Rainforest Rev: Innovation Church and Supporting Start-Ups



The Rainforest Revolution
The latest news on growing innovation ecosystems in
companies, communities, and countries

How do you accelerate the innovation process? How do you create trust-based ecosystems of entrepreneurial creativity? The Rainforest Architect Lab is a three-day immersive design course in Silicon Valley that provides leaders with the tools they need to create their own innovation ecosystems. 

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Innovation Church: The Tie That Binds
Henry Doss, Chief Strategy Officer of T2 Venture Creation, from Forbes
A participant in last month’s Global Innovation Summit described it as “innovation church.” While Silicon Valley’s secular denizens might reject the comparison, Henry Doss finds much about it that rings true, containing, “… the secret to building powerful cultures, moving experiences and a sense of purpose.” Read more here.

Supporting Start-Ups With Connections, Advice and Caffeine 
The New York Times
The Kauffman Foundation’s “1 Million Cups” program simulates Silicon Valley culture in small workshops held in 30 cities across the country. Read more here.

Innovation Is Messy: Navigating the Twists and Turns
The Huffington Post
Which is more important for innovation to occur: conflict or cooperation? The answer is certainly one of these choices, or both, or neither — depending on the chaotic, circular, highly iterative, and perhaps idiosyncratic process necessary for a system or organization to innovate. Read more here.

How to Build a Productive Tech Economy
The Atlantic
Creative Cities champion Richard Florida discusses a study highlighting social factors that are essential to building innovation economies. Read more here.

American-Style Start-Ups Take Root in India
The New York Times
Despite conventional wisdom about the difficulty of doing business on the subcontinent, U.S. investors are increasingly funding Indian startups. Read more here.

Innovation Ecosystems, from Silicon Valley to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Maria Douglass, a friend and collaborator of T2 Venture Creation (blog)
King Abdullah University of Science & Technology helps build a Rainforest innovation ecosystem from the ground up, contributing to the kind of information-sharing and mentorship culture that made Silicon Valley a success. Read more here

Next Silicon Valleys: Beijing’s Start-ups Show Stamina
BBC News
Despite the high-cost of living, stiff competition for university graduates, and other barriers for entrepreneurs to overcome, tech startups are clustering in Beijing, where they find community in places like the Garage Cafe, a site where investors and entrepreneurs can meet informally. Read more here.

UNM Wins Award for Aiding Development
Albuquerque Business First
According to the president and CEO of the University of New Mexico’s technology transfer and economic development agency, its success at building an innovation ecosystem can be attributed to the adoption of ideas from the book, “The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley,” by T2 Venture Creation CEO and Co-Founder Victor Hwang. Read more here.
Atlanta’s “Innovations in City Hall” Report Released
A new report showcases the winners of Atlanta’s “CityIdeas” competition among City employees for ways to reduce waste, cut red tape and save money on operations. Read more here.

T2VC’s Money-Laundering Cartel Revealed In Debut Novel

We are extremely proud that Eliot Peper has just published his first book!  Eliot is a former associate and entrepreneur-in-residence at T2 Venture Creation.  His book is the world’s first “startup thriller,” a novel that combines the excitement of entrepreneurship with nail-biting mystery and action.  You can learn more about the book here.  Today, we feature a guest column from Eliot about the writing process and the inspiration that goes into it.  Needless to say, we were shocked, shocked to learn about the money-laundering activities happening at T2VC that were the inspiration for Mr. Peper’s book…


Sources of inspiration and innovation

By Eliot Peper

There’s always something behind a story. Maybe it’s a glowing light bulb of inspiration as the shampoo is sluicing down the drain. Maybe it’s a dream that left behind a particular flavor of emotional hangover. Maybe it’s the death of a loved one or the passion of a one-night-stand. Whatever it is, it leaves an indelible impression on the story. It sets the tone in terms of look and feel. It’s the well the author can return to whenever plot threads run thin or characters dry up.

No sacred muse hands out such experiences like mana from heaven. We all experience these moments in our everyday lives. They constitute the highlight reel of our living memory. Any of those peaks on our life’s graph has the potential to give shape, texture, and flair to a story.

While working on the first draft of Uncommon Stock, I discovered that those moments are just as relevant for the characters as they are for the author. Writing fiction is often an exercise in choosing what not to say. How do you decide which slices of your protagonists’ experiences deserve inclusion? Your characters are real people living real lives. If James Bond doesn’t brush his teeth, he’ll get cavities. If Frank Underwood doesn’t make his monthly payments, his credit rating will plummet. If Yoda doesn’t sweep out his Dagobah hut, well, he probably never has but may the Force be with him anyway!

At the end of the day you can only afford your readers staccato glimpses into your characters lives. Weaving these moments together into a compelling, cohesive whole is the craft of storytelling.

Uncommon Stock was born out of frustration. I’m a voracious reader and my work with Greg, Victor, and technology entrepreneurs gave me an inside view of the natural drama in the startup world. There are countless invaluable pieces of business nonfiction that detail the rigors of entrepreneurship. Nonfiction is a fantastic instrument for sharing experience and best practice.

Fiction is a different beast altogether. Fiction is a magical medium that gives readers an intimate view of the characters’ emotional journey from inside their own heads. I wanted to read a book that captured something from that ether. I wanted to sit on the shoulder of the protagonists and share their adventure through the startup world. But my frustration grew as I couldn’t find any entrepreneurial fiction to read. So instead, I decided to try my hand at writing it.

That frustration fueled me through countless bouts of writer’s block, frequent doubts, and revision after revision. I have no idea whether anyone will be interested in the result. I just hope there are a few people out there like me who will get a kick out of it. But that’s not the point. The point is that the creative process is an end in itself. It wears out your stamina, exhausts your mind, and drains your soul. But then, suddenly, there’s a story.

We interpret our lives in the form of stories. We link together our memories, that highlight reel, into a narrative that structures our own identity and understanding of self. We are all storytellers. Those moments of inspiration smolder inside every single one of us.


Rainforest Rev: Brand Innovators and Hidden Influencers

The game has changed in the knowledge economy. Today, value is created by trust-based networks that accelerate innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity. We can teach you that game. The Rainforest Architect Lab is a three-day, one-of-a-kind immersive design course in Silicon Valley that provides leaders with the insights, tools, and skills to build their own innovation ecosystems.  Four new dates have just been added!
April 6-8   |   June 1-4   |   August 24-27   |   November 2-5
Click here to find out more, and sign up today — as enrollment is limited! 

The Latest News on Innovation Ecosystems – How Do We Create Innovative Environments in Companies, Communities and Countries?

Innovation is a Process, Not a Four-letter Word
University of Chicago’s Kilts Center for Marketing
Innovation does more than improve a company’s products, packaging, or pricing; it also creates a ripple effect that improves a business’ overall brand identity. Read more here.

Tapping the Power of Hidden Influencers
McKinsey & Company
A survey technique used by social scientists to study street gangs, drug users, and sex workers can help organizations identify influential employees who can lead others to be more innovative. Read more here.
What Inspires Me: Meet the Metro Innovators
Bruce Katz on LinkedIn
Cities across the country are taking their fate into their own hands, relying on local stakeholders to solve their issues rather than appealing for outside assistance. Read more here.
Innovation Ecosystems
Reflections and references incited by last month’s Global Innovation Summit. Read more here.
Is it Good for People to Fail Occasionally?
BBC News
While our competitive culture prizes success, there is also a benefit to failure. Taking the long view, it appears that, “…perfectionism is the enemy of achievement.” Read more here.

Study: Copycatting, Diverse Teams, And Transparency Are Keys To Innovation
Imitation is not only the highest form of flattery; it’s also beneficial to the one being imitated, helping them explore the variations and effects of their innovations. Read more here.

Tennessee: The Innovation State?
The Takeaway from Public Radio International (radio)
From education pricing to high-speed connectivity, leaders in Tennessee are taking chances on innovative approaches. Hear more here.

Bubbles, Unicorns, Outliers and Innovation in Silicon Valley and Austin
Silicon Hills
Pivotal changes in the democratization of business creation will keep Silicon Valley at the epicenter of innovation — as long as investors let entrepreneurs take the necessary risks to experiment, create, and collaborate so that, “…knowledge and ideas flow freely,” contends Greg Horowitt, Co-founder and Managing Director of T2 Venture Creation. Read more here.

Next Silicon Valleys: Seattle Lures in a New Generation
Young entrepreneurs are making their mark in a city known more for its tech heavyweights. Read more here.

Games of chance? Cause and effect in innovation ecosystems Part 1

Notes on the practice of innovation and technology commercialization

As cousin Zeb spreads his money on the table, ready to play poker with Cuthbert J. Twillie (played in the movie by W.C. Fields) he excitedly asks, “Is this a game of chance?”

“Not the way I play it, no,” comes Twillie’s reply.

My Little Chickadee (1940) movie starring W.C. Fields and Mae West.

Is poverty a cause of crime, did my forgetting to change the oil in my car cause the engine to seize, was the lack of funding for patenting inventions in my university the cause of low technology commercialization compared to peer institutions, what was the cause of sudden rise in value of my company stock? Chance, probability, cause and effect are so embedded in our daily lives that may give scant thought to the mechanisms of causality – what cause produces what effect, either immediately or at a later time. In this and the next blog we shall show that time is the critical feature of causality in both “plantation” and “rainforest” innovation ecosystems (The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley http://www.therainforestbook.com/ ).

If, in building ecosystems, we propose interventions that adjust the ecosystem’s sub-systems and, especially their connections, we need to know what the effect of these actions are likely to be. For example, in one case, improving communications and shared goals among universities, incubators and accelerators, resulted in improved efficiency and ‘fitness’ of the innovation landscape  (see February 2014 blog The Gardener’s Dilemma http://innovationrainforest.com/2014/02/08/the-gardeners-dilemma-2/ for the concept of fitness).

Philosophers have been debating cause and effect for millennia. Aristotle identified four basic causes and stated that “we do not have knowledge of a thing until we have grasped its why, that is to say, its cause.” David Hume, whom we met in the January blog, made his readers think about whether we are justified in using inductive reasoning to understand events. Ludwig Wittgenstein’s, quoted in the March 2013 blog in this series, with his usual ability to both enlighten and confuse, dropped in the idea that “outside logic everything is accidental.”

Causality would seem to imply that we can create simple models such as event A causes B and in turn action B may be the cause of an effect C. For example the diagram below depicts a causal model relating price and demand, for which algebraic equations can be written. Q is the quantity of household demand for a product, P is the unit price, I is household income, W is the wage rate for producing the product, and U1, U2 are unmodeled error factors effecting quantity and price.


From Causality by Judea Pearl, Cambridge
University Press, 2000.

But wait a moment. In previous blogs we discussed how innovation ecosystems are non-linear complex adaptive systems where the same inputs don’t always produce the same outputs,  where the behavior of a system is not the sum of its individual parts, where there are disruptions and emergence, and where effects occur in far-from-equilibrium states. Surely then, complex adaptive systems make a mockery of simple causation?  So, what should we do to get a hold of cause and effect in complex adaptive innovation ecosystems? If we cannot, then we have lost our way completely.  It is to these questions we shall now turn our attention.

Writers in several disciplines including biology, physics, economics, and sociology continue to add to theories and applications. However, it’s clear that there is much still to be explained. The remainder of this blog and the next will survey and summarize what is known about solving practical problems of cause and effect in complex adaptive innovation ecosystems. Much of what is discussed next is taken from the thought provoking work of David Byrne and Emma Uprichard.

Deterministic equations cannot be written for complex systems as they can for the linear system diagramed above. Other means are needed. A valuable concept is the ‘causal narrative’ – descriptions or cases, which may contain both text and numbers, that help to explain why some event happened in a complex system and how the state of the system came about. Such narratives are reconstructions of events similar to case examples and studies familiar from education, although here we are typically talking about short narratives and maybe reusable knowledge facets as introduced in the October 2013 blog in this series Create early, use often: Lego™ blocks, learning objects, and ecosystems. Part 2 http://innovationrainforest.com/2013/10/13/create-early-use-often-lego-blocks-learning-objects-and-ecosystems-part-2/.

In practice preparation of a roadmap for an innovation ecosystem demands an understanding of causality. A roadmap is a trajectory over time which might show what actions or projects are recommended and when they should begin and when they should be completed. In this situation causality means causality by comparison – comparison with the trajectories of systems which have similarities, or in the language of complexity those which are ‘near neighbors.’  Knowledge of what happened to produce an existing state can enable choices to be made of which actions – causes – can produce future expected results – effects. The late Fritz Ringer, professor emeritus of history at the University of Pittsburgh, described this as “the kind of causal analysis that will explain why the course of historical development ultimately led to the explanandum* in question, rather than to some other outcome.”

In this introduction to cause and effect in complex systems I have a feeling of having laid myself open to charges of either over simplifying issues or making them vague. Part 2 will attempt to correct either situation and look at the practical consequences of trajectories in complex innovative ecosystems and all their component parts. W.C. Fields was correct, it’s not a game of chance.

* “explanandum”  is not a familiar word to many of us, but quite a handy one. An explanandum is a phenomenon that needs to be explained, and its explanans is the explanation of that phenomenon.

Next time: Cause and effect in innovation ecosystems Part 2

Innovation Church: The Tie That Binds – Forbes


By Henry Doss

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

– William Wordsworth

I spent several days in San Jose recently, participating in my firm’s Global Innovation Summit.  It was a gathering of  hundreds of innovation-minded folks from around the world, all gathered together to share insights and learn about innovation ecosystem building.  I met and talked with entrepreneurs, corporate leaders of innovation, economic development experts, artists, private- and public-sector innovators, venture capitalists, and champions of social causes.  There were magicians, wizards (no really, wizards!) illustration artists, jugglers.  The sheer diversity of attendees was staggering.

I couldn’t help wondering what it was that brought such a diverse, talented and high-energy group together, across multiple time zones, geographies, cultures, languages and distances.  What was the “tie that binds” that could hold the attention and energy and focus of such a mixed lot for days?  I wasn’t sure.

On the last day, we played a short video of attendee interviews, filmed throughout the Summit.  The purpose was simply to present an overview, a kind of tapestry of what individuals were thinking about, what their experience had been.  It was intended as a celebration of shared experience, but –Lo and Behold! -buried in the video was the key to whyeveryone was there.  One attendee was asked what she was learning at the Summit, what there was of value to this kind of gathering.  Her answer was:

“This is innovation church.”

For any organization, for any individual who is trying to build value, for anyone who is out simply to do good work, to make a difference in the world, this sentence captures in four simple words all the things that need to be said about ritual, authenticity and values; about belonging to something; about finding value in those who share your values.  It contains the secret to building powerful cultures, moving experiences and a sense of purpose.

What William Wordsworth had to say in the first half of the 19th century is still moving, and important, today.

What William Wordsworth had to say in the first half of the 19th century is still moving, and important, today.

“The world is too much with us; late and soon,” said the great Romantic poet William Wordsworth.  And this may very well explain why organizations, and people, find themselves tired, off-kilter, unfocused, lacking in drive — why we in fact need an innovation church.  We, and the organizations we lead, the goals we set, the things we strive for .  .  . all need something more than just “the world.”  We need confirmation that we are in something for a reason, that what we do matters , and that other people see, understand and can speak to the importance of our work.  Without this sense of purpose, of something bigger than ourselves, of something bigger and more important than the organizations we are part of, we are diminished.  We are disconnected.

Think about your own time and effort, the culture and day-to-day values of the organization you are part of, and all the many things you do to achieve – what?  Do you carry into your work a sense of reverence, a sense that beneath all the hubbub and noise of the world in operation there is something bigger than you?  Do you feel, at the end of a long work day, that what you did mattered?  Do you carry a sense of belonging with you into what you do?

Probably not every day.  It’s hard to sustain inspiration, high creative energy, belief in self and possibility.  It’s hard to be filled with purpose all the time.  We find  ourselves distracted by minutiae, drawn into the fuss and bother ofdoing.   And then we forget to be.  That’s why we need to be attentive to shared rituals, to the open expression of value systems, to the celebration of things bigger than ourselves; that’s why we need to create our own innovation church.  We manage our organizations to ends, to achieve certain goals; welead for other reasons.  Our goals are not the why of our work, or rarely are.  We don’t reach the end of our days celebrating one particular year’s particularly good ROI.  Because that’s not purpose.  That’s just a number.  If we are lucky we reach the end of our days celebrating that we were part of something that mattered.

I think everyone at our gathering tapped into this something.  I did.  And the one thing I’m sure of now is that we should all make it a habit to seek out and attend our personal choice of innovation church.

Henry Doss is a student, musician, venture capitalist and volunteer in higher education.  His firm, T2VC, builds startups and the ecosystems that grow them.  His university is UNC Charlotte.