Understanding the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 – 1951) is a tough assignment, but in my opinion worth the effort. In his Philosophical Investigations (No 539) Wittgenstein discusses context:
“I see a picture which represents a smiling face. What do I do if I take the smile as a kind one, now as malicious? Don’t I often imagine it with a spatial and temporal context of kindness or malice? Thus I might, when looking at the picture, imagine it to be of a smiler smiling down on a child at play, or again at the suffering of an enemy. This is in no way altered by the fact that I can also take the apparently genial situation and interpret it differently by putting it into a wider context.”
Solving the right problem is all about context. A problem comes embedded in its own context; apparently similar problems in different contexts may have very different solutions. Likewise, solutions have their own contexts. In Part 1 of this blog we will look at one way of identifying a problem which may also bring out its context and suggest possible solutions. Next, in Part 2 problem solving and decision making in Rainforest ecosystems will be discussed.
In seeking a solution to a defined technology commercialization problem a common approach is to ask “how did others solve this problem?” Have others had the same or a similar experience? What approaches have others tried to solve the problem or address the need? What does this problem look like in other countries or environments and what have others done in similar situations? However, solutions which were effective elsewhere may have been – almost certainly were – applied in different contexts.
In the formative days of research commercialization in Eastern Europe a common problem was identified as “not enough developments are progressing beyond the proof of concept or prototype stage resulting in products and services not reaching markets.” A frequently proposed solution was that more funds should be made available for product development as this had been effective in Western Europe. But Western European countries had, for example, efficient support ecosystems necessary for these funds to effective, including developed intellectual property legislation, and knowledge of potential markets for commercialized products and services. The context was different.
Sometimes we might think that a proposition or hypothesis is context independent. We learned as children that if we add together all the angles of any triangle the result is always 180 degrees. What the teacher might not have mentioned is that this is only true for a triangle drawn on a flat surface. If we draw one on the outside of a balloon the angles will add up to more than 180 degrees. The truth, or not, of the statement depends on its context.
So let’s analyze steps we take to do a better job addressing the Eastern European problem as one example. To solve a problem we have to (1) identify the right problem, which might not be obvious, and its context unclear, (2) make a decision about what might be an effective solution in this context, and (3) apply the solution. A fourth step is to measure and evaluate results, but we don’t have space to cover this here. Step (2) may involve selecting from a menu of solutions used elsewhere, as we mentioned earlier, and will always require us to make decisions under uncertainties and using what decision researchers refer to as ‘multiple fallible indicators’ (more on such indicators in Part 2).
Imagine we want to decide whether to license a university-developed technology or use it as the basis for a spin-off company. Many questions need to be asked in order to make a decision, but a few are:
Questions to ask
Consider licensing the technology
Consider building a Spin-off company
What is the competition?
Competition with established companies with strong market shares.
Market niche with few competitors.
What are the development risks?
Large risk or unknown risk. Long path to development, possible regulatory or other hurdles.
Manageable risk. Development path well understood.
What are future income projections?
Royalty payments are reliable and can be estimated.
Potential of future profits from holding equity in the spin-off company are estimated to be greater than expected royalty payments from a license.
Context is embedded in columns 2 and 3.
Another way to understand context is the Toyota production 5 Whys strategy from the 1970’s. Simply ask “Why?” 5 times until the root cause of the problem becomes apparent. There is nothing special about 5, but this is typically a sufficient number of times.
A region is unhappy that new business incubators designed to create technology-driven high growth firms are not doing so. [Desired outcome: more high growth firms produced by existing incubators].
- Why are existing incubators not creating the expected number of high growth technology-driven firms? Because firms started in incubators are remaining in the incubator.
- Why are these firms not achieving self-sustaining business operation so they can leave? Because they do not have access to capital needed to support growth.
- Why don’t they have access to capital needed to support growth? Because they cannot show potential investors that there are large markets for the firms’ products.
- Why can the firms not show investor that that there are large markets for the firms’ products? Because they cannot demonstrate user needs or access markets.
- Why can these incubator firms not demonstrate user needs or access markets? Because there the incubator don’t provide the needed services, such as mentoring by experienced entrepreneurs, market intelligence training, market surveys, or access to potential marketing partner companies.
Notice that reacting to what was thought to be the root cause of the problem might produce the wrong solution (a ’jump to’ solution). A proposed incorrect solution might be raising incubator rents to encourage firms to leave.
Next month In Part 2 of this blog we will investigate how problem solving in less structured Rainforest ecosystems may differ from problem solving in more structured environments? What Rainforest elements impact on problem solving? Is identifying problems and possible solutions easier or harder in the Rainforest?
We know that innovation is driven by openness and intermingling, like a form of intellectual promiscuity. “Ideas having sex,” as author Matt Ridley says.
Thriving ecosystems require promiscuous behavior, where people are open to experimentation, risk-taking, and sharing ideas.
You can read the rest of the article here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/victorhwang/2013/03/20/sex-and-the-ecosystem/
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(PRBuzz.com) March 12, 2013 — T2 Venture Capital (T2VC), a Silicon Valley venture firm, launches its monthly series Rainforest Architects, the world’s first course designed to teach people how to build innovation ecosystems. A first workshop was successfully held in Silicon Valley on January 9 – 11, 2013. The next workshop will take place on April 22 – 24, 2013, also in Silicon Valley, CA. More details about the program and registration can be found at: www.t2vc.com/rainforest-architects
Rainforest Architects delivers a unique learning experience–combined with practical tools–to help participants develop skills for constructing entire communities that generate high levels of innovation and productivity.
Participants will learn:
What makes ecosystems like Silicon Valley function?
How do you design and build such ecosystems in the real world?
Which practical tools and leadership skills are necessary?
“People around the world look to Silicon Valley as the world’s most powerful ecosystem for nurturing innovation, but they always wonder how they can build similar ecosystems elsewhere,” according to Greg Horowitt, Managing Director of T2VC. “Rainforest Architects provides professional training on how to replicate that magic, how to create that kind of highly productive environment.”
Ade Mabogunje, of Stanford’s Center for Design Research and one of the co-developers of the program, says: “What often surprises people is that Silicon Valley is not really a specific place. It is a mindset. In Rainforest Architects, we seek to penetrate that mindset, deconstruct it, and then teach people how to reconstruct it in their own networks, wherever they happen to be.”
The “Rainforest” framework–developed by T2VC over the past decade–helps people understand, design, and foster their own communities to generate high levels of innovation. It starts with the fundamental assumption that human ecosystems are like biological systems: the mere presence of basic elements is not enough. It is the dynamic interactions between all of the elements in a complex system that drive productivity. Thus, “Rainforests” are socio-biological networks of human relationships that can take many forms, whether they are economic regions, academic institutions, or large corporations.
Leonardo Maldonado, TEDx Patagonia, General Manager of Gulliver (Chile), and Rainforest Architect from the first Workshop, says: “The Rainforest Architects framework is the best I’ve found to understand the organic nature of the ecosystem, and how to tackle it. Meeting ‘Ecosystem Architects’ from around the world has been a wonderful opportunity for me. To share their experiences, their challenges and their strategies has given me profound insights for my own challenges.”
Rainforest Architects is a series of progressively specialized workshops that feature leading thinkers and doers sharing their insights on how to build innovation ecosystems. The course is designed to be highly immersive and experiential, stretching beyond a traditional classroom format to provide participants a unique, memorable learning experience. The monthly series started with the first workshop: a unique, intensive, intimate, personalized workshop that covers the full spectrum of cutting-edge Rainforest ideas and practice. Subsequent workshops and practices will delve even further, to help participants achieve deeper levels of expertise, knowledge, skill, and insight.
T2 Venture Capital is a unique Silicon Valley venture firm that both grows startups and designs innovative ecosystems to nurture startups. T2VC invests capital and time in technology startups with great promise. Unique among venture firms, however, T2VC leverages the practical knowhow of company-building to advise clients on designing ecosystems, shaping innovation policy, structuring entrepreneurial capital, and creating programs to catalyze growth. For more information about T2VC, visit www.t2vc.com or contact Cecilia Moreno of T2VC at email@example.com
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