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A set of tools to nurture your own Silicon Valley

Around the world, governments are making huge investments in creating their own version of Silicon Valley, in the hope it stimulates innovation-based growth in their economies, and hence generating wealth.  This money is often spent in developing ecosystems of science parks, incubators, accelerators and fostering industry-academia links.

A new book aims to make the creation of these innovation ecosystems more of a science –Rainforest book a short 66-page book entitled, “The Rainforest Blueprint: How to design your own Silicon Valley”, claims to be a practical guide for putting the lessons learned from Silicon Valley to work in businesses, organizations, and communities around the world.

It’s written by Victor Hwang, who was also co-author of the Rainforest book which formed the foundation for last year’s Global Innovation Summit, for which The Next Silicon Valley was an official media partner (see ‘Creating successful innovation ecosystems – the rainforest analogy’). In that first book, it covered the theory of the biology of innovation and the social and cultural fabric that is an essential part of the success of Silicon Valley. It uses the rainforest analogy to describe the creation of the right environment and conditions for producing a thriving Silicon Valley-like innovation ecosystem.

Writing in Forbes magazine, Victor Hwang says, “The Rainforest Blueprint fills a practical need, not a theoretical one. It helps people engage collaborators and partners with diverse experiences and expertise. It helps them create shared understanding and provides some common tools.  And it can be applied in corporations and nonprofits, not just geographic regions.  What, after all, was the legendary Bell Labs, if not a mini-precursor of Silicon Valley?”

“Whether in a corporation, organization, or community, the challenge is to create an ecosystem, not just an infrastructure.  Yes, it’s tempting to focus on infrastructure—as so many companies, cities, universities, and startup incubators do.  Gathering the office space, the equipment, the money, and the labor is like starting a farm. It’s tempting in part because they are hard assets; you can prove that the work has been accomplished based on visible evidence.”

“But an innovation ecosystem is a Rainforest, not a farm. It doesn’t produce the crops that were intended.  It produces crops that could never have been imagined. It comes from a serendipitous environment in which the cross-pollination of diverse ideas can thrive on trust, sharing, a willingness to fail, and a readiness to start over.  With the right framework, we believe that such an ecosystem can be blueprinted. Everywhere.”

The book contains two parts – one is the foundation, recapping on the rainforest concept and the foundational structure of innovation ecosystems, and the second part, the ‘frame’ details the ‘how to’: how to seed, cultivate and nourish the innovation ecosystem.

Innovations are like weeds

To understand the rainforest analogy used by the author, this extract should explain the concept:

Innovation is basically the opposite of mass production. We don’t want predictable crops. We want weeds. And weeds are birthed from uncontrolled environments. We call such places—like Silicon Valley—Rainforests.

Think about some of the hottest companies today: Facebook, Twitter, Google. Not that long ago, these companies were like weeds. They were little sprouts, and no one knew for sure if they would grow bigger. In Rainforests, we seek to nurture the growth of weeds. So we end up with this interesting paradox… Plants are harvested most efficiently on farms, but weeds sprout best in Rainforests.

To grow Rainforests, instead of trying to count individual weeds or the flowers they create, what matters is the quality of the soil. Flowers come and go. Good soil, however, will sprout good weeds. And their flowers will continue to bloom, season after season.

In the book, it also explains the culture of trust and collaboration needed in successful ‘rainforests’ (see “Trust is key to collaboration”).

The second part of the book provides the tools that people can use to identify values and create their own blueprints for building an innovation ecosystem. For example, there’s the initial ‘Rainforest canvas’ for planning, and then delving down into the rainforest tools (for example, tool number three is ‘Celebrate role models and peer interaction’). After goals have been defined, then there is the rainforest timeline, which is effectively a project planner, followed by the rainforest scorecard.

The new book is an interesting approach with common sense tools to help focus thinking on the key elements of building an innovation ecosystem, using the rainforest analogy. The analogy is a good one, in that a Silicon Valley cannot be mass produced but needs all the right ingredients in terms of people, culture and assets (infrastructure). It helps create the thinking for an iterative process in nurturing the right environment for a Silicon Valley-like culture to evolve.

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