to national defence. We have created breakthroughs in underwater inspection technologies to monitor infrastructure and water supplies. We are commercializing autonomous ship hull inspection systems to clear all vessels coming into and out of choke points and harbors in an effort to prevent economic terrorism, drug and weapon smuggling, remotely operated vehicle weapons deployment, the placement of explosive mines on ship hulls, and the detection of ship hull damage to prevent catastrophic loss of life and product.

What are some of the biggest impediments to innovation in your organization or industry sector?
The costs associated with underwater sensors are usually prohibitively expensive for small businesses to get involved in this industry sector.

What are the biggest impediments to innovation in today’s enterprise?
The field of underwater warfare has seen a dramatic transformation towards autonomous underwater vehicles similar to, although less publicized than, what’s gone on with aircraft. The lack of public awareness of the trends in underwater warfare makes it harder to exploit funding opportunities.

How has innovation become engrained in your organization’s culture and how is it being optimized?
Uncharted Research and Development Incorporated has the advantage of being a micro corporation. As a result, we are extremely cheap to operate and can afford to take bold risks and change directions at a moment’s notice. We even have the capability to hibernate between contracts. We are nimble, smart, and scrappy.

An example of innovation being cultivated in our company is that instead of investing in an expensive commercial building, we opted for a future-forward approach. We have converted garages into workshops, and distributed some of the central office infrastructure into several smaller remote labs including an ice fishing shack, a yacht, and a shipping container lab. Each of these facilities is off the grid in a unique natural environment. Each produces their own power via solar cells, regulate temperature, have composting bathroom facilities, lounging areas, and of course have stable internet access. We call these facilities creative spaces and can be used by our staff instead of grinding each day away in a single main office. This innovative approach allows our staff to keep fresh and creative all day long by being immersed in their natural environment – the great outdoors.

In other words, our employees don’t have a yearning to hurry home. Instead, our staff are in a shelter surrounded by a natural environment and yearn for their families and friends to join them there after business hours. It is our belief that human beings achieve better emotional balance and therefore long-term productivity when they are in sync with nature and not confined to sterile environments devoid of natural sights and sounds such as office cubicles.

What technologies, business models, and trends will drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next two years?
We hope to see many small disruptive innovators such as ourselves enter the marketplace with more efficient, cheaper, and more environmentally friendly technologies.

What is your parting piece of advice? 

Wealth = Youth x Health x Money.

Author: Marcello Sukhdeo

Marcello is the managing editor of Vanguard, IT in Canada and Canadian Government Executive and the host of Vanguard Radio and WRLWND Radio podcasts. He is an avid technology and security enthusiast, who has worked on content leadership strategies for a number of industries including the public sector, life science, technology and defence.

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