The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley

The principles of Rainforest Alberta are based on the book "The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley" by Victor W. Hwang and Greg Horowitt. The authors explore the question "what is it about Silicon Valley that led to it being one of the most innovative cultures in the world?"

In short, the authors determine that the truly unique characteristic about places lie Silicon Valley (and other innovation hubs worldwide) is the culture. The authors describe a simple framework, that of farm vs. rainforest as representations of the culture within innovative places, and outside them. The new way of doing things vs. the old. 

This analogy, and the culture that it represents is the perfect summary of what Rainforest Alberta, and other Rainforests worldwide, seek to accomplish.

The Analogy

The analogy of the Rainforest is best described by comparing Innovation Systems (Rainforests) to Production Systems (Farms). 

In a farm, there are clear objectives: control, precision, and production. The desired outcomes are well-established and the process of achieving those results is more-or-less understood. Though some incremental improvements may yield better results, the overall system is set, measured, and results are approximately assured. Farms are excellent at producing predictable results, however the tight constraints limit the opportunity for innovation and new ideas. The farm analogy thrives under traditional cost, command, and control leadership. This is the system that has been prevalent since the industrial revolution and is necessary within growing and established companies. After all, even Google doesn't want complete chaos within their doors.

Cost, command, control leads to a high degree of certainty and consistency. Though ideal in a production environment, this is not an ideal situation for innovation, creativity or ideation to thrive. In the book, the authors uncover the concept that "the principles that underlie biological systems are the same principles that underlie all living systems".  That is, innovation and human interactions are inherently more organic and subject to variance and unpredictability. This Rainforest approach, is a way to see the benefit of serendipity, randomness, and the unexpected. Rainforest supports the birth of new ideas, and untold random interactions that produce wonderful things. Where usually disparate entities who might not otherwise interact have the opportunity to connect, share ideas, build trust, and ultimately, commercialize their inventions. 

Can you cultivate a Rainforest within a farm? No! Rainforest inherently lack control mechanisms, but rather embrace powerful principles. 

Note that each of the Rainforest and the Farm has an important role in any thriving economy, and aspects of each are present everywhere. The Rainforest does not seek to eliminate the farm, but to create a co-existing rainforest that can support the input of ideas and creativity to build new things.

Pillars of the Rainforest

The Rainforest Scorecard was introduced into Alberta in 2016 as a tool for assessment, dialogue and action to improve the health of the innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem across the province. Twice per year Rainforest Alberta will use this assessment to get a snapshot of the robustness of the innovation ecosystem in the province. Scores shall be assessed independently in both Edmonton and Calgary.

The Assessment measures the level of support for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in an ecosystem and is based on six Pillars:

1. Leadership
2. Frameworks, Infrastructure, and Policies
3. Resources

4. Activities & Engagement
5. Role Models
6. Culture

Why Innovation

According to Hwang and Horowitt, there are five reasons why Innovation is so important to any economy:

  1. Human Potential:  Innovation cultivates the full potential for good in every person and organization.
  2. Prosperity:  Innovation iAccorimproves prosperity in families, organizations and communities.
  3. Capacity:  Innovation capacity enables people to solve more problems and achieve more dreams.
  4. Velocity:  Innovation drives the acceleration of these improvements.
  5. Sustainability:  Innovation, when coupled with focused effort, drives economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

How Will Innovation Benefit Alberta?

As a historically resource-based economy, the Province has always been at the mercy of the energy markets and experiences harsh boom and bust cycles. By embracing a knowledge-based innovative economy, Alberta has the potential to better weather these cyclic storms while also preparing itself for a more sustainable, competitive future by building a well diversified economy.