Innovation Reality – A Smuggler’s Tale (Part 2)

Guest post from an anonymous Rainforest builder

Conformist Hacking

Change, enlightenment, engagement happens one mind at a time, but a smart Smuggler knows not all minds are ready to be blown away with new ideas.

A smart Smuggler learns an individual’s motivators. Is it internal recognition or fear of internal ridicule if the idea fails?  Is it ambition, or wanting to stay below the radar because you have kids on their way to college and you can’t afford risk a change in your lifestyle?

For some, Smugglers inspire a wonderful vision for the future. For others, they go to great pains to minimize and explore fears (again and again and again). The purpose is always for good. Throw a block to allow change to happen, sometimes run or throw the ball, and sometimes be the ball! It may require finesse, or a bludgeon. It always requires a team.

Smugglers trust without expecting reciprocation. We know that in order to succeed risks must be taken, and we exercise our own right to take risks by identifying that our thoughts diverge from business as usual. This is how we attract other Smugglers, but it is also how we become radioactive to those who want to remain conformists.

Code language of the business conformist:

  • No
  • It will never be a priority
  • I don’t have resources
  • That’s not the way we do things here
  • The VP will never approve this
  • I struggle to understand why we would do this
  • Welcome to (fill in your company name here)

How Great Ideas are Assimilated into Large Corporations

For all of you entrepreneurs out there who want to know why it takes so damned long to get decisions made, well here it is: you are most likely to start your corporate incursion in the company of a conformist. Conformists are polite, and will tell you how exciting your product or service is, and how much promise it has, and they’ll make you feel really good. But they won’t tell you that they are not about to rock the boat internally. They will also fail to mention the fact that if they actually were to get buy-in from the boss, they would then be expected to implement, which means more work, which means no. So that will spin your wheels for about four months, and you will not be an inch closer to your goal.

You’ll do much better if you are lucky enough to connect with an actual Smuggler, but it will still take a very long time. First, your Smuggler will find out who are friends or foes of your idea, and understand the correct paths for gaining buy-in and for funding. Then there may be months of ‘seeding’ the pain of the problem your product solves, before your technology is even mentioned. The pain points tend to fall along the lines of “competitors are kicking our ass”, or “we had better be prepared for what’s coming”. Fear of being measured against the competition is worse (more motivating) than seeing what’s coming—unless, of course, the competition has already made strategic moves in this area!

Then there’s the task of explaining all possible solutions to various stakeholders, in order to move people toward the conclusion you have been hoping for—that this is a problem worth solving. Then there is even more time spent, understanding multiple solutions and unleashing a PowerPoint barrage that explains why you didn’t select certain vendors (‘CYA PowerPointing’). And if that weren’t enough, there are then iterations of how changes can be made, and committees formed to evaluate ethnographic research and (fill in the blank) other things that hold up progress, whether by coincidence or design.

There are a thousand good ideas, products, services and opportunities out there that can help corporate entities become better and bigger and more profitable. Unfortunately, if you are part of the innovation ecosystem and do not have an understanding of Smugglers and their networks, you’ve already missed the boat.

Smuggled Success

Sometimes Smugglers have to dilute an entrepreneur’s vision. It is a bad feeling. Nobody wants to make a potentially career-altering decision, so we ‘shrink’ the concept and its implications in order to reduce the perceived risk to the stakeholder. By this point we have a ‘yes’ that there is a problem, and we know that a ‘yes’ to even a watered-down solution is a big win, because it creates opportunities for us to pivot back to the original solution.

Ironically, the greatest success for a Smuggler happens when someone else takes credit and requests a bigger budget to deploy the idea. There is no greater win for a Smuggler than the acknowledgement that the idea is outstanding and is heralded by people in the organization without having to be prompted. Smuggling is always about advancing the idea. It is never about the Smuggler.

But we Smugglers can never rest, because once someone else takes over, corporate entropy asserts itself: corners are cut; integration becomes a nightmare; relationships are frayed; budget becomes a weapon; there are endless meetings. Or, better, we do get to manage the pilot, and it is a huge success, but is then shelved because some VP just doesn’t like it. Each of these developments call for more smuggling. Good Smugglers get the word out on the shelved efforts. We create movements. One mind at a time.

Code language of Smugglers:

  • Yes
  • Let me see how I can accelerate this
  • I will find resources
  • We need to change things around here
  • I will get this approved
  • Why wouldn’t we move fast on this
  • And finally, are you freaking kidding me? What do you mean we aren’t doing this already?

A Smuggler’s Core Virtue – Hope

In cell division, cohesion is the protein which keeps the sister chromatids together (that squiggly x thing you remember from science class). Anaphase promoting complex (APC) initiates cohesion destruction. Essentially, stuff stops sticking together after APC hits the scene. Fellow Smugglers, you are the most important part of innovation. You are the catalyst, the APC inside the corporate machine, disrupting the status quo and creating opportunities for growth.

In the sociology of science “Matthew effect” describes how eminent scientists will often get more credit than a comparatively unknown researcher, even if their work is similar; it also means that credit will usually be given to researchers that are already famous, even if a grad student did the all the work. Stigler’s law states that no scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer. Smugglers don’t care about credit. They care about results.

World, you have amazing ideas and products. We in corporate America know you need cash and speed to market. In order to get that, you need to stop, think, and understand how tirelessly the Smugglers inside a corporate machine work to create a shared vision of the future. It takes tremendous emotional and mental capacity to be a Smuggler; to answer the question—why am I doing this?

Our struggles don’t get featured stories in your inspirational magazines. We don’t require thanks. We do get just a bit annoyed when the glory of the light side of innovation eclipses our work.

Hail to the Smugglers of new ideas, the igniters of hope and inspiration, who work on the dark side of innovation! Our successes are celebrated behind the scenes, 12 to 24 months before you have even heard of the solution.




The Smuggler’s Manifesto

  1. Smugglers are a symbiotic, beneficial organism in any bureaucracy.
  2. The Smuggler’s mission is to stimulate new thinking, and to enable new products, new services, and new ways of doing things to infiltrate. They do battle on the side of innovation, against its foe, stagnation.
  3. The Smuggler’s passion is the safekeeping of innovation in all forms. They do not rest when progress is threatened.
  4. Smuggling is dangerous, because big organizations develop resistance to change, which becomes disdain for innovation, which morphs into fear and hostility.
  5. Smugglers become very adept in avoiding traps set for them. They conform as appropriate in the light. But in the dark, they strive to circumvent bureaucracy and overthrow complacency.
  6. A lone Smuggler will have a difficult time, but Smugglers recognize each other in subtle ways, and readily join forces.
  7. Through constant communication, Smugglers find new sources of inspiration and share them with each other. This makes the Smuggler an extraordinarily resilient breed.
  8. Smugglers may have any rank or title, but they are rarely limited by established norms of authority. Instead, they take what they need.
  9. Smugglers quickly learn the paths to those who need innovation to survive. These are the havens of the Smuggler, where they need not suppress their joys and frustrations.
  10. Above all, the Smuggler always acts in the best interests of the organization. Even if those who ‘rule’ the organization do not.


The organization that learns to treasure its Smugglers will gain market share, profitability, competitive advantage, and myriad cultural benefits. Organizations that become aggressively at odds with Smugglers are at great risk of losing them entirely. When that happens, weaknesses are progressively exposed, and like aging or injured prey, they eventually fall.  

Rainforest Rev: Education Revolution and Geniuses

The Rainforest Revolution

News on growing ecosystems for innovation and entrepreneurship


The Education Revolution Is Here Right Now. Don’t Miss It.

Henry Doss, Chief Strategy Officer of T2 Venture Creation, from Forbes
Henry Doss’ second interview with a managing partner at a higher education investment firm reveals the disruptive innovations that are revolutionizing the way we teach, learn, and live — and the forces resisting these changes in education. Read more here.

Genius Is a Team Effort

New books about Intel and Apple question the stereotype of the lone entrepreneurial genius, revealing corporate cultures that succeeded on the strengths of their “collaborative charisma.” Read more here.

When Does a Start-up Stop Being a Start-up?

This well-researched effort to define the word “startup” yields insights into the strengths and weaknesses companies experience as they reach various sizes. Read more here

Government Grants May Help Ease Business Challenges

The New York Times
Grant programs across the country are stepping in to help startups where angels fear to tread. Read more here..

Lawrence H. Summers on the Economic Challenge of the Future: Jobs

The Wall Street Journal
The ongoing drive toward efficiency and innovation will likely solve problems of scarcity in American society, but may only worsen unemployment in the U.S. economy. Read more here.


Why Massachusetts’ Plans for Economic Development Could (And Should) Blaze a Trail for Other States

Massachusetts is targeting $80 million in economic development outside the Route 128 tech corridor, looking to boost business in less startup-friendly parts of the State. Read more here.

Brasília Has a Life Beyond the Government with an Accelerator on the Horizon

An article in Portuguese examines a Brazilian think tank that encourages tech startups in the capital city of Brasília through an approach the author likens to the Rainforest ecosystem of T2 Venture Creation’s Victor Hwang and Greg Horowitt. Read morehere.

Chicago’s Tech Job Growth Near the Top of U.S. Cities

Crain’s Chicago Business
In the race to increase tech jobs between 2011 and 2013, the “City of Big Shoulders” muscles in line behind San Francisco, Austin, the San Francisco peninsula, New York, and Silicon Valley. Read more here.


Global Innovation Summit + Week 2015

Learn.  Love.  Build… Together.

February 16-20, 2015  |  Silicon Valley, California

50% early bird discount — last day is August 31! Plus highly discounted rates for students, startups, nonprofits, universities, and governments.


T2 Venture Creation

T2 Venture Creation ( is seeking an ambitious, motivated, conscientious, and diligent applicant for the position of Sales Manager. The Sales Manager will be responsible for executing on sales opportunities and leads, as well as generating leads, for T2 Venture Creation’s three main product lines:
1.      Innovation Design & Consulting Services
2.      “Global Innovation Summit” Sponsorship Opportunities
3.      “Global Innovation Week” Sponsorship Opportunities
This position is initially 100% commission-based.  Based on success over the coming year, however, this position offers room to grow.  If you are interested in joining Silicon Valley’s leading innovation ecosystem design practice, please send us your resume, sales experience, and writing and/or visual samples to

Lean and Agile Innovation Ecosystems: Part 2

Brown and agile child, the sun which forms the fruit
And ripens the grain and twists the seaweed
Has made your happy body and your luminous eyes
And given your mouth the smile of water.

Pablo Neruda, “Brown and Agile Child”  

There are three themes to pursue this month in our continuing quest to understand the science of innovation ecosystems. First is agility. In July’s blog ( we introduced the notion of agility in innovation ecosystems and looked at some principles of agile manufacturing systems and lessons to be learned from them.

agile 4Second is knowledge reuse. In our October 2013 blog ( reusability of knowledge was discussed at some length. Studies on knowledge reuse for innovation from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab at Caltech were summarized which found that users were motivated to reuse others’ ideas if: work processes optimize exposure to diverse knowledge sources; there exists a culture within the project which encourages malleable knowledge reuse; and there are efficient ways to locate, assess for credibility, and flexibility to allow knowledge reuse.

The third theme is more difficult to name. Let’s call it ‘familiarity’ until we can come up with a better term. It relates to a thread running through several blogs in this series, namely that there are common, or at least similar, features amongst seeming dissimilar innovation and technology commercialization ecosystems. These elements are building blocks which must be correctly connected for innovation to bloom.

A few reoccurring examples of difficulties with these elements I have seen in countries as diverse as the UK and Colombia, or the USA and Russia, include: poor relationships between educational organizations and industry (it is commonly believed that developed nations such as the USA has the problem completely solved – but it is not so); help for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) during early stage growth which proved in fact to be unattractive to SMEs; new business incubators; proof of concept, prototype development, and scale-up centers which are underutilized or lack needed services; and of course technology transfer offices at universities and research centers which may be inadequately staffed or supported – or have unclear missions.

Weaving these themes together suggests a greater reuse of knowledge and ‘how-to’ experience – familiarity’ – should lead to greater ecosystem agility.

Let’s call these ecosystems Agile Type 1, and postulate the testable hypotheses:

H1: If an innovation ecosystems is Agile Type 1 then there will be a rapid flow (or ‘diffusion’ to use a more traditional term) of ideas, solutions, knowledge, and so forth through system and its networks.

H2: If an innovation ecosystem is Agile Type 1 then the ecosystem will be capable of rapid self-organization, be highly responsive to system environment changes, and respond efficiently to errors and external shocks.

Cusp 2Ecosystem agility Type 1 also indicates a dynamic innovation ecosystem which exhibits both self-organization and which may have leaders within or outside the self-organized groups. Some degree of direction may be needed for example by those who have knowledge of constraining conditions such as resources available or the need to protect intellectual property.

Such capacity produces ‘areas of stability’ in complex adaptive systems – a frequently observed effect – represented by the phase space projection (right).

In the Rainforest (The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley model these are farms with the rainforest.

Both these hypotheses are of significance when rapid diffusion through social networks is investigated. Results from these investigations are both intuitive and curious. They will help us to speculate on innovation ecosystems of Agile Type 2. These will be postulated as systems which are more vulnerable than Agile Type 1. Agile Type 1 can be thought of as an ideal case, whereas Agile Type 2 innovation ecosystems are closer to reality.

Next time: some recent research on the diffusion of innovation in social networks and more on Type 2 ecosystems.

All previous blogs in this series can be found at

Rainforest Rev: Education Innovation and Overcoming Fear of Change

News on growing ecosystems for innovation and entrepreneurship


The Future Of Higher Education Depends On Innovation

Henry Doss, Chief Strategy Officer of T2 Venture Creation, from Forbes
Education investor Rick Beyer describes some dramatic trends affecting U.S. colleges and universities, and shares innovative approaches to address the affordability and value of higher education, including the “unbundling” of the college degree. Read more here.

Want People to Support Your Ideas? Conquer Their Fears

Innovation takes more than creative ideas – it takes the right approach to make those ideas desirable to others by overcoming their psychological resistance to change. Read more here.

Where Does Your Innovation Strategy Begin?

The Huffington Post
Innovation won’t happen without a concrete strategy to encourage and operationalize creative solutions in your company or organization. Read more here.

Why the Term “Innovation” Needs a Universal Standard

Fast Company
Innovation has become an ambiguous concept at times, which only makes it more difficult to foster. In response, dozens of experts worked four years to develop a universal standard that defines and quantifies innovation. Read more here.

Secrets of the Creative Brain

The Atlantic
A neuroscientist examines the sources of creativity and its link to mental illness. Read more here.


Europe’s Hottest Startups 2014: Barcelona

Wired UK
The Catalan Capital is getting a reputation as a vibrant international tech hub. Read more here.

Can Staten Island Become…Silicon Island?

Crain’s New York Business
Mayor Bill de Blasio has a plan to grow a tech hub in the unlikeliest of boroughs. Read more here.

What’s Next for Moscow’s Startups and Entrepreneurs?

The Telegraph
The government’s incursions in Crimea and Ukraine have raised questions about the Russian capital’s burgeoning tech scene. Read more here.


Global Innovation Summit + Week 2015

Learn.  Love.  Build… Together.

February 16-20, 2015  |  Silicon Valley, California

50% early bird discount — last day is August 31! Plus highly discounted rates for students, startups, nonprofits, universities, and governments.

Liquidity Nanotech Corporation

Liquidity Nanotech Corporation, one of Silicon Valley’s top next generation technology startups, has a limited investment window for friends of T2 Venture Creation. The company is targeting a multi-billion dollar market in clean water. It’s a rare opportunity to make profits while saving lives. Visit Liquidity’s crowdfunding website for more information.

Innovation Reality – A Smuggler’s Tale (Part 1)

Guest post from an anonymous Rainforest builder

Innovation ecosystems involve many hopeful and inspired people along the journey of bringing an idea to life. There are serial entrepreneurs, incubators, startups, seed investments, venture capital, accelerators, labs, governments, and support services galore to help companies with the latest whiz-bang idea. Like bait on a hook, magazines like Entrepreneur and Fast Company bombard aspiring business people with the happy and ambitious phrases defining what you should do or be to create the next best disruptive invention:

Your brilliant ideas impact the world!

Surround yourself with a community of greatness, inspiration and like-minded rebels!

Ignore the naysayers! Ignore the haters!

Take bold action! Be a risk taker Push your boundaries!

Well here is a little secret. All of these inspirational slogans are annoying as hell to those on the front lines of innovation in big-company cultures. (What do you mean, ‘front lines’?)

Making innovation happen isn’t a happy experience. It is a grinding, protracted battle. What most companies would call a victory, like a big sale inked, or an introduction of a new product on the shelves, well, that is not when innovators celebrate. Our small victories, when they come, are celebrated on the down low, inside the hidden innovation network.

We celebrate when minds are converted, which happens at a snail’s pace. It only happens one mind at a time. That is when we kick back, smoke a proverbial cigar with our small squad of disruptors, and wait for the next battle to begin.

You will never fully experience the bright side of innovation without understanding that it comes with a powerfully dark side, and at great cost to those who fought the fight. Often it falls to those who have lived on the entrepreneurial side but are now, as my colleague says “in the belly of the beast”.

Innovation is a Dirty Word
Innovation: That undefined, grossly overused, sometimes magical (meaning “brilliant”) word. That “generates excitement” word. That “We must have it because everyone else does” word. That word that is used by people who really don’t know what it means, or what it takes, but are convinced that that they need it.

Merriam-Webster defines innovation as a new idea, device, or method, but it has taken on multiple meanings in the business ecosystem. The word could mean invention, or investing in startups. It could mean new product development, or testing assumptions about what buyers want, or a substitute for “creative.” Too often, in corporate life, it is also a curse.

Lots of people want to innovate, whether they are entrepreneurs or trailblazers within an organization. Some of us actually break out of corporate life and do just that. We start our own businesses, we thrive, we fail, we exit, we get great PR, we hobble, and sometimes some of us end up back in the corporate machine. But in our minds, we still are visionary thinkers driven to change the world. Not in some distant future. But now. We are just as impatient as when we were entrepreneurs.

What we encounter is a lot of people who want to “WOW” their colleagues and gush about innovation and their role in it, but the fact is, no one really wants to get in there to see how it’s done. They only want to see the successes, without taking the risks or looking at all of the failures. Ninety percent of the time innovation leads to failure or learnings of what worked and what didn’t. These outcomes make corporate executives very uncomfortable.

There is never only light in innovation. If we want true collaboration to fuel innovation ecosystems, one must explore where and how disruption occurs.

The corporate machine likes conformity, trade secrets, efficiency, and matching results to forecasts. On the other hand, the innovation machine is fueled by non-conformity, breaking the rules, transparency and collaboration, and recognizing that unexpected results are sometimes the most valuable outcomes. No surprises here folks. Two conflicting cultures are at odds from the get-go.

Innovation ecosystems are more than startups, funding, accelerators, and whatnot. Corporate entities are often the purchasers of innovative products or services, and are also the eventual exit strategy for the entrepreneurs in the ecosystem. And corporations are where the dark side of innovation exists.

Warriors on the Dark Side of Innovation: Meet the Smugglers
The dark side of innovation is where difficult and dangerous work resides. And it requires a special type of individual who can persuade people to open their minds. I call these people Smugglers.

Smugglers are fearless. They choose not to relax with groups or communities that seek safety of business-as-usual. Smugglers want to kill business as usual. We are dividers. Breakers. We unhinge old beliefs.

Smuggling is neither done through PowerPoint, nor email. Unlike computer networks, which are physically open to a larger wired world, our nervous system is built from private computers, physically isolated from one another. Smugglers ignite one mind at a time. We minimize fear one mind at a time. Every chance we get. A Smuggler’s mission is to ignite movements without being politically ‘outed’ and neutralized…or killed.

Smugglers cause disruption. We open the eyes and stimulate the minds of people who didn’t know they were blind and stagnant.


· Create an underground resistance to the “same old same old” because we believe we need to change to be competitive

· Minimize the fear of the new

· Seed thoughts of hope, in different places, so that when others get together they share in the same vision

· Make new ideas popular, with a smile and encouragement that it’s cool to back the idea

· Suffer, and oh how we suffer, the obstinacy of those who aren’t capable of connecting the dots

· Tell the right part of the story to the right person at the right time

· Give unconditionally in an un-giving culture

· Collaborate with those who will collaborate, and team together to advance solutions

· Are willing to be vulnerable and admit when we don’t know the answers

· Are lonely in our view of the world

· Are convinced that what we bring to the table will make a significant impact on the business and for the good of the world.

Smuggling Operations
Smuggling is a team sport. Invisible networks, like invisible rivers, allow the movement of fresh knowledge and political influence to help other Smugglers.

Smugglers are always seeking these invisible rivers, also called the “invisible sanity network”: the team of like-minded people who believe there is a better way.

The first thing a Smuggler needs to transport is the awareness of pain. Enabling the collective hive to notice and experience the pain is very challenging and requires a multi-front strategy. Sometimes it is necessary to illuminate (or even stimulate) some pain – with the help of these hidden networks – in order to make people aware that it exists and causes risk to the company.

Smugglers understand value very quickly. When you meet a fellow Smuggler on the inside of a corporation, you will see quickly that they too have been analyzing better ways of doing things and are usually grateful that they aren’t alone in thinking in such radical ways.

Smugglers exist at all levels of an organization. However, they usually are isolated, and don’t realize there are other Smugglers just like them in the company. It is a Smuggler’s responsibility to seek out these networks, and help other Smugglers when they can. Smugglers are the catalysts of change. We make shit happen.

To an outside vendor who is trying to work with a large corporation, Smugglers are allies who see not only how a product or service can help in the big picture of the company, but also a path to adoption through internal political forces. Smugglers help navigate currents that vendors cannot see, flowing beneath superficially calm waters.

Entrepreneurs, you are the big picture creators of hope and vision in the innovation ecosystem! Smugglers know that you work around the clock to give us exactly what we need and are dying for. Trust your Smugglers, as we are fighting on the front lines to bring your vision into the organization. Betray a Smuggler at your own risk. This is mind-to-mind combat. This is the dark side of innovation, where many battles are fought that you know nothing about. (We work hard to protect you from that knowledge. Fear is the enemy of innovation.)

To be continued…

Rainforest Rev: Innovation Stories and A People’s Guide To Excellence

News on growing ecosystems for innovation and entrepreneurship


Innovation Emerges From Stories We Tell
Henry Doss, Chief Strategy Officer of T2 Venture Creation, from Forbes
To foster innovation as a process or an outcome, leaders must understand it as a form of storytelling — an act of creation that turns imagination into reality. Read more here.

Robert Sutton’s Guide to Excellence
Strategy + Business
Management theorist Robert Sutton believes human behavior is the key to business success. The one thing most leading companies share? They don’t tolerate jerks. Read more here.

Investing in Women’s Employment
International Finance Corporation
Enhancing the role of women in a nation’s workforce is the key to economic development. Read more here.

Rapid Innovation Diffusion in Social Networks
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
Social networks provide a rapid means for people to cluster and respond to social acceptance and feedback, aiding in the spread and adoption of innovations. Read more here.

Getting Past the Barriers to Collaboration
Ideas Lab
Efforts to eliminate the obstacles that slow a collaborative approach to innovation are frequently contested, and a range of excuses are employed to stymie improvements in organizational collaboration. Read more here.

How To Create A Startup Hub
People are wondering how to start a tech scene from scratch in their area. They might ask the folks in Orlando, Florida who have actually made it happen in a city whose second largest industry is now tech. Read more here.
Phoenix Tech is Scorching: Now Where Are the VCs?
USA Today
Startup investments in Arizona’s thriving “Silicon Desert” have jumped this year, but the region is still looking for a breakout company that will lure the big money from Silicon Valley. Read more here.

Hickenlooper meets with Fort Collins tech startups
The Coloradoan
The Governor of Colorado went to Fort Collins to promote the city’s startup ecosystem, which includes a strong collaboration with city government and the local Colorado State University campus. Read more here.

Global Innovation Summit + Week 2015
Learn.  Love.  Build… Together.

February 16-20,2015

Silicon Valley, California
50% early bird discount — last day is August 31! Plus highly discounted rates for students, startups, nonprofits, universities, and governments.

Liquidity Nanotech Corporation
Liquidity Nanotech Corporation, one of Silicon Valley’s top next generation technology startups, has a limited investment window for friends of T2 Venture Creation. The company is targeting a multi-billion dollar market in clean water. It’s a rare opportunity to make profits while saving lives. Visit Liquidity’s crowdfunding website for more information.