Rainforest Rev: Love Letters to Austin, America and You

The Rainforest Revolution

News on growing ecosystems for innovation and entrepreneurship

 

Learn how to catalyze innovation in your company, city, or country. 

Join over 1,000 other “new economy builders” at the Global Innovation Summit — the centerpiece of Global Innovation Week, over 20 events exploring creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit. Click here to register before December 31 and get 10% off — your last chance to get an early bird discount! Click here to host your own event.

SUMMIT: FEBRUARY 17-19  |  WEEK: FEBRUARY 15-21

 

THE BIG PICTURE


 

My Love Letters to Austin, America, and You

By Victor Hwang, CEO & Co-Founder of T2 Venture Creation, from Forbes
This Commencement Address for Austin Community College talks about entrepreneurship and innovation, but without using either word.  The speech consists of three love letters.  Austin has a special place at the edge of cultural frontiers. America is a frontier that requires strangers to form teams to achieve common ends. Finally, the speech urges people to recreate new frontiers, to “be comfortable with uncomfortable things.” Read more here.

 

Ideas May Strike Like Lightning, But Innovation Must Be Cultivated

Ideas Lab by GE
The five critical elements for an innovation ecosystem don’t come together by accident. They are cultivated by: talent, capital, competitive business environment, strong intellectual property, and fiscally responsible government. Read more here.

 

World Development Report 2015 Explores “Mind, Society, and Behavior”

The World Bank
Development efforts are urged to incorporate new evidence that shows real people are far more unpredictable than the “rational actors” used in many economic theories. Read more here.

 

Female Entrepreneurs Key to Economic Growth

Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
The critical role women play in the economic growth of developing nations has long been understood, but new research by the Kauffman Foundation reveals a similar importance – and opportunity – in the United States. Read more here.

 

Radical Innovation, Part III: Balancing Creativity and Structure

Knowledge@Wharton
Managers can either squelch innovation or make it bloom. The key is learning the most from every step along the way – whether the effort succeeds or fails. See more here.

 

THE LATEST NEWS


 

Replacing Surf Shops with Startups, Tech Boom Makes Waves in Bohemian Venice Beach

PBS NewsHour
More entrepreneurs are trading in the high costs of Bay Area living for sunnier space right here in Venice Beach. They even have a name for it, Silicon Beach. Read more here.

 

France Plans Elite Top-10 Mega-University

BBC Business
The big idea is to create a “knowledge hub” around Paris, bringing together top-level universities with research institutes, hi-tech businesses and start-ups. The classic example of such a project would be Silicon Valley in California where Stanford University has been the launchpad for firms such as Google and Hewlett Packard. Read more here.

 

Singapore’s Startup Scene is Overrated. But That’s the Only Way It Can Succeed

TechInAsia
Some critics believe that the city-state’s startup scene relies on publicity for its survival. No doubt Singapore’s governance, infrastructure, intellectual capital, and reputation are its competitive advantages. Read more here.


 

APPLY FOR THE INNOVATION ECOSYSTEM AWARDS

Application deadline is December 31, 2014. 

We seek the world’s top companies and organizations that enable the super-linear growth of the ecosystems around them. They must catalyze the ideals of connectivity, openness, diversity, and trust that are essential to the innovation process. They must nurture the success of others.  Rather than a simple “Best Of” list, where one focuses solely on the entity itself, we are looking at what the entity does to catalyze more activity around itself.  We seek to reward those entities that create multiplier effects beyond themselves, that catalyze the growth of entire ecosystems.

Applications will be evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • Connections: does the company/organization connect people that are otherwise disconnected in meaningful, productive ways?
  • Platform: does the company/organization lower the cost of doing business across an entire system?
  • Culture: does the company/organization foster trust in the community, industry or society?
  • Motivations: does the company/organization demonstrate social responsibility or sustainable, systematic impact?
  • Team: how does the company/organization collaborate with employees, advisors, suppliers, distributors and other partners?

APPLY HERE


The Rhetoric Of Innovation

By Henry Doss, Chief Strategy Officer of T2 Venture Creation, from Forbes

I do not pretend to start with precise questions. I do not think you can start with anything precise.  You have to achieve such precision as you can, as you go along.  — Bertrand Russel

The biggest challenge organizations face in building and nurturing and leading innovative cultures is language. Not plans. Not ideas. Not action items. Not even creativity. It is language.

When it comes to organizational languages, we have plenty of words for commands, for directions, for setting expectations.   Declaring that something needs to be done and then describing how to do it comes naturally.   This is the language of strategic plans, of goals, of reports, of evaluations.  The rhetoric of command is something that most leaders and most organizations understand and can respond to, and it is the language that we default to in order to run railroads and to get stuff done.  After all, command works.  Things get done when we speak in the language of command.

But the language of command is not the language of innovation.  If we are to talk precisely about innovation, in a shared language and a shared nomenclature, we need to realize that innovation requires a domain all its own.  Innovation requires a distinct rhetoric and its own realm of meaning and nuance and distinctions.  Speaking about and to innovation is not the same thing as speaking about or to specific outcomes. When we speak about innovation, we are speaking about states of being, of system conditions, of potential.  The language of innovation is a language about culture, and for this reason, it must be a language of narrative, and stories and tales.

In many organizations, there is a demand for doing innovation, a demand to deploy innovation tactics and strategies, a demand for innovative output.  This amounts to demanding innovation in command language, which is like a demand in English to speak French.  Demanding that an organization innovate is akin to demanding that a rock roll uphill.  The demand is clear, the actors are clearly defined, and the goal is clear.  But, the outcome is at best unlikely.  In the case of the rock, that is because there is not adequate potential energy to be transformed into kinetic energy.  At least not enough to roll uphill.

Innovation thinking and innovation language store up the potential energy of an organization; they don’t release kinetic energy.   Innovation language creates the culture, the conditions, the state of being that is necessary if innovative output is to be realized.   Innovation does not really “do” anything;  it is the condition, the state of being, where organizations begin to build up potential energy, potential innovative output.  Without the potential energy of innovation culture, the kinetic energy of command will simply not work.  Or, at best, it will work at very low efficiency levels.

We may think of this as a requirement for organizational leaders to speak two languages, to understand two different dialects, and to speak from two completely different points of view — at the same time.  At one point we might talk about output — products, patents, updates, improvements, and so on — all of which we might be able to describe in rather precise language, and in terms we all share in common.  We are comfortable with this language because it is empirical, accessible and common.  But it is incomplete.  At the same time that we are speaking the language of command, we need also to speak the language of innovation, of culture, of those things that occur to us as less empirical.  If we use the term “innovation” the same way we use the term “innovate,” we will create cultural confusion.  This is because “innovation” is best used to describe a cultural state, while “innovate” is an action term, a deliverable, an output.  They are different things.

Confusion follows when we conflate the language of innovation and the language of command.  Innovation language should speak to and about values, and beliefs and conditions.  Innovation language coaxes, encourages, nurtures and fosters high potential.  Command language is kinetic, and causes action.  Either one alone is inadequate for high levels of performance excellence.  In combination, they are magic.

More often than not, organizational leaders get trapped into the language of command.  They get lured into seeing direct connections between commands and action.  They can speak a command and something happens and over time this connection seems a priori.   But creating an innovation culture — which is building the innovation potential of organizations — is not a place where the language of command will work.  You simply cannot command individuals to trust.  You cannot declare: “Be more networked!”  You cannot just decide that everyone in your organization will suddenly value diverse points of view.  These are cultural conditions, and they are emergent of the rhetoric and narrative of your organization, not declarations.

At its simplest, innovation and the rhetoric of narrative that creates innovation states can be thought of as storing up potential energy.  Potential energy — states of being of innovative cultures — is latent.  It is there and ready when ideas and creativity and ambition and sense of purpose call on it, and in turn convert potential innovative cultural energy into kinetic energy — output.  The best ideas and creativity in the world coming into low potential, low-innovation states of culture, will simply wither away.  Ideas die.  But, even modest ideas landing in highly innovative cultures acquire power and direction and energy.  And things happen.  Good things.

The trick is to remember that innovation — a noun describing a condition — and innovate — a verb describing action — are two very different things, and they require two different ways of thinking and speaking.   We might say that the rhetoric of innovate resides in command and the rhetoric of innovation resides in trust. And the two are confused to the peril of an organization’s future.

Henry Doss believes leadership can change the world.  He is a venture capitalist, a volunteer in higher education, a student and a musician.


My Love Letters to Austin, America, and You

By Victor Hwang, CEO & Co-Founder of T2 Venture Creation, from Forbes

Yesterday, I was honored to give the Commencement Address for Austin Community College. It was a moving experience for me.

In my speech—which I call ”Three Love Letters”—I reflect on entrepreneurship and innovation in a different way. In fact, I don’t even use those words at all. Instead, I talk about culture. And I do so with three lenses: my beloved home city of Austin, the beautiful nation of America, and the new graduates. I hope you like it.

*********

President Rhodes, graduates, families, faculty, and staff. And most importantly, the all-powerful and extremely good-looking board of trustees. Which happens to include my Mother.

Congratulations, graduates. You guys are the heroes. I know it’s been hard to get here. For many of you, it’s been harder than it should have been. I have deep admiration for what you’ve done. I’m moved by what your friends and families have sacrificed. Whatever I say today is lucky to be an asterisk in your life story.

Now for those of you from Oklahoma, an asterisk is the star below the number 7 on your telephone. Just kidding. Rotary dial phones don’t have asterisks.

Almost every commencement speech can be summed up in a few pithy aphorisms: be grateful, love one another, dream big, never give up, and change the world. I could say all those and be done. You might actually prefer that.

But I don’t want to give you a regular graduation speech. Your time is too precious for that. Besides, it’s really easy to go on YouTube to see Puff Daddy’s commencement speech from earlier this year. He says just what I told you, but it’s way more entertaining.

Instead, I’ve decided today to give you three love letters. Simple. Three letters expressing my affection. The first love letter is from me to the city of Austin. The second one, from me to America. And the third, from me to you.

Austin

Love letter #1: Austin. Even though I don’t live here now, this city means a lot to me. It’s one of the first great loves of my life. It’s where I came of age, where I learned to be a young man.

It’s where I learned some simple values, like the importance of handshakes and speaking plainly. It’s where I learned the power of music authentically expressed, like the cry of a steel guitar, or cowboy songs around a campfire late at night.

It’s where I learned to dream. I still remember going with friends to Enchanted Rock one time, and counting over 30 shooting stars while lying on our backs. It was like we were on the prow of Spaceship Earth. We had the whole world below us, as we hurtled forward into the universe above us.

I still remember moving to Austin as a teenager, and realizing that I’d never tasted such a place before. Austin has a flavor that is unique. It lingers in the soul. It wasn’t until I grew up that I realized how special and rare that flavor is in the world.

A full generation has passed since that time, and things change. Austin has boomed. And Austinites can be rather nostalgic these days. One generation ago, Whole Foods was a “small neighborhood grocery.” Those are the words from the corporate website. Today, there are over 360 such “small neighborhood groceries” around the world.

One generation ago, South by Southwest was a bracelet you bought to go barhopping and hear local bands play. Today, multinational corporations sponsor events at “South By” to market new products to millions of consumers.

One generation ago, when I talked with people outside the state of Texas, Austin was often confused with Houston. Now, Houston is sometimes confused with Austin. Sorry, Houstonians.

Here’s what I’ve come to realize. Austin was special because it was at the edge of the frontier. Not just the geographical frontier. It was at the edge of cultural frontiers, a collision of different ways of living. The mashup of cowboys, hippies, intellectuals, and civic leaders created its own music that still echoes in the hills today. And each of those components played a role. Gritty bluntness from the cowboys. Open-heartedness from the hippies. Love of ideas from the academics. Grand ambition from the civic leaders.

Those were the lines of code in the original operating system of Austin. That software program simply ran its course over several decades. One generation later, and I can still taste that Austin. The flavor will remain on my tastebuds until I die.

Here’s the takeaway lesson. There is a natural power at the edges of frontiers. When you go fishing, the best places to drop your line are at the transition points, where light meets dark, shallow meets deep, fast meets slow. The same is true for human life. When you go searching for your fortune in life, look for those transition points. That’s the frontier. That was Austin.

America

My second love letter is to America. I love this country. The irony is that, when growing up, I never felt truly American, as the son of Chinese immigrants in Middle America. But with time, I’ve come to realize that I am actually more American than many, quote, “Americans.”

I’ve seen and understood this country in ways that others haven’t. I’ve been to every state in the union. I’ve lived in a bunch of them. I’ve breathed in almost every corner of America, small town and large, rural and urban, East and West, North and South.

I remember when soccer moms were just called moms. I remember when a new neighbor was greeted with freshly baked cake.

I also remember something my Father said to me when I was young. He said that a lot of cultures claim to be the nicest in the world. But of all the places he had been, Americans were the warmest to strangers. I wasn’t sure if I believed him back then. But I’ve traveled the world, seen over 50 countries. And I’ve concluded my Father was right. America is the warmest country to strangers. Not perfect, for sure, but far better than anywhere else.

Why is this? It’s not just about nice manners. What I’ve learned is that the answer goes to the heart of America.

This is a country built on the good faith of strangers. The next time you walk into a coffee shop, look closely. Look at who is doing what. You’ll definitely see lots of old friends, families, and neighbors catching up. But in America, you’ll also see something that is rare elsewhere in the world. You’ll see lots of people doing things together who just met a short time ago. This is a land where people take chances on strangers, because we all are. Strangers become friends quickly, because we need each other to survive and get things done.

Imagine you were alive six generations ago, and you wanted to cross America by wagon. You had a six-month journey across the frontier. You risked starvation, disease, injury, and attacks. Before they started, strangers would form wagon caravans of up to 300 people they had never met before. They entrusted their lives to each other, taking the gamble that the unknown dangers ahead were still better than the world they had left behind. It was the ultimate startup company. In comparison, a startup company today in Silicon Valley making dating apps sounds pretty ridiculous.

Frontiers require strangers to come together, and form teams to achieve common ends. The process is not always pretty, because strangers tend to disagree, distrust, bicker, and fight. But in the end—over the long arc of history—it creates something beautiful. Like the collision of cultures that made Austin.

The frontier story, I believe, is the American story. But it’s also the reason that America is struggling today. We’ve already built a great society. We’ve conquered a frontier. But now, in the new millennium, Americans look around at each other and are saying, “Now what?”

When we have no more frontier to conquer, we start feeding on ourselves. Thus, we see infighting. We see polarization. We are suffering today from the end of the American Frontier.

So my love letter to this beautiful country ends with simply this. Don’t let the end of the American Frontier be the end of the American story. It’s time to create a new American mission. After we have conquered the physical frontier, what new frontiers can challenge and bring this nation together?

You

My third, and most important, love letter is for you. I don’t know many of you personally, but I already know who you are. I know because we are fellow human beings. You have some things you’re good at. You have far more things you’re bad at. You love some people a lot, others not so much. You wish the world would work more the way you think it should.

And you worry. You worry if you can achieve the life you want to be happy. You worry that I’m going to keep talking for too long.

So here’s a big secret. Most adults are pretending. Status, intelligence, beauty, wealth, achievement. The older you get, the more you see people pretending in little ways all the time. People drop names to make themselves look more important. They try to assert power, to make the world seem less terrifying. They post pictures on Facebook to prove how “exciting” their lives are. In this society built on shifting frontiers, where we rely on strangers, we worry a lot about our place. There is so much uncertainty.

It’s human nature to worry. Our tendency, as frail biological creatures, is to pretend to be bigger than we are. Or to run away.

But I would ask you to fight this instinct. Your mission—as a citizen of Austin, America, and the human race—is to remake the frontier, every day, in little ways. This requires you to be comfortable with uncomfortable things. This is not easy. In frontiers, people often look different, speak strange languages, behave oddly, believe differently. Some of them will hurt you. But the vast majority of them won’t.

So to renew the frontier every day, what do you do? Let me offer some pithy aphorisms, since this is a graduation after all. Hopefully these can be new sayings for a new era. I’ve got seven.

  • Be uncomfortable.
  • Open doors.
  • Empathize with strangers.
  • Try new things out.
  • Seek serendipity.
  • Take chances with new friends.
  • And pay it forward to people you don’t know.

These are really hard things to do, because most of the time our instincts push us the opposite way. But these are the origins of the American frontier story, the roots of Austin’s beloved culture, and the future to your success in the new economy.

That’s how my three love letters are connected together. While life is often determined by dumb luck, these are the ways to tilt the odds of dumb luck in your favor.

Thank you for listening. It’s not often one gets such a privilege, and I humbly hope I’ve taken your time well.

To Austin, stay weird. To America, keep the frontier fresh. And to you, may you forever thrive at the frontier’s edge, where the known confronts the unknown.

Best wishes, congratulations, and much love to all of you.


Rainforest Rev: The Rise of Innovation Districts

The Rainforest Revolution
News on growing ecosystems for innovation and entrepreneurship

 

So you can build a startup. But can you build an ecosystem?

Find out at the Global Innovation Summit — the centerpiece of Global Innovation Week, a Silicon Valley-wide festival celebrating the entrepreneurial spirit. Click here to register before December 31 and get 10% off — your last chance to get an early bird discount! Click here to host your own event.

SUMMIT: FEBRUARY 17-19  |  WEEK: FEBRUARY 15-21

 

THE BIG PICTURE


 

The Rise of Innovation Districts

Brookings
Innovation districts are popping up across America and around the world, creating entrepreneur-friendly communities that combine the lifestyle of a hip urban neighborhood with big-time anchor institutions and companies that can help startups get off the ground. Read more here.

 

Five Lessons in Building Entrepreneurial Communities

Global Entrepreneurship Week
A summit of 45 national and city startup initiatives from around the world has resulted in five core recommendations for building ecosystems. Read more here.

 

Nurturing Innovation: Does Geography Matter?

Knowledge@Wharton
Location is increasingly less important as virtual collaboration and mobile capital are making innovation hubs a thing of the past. Read more here.

 

How to Pay Employees for Great Ideas

The Wall Street Journal
Paying people for innovation only works if you reward team-based collaboration. Group bonuses encourage the kind of team-based brainstorming that leads to meaningful new ideas. Read more here.

 

The Random Events that Sparked 8 of the World’s Biggest Startups

FastCompany
The unexpected stories and strange Eureka moments that launched these household names. Read more here.

 

THE LATEST NEWS


 

Accelerated Innovation: The New Challenge From China

MIT Sloan Management Review 
Chinese companies are leveraging their advantages in the global marketplace by accelerating innovations in engineering and product development. Read more here.

 

Melbourne’s Tight-Knit Start-up Community Fuels Ecosystem

Forbes
Australia’s second largest city attracts startups to its culture, clusters, and co-working cultivation. Read more here.

 

Six Hot Startups in Cool Copenhagen

VentureBeat
Denmark’s capital has an educated, English-speaking workforce, a renowned School of Entrepreneurship, government supports for entrepreneurs, and a growing cadre of local investors that has given rise to world-class startups. Read more here.

 


 

APPLY FOR THE INNOVATION ECOSYSTEM AWARDS

Application deadline is December 31, 2014. 


We seek the world’s top companies and organizations that enable the super-linear growth of the ecosystems around them. They must catalyze the ideals of connectivity, openness, diversity, and trust that are essential to the innovation process. They must nurture the success of others.  Rather than a simple “Best Of” list, where one focuses solely on the entity itself, we are looking at what the entity does to catalyze more activity around itself.  We seek to reward those entities that create multiplier effects beyond themselves, that catalyze the growth of entire ecosystems. 

Applications will be evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • Connections: does the company/organization connect people that are otherwise disconnected in meaningful, productive ways?
  • Platform: does the company/organization lower the cost of doing business across an entire system?
  • Culture: does the company/organization foster trust in the community, industry or society?
  • Motivations: does the company/organization demonstrate social responsibility or sustainable, systematic impact?
  • Team: how does the company/organization collaborate with employees, advisors, suppliers, distributors and other partners?

APPLY HERE


Metaphors be with you

In Molière’s play Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, produced in 1670, Monsieur Jourdain asks something to be written in neither verse nor prose. He is told, “Sir, there is no other way to express oneself than with prose or verse”. Jourdain replies, “By my faith! For more than forty years I have been speaking prose without knowing it.”

The Rainforest concept introduced in the book by Victor H Hwang and Greg Horowitt, The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley http://www.therainforestbook.com/ opened up the idea of a Rainforest as a metaphor for expressing the innovation ecosystem concept. In this series of blogs we have rather taken this metaphor as understood – but have not placed it on the solid foundation it deserves in the science of innovation ecosystems.

Without going into too much detail, and giving a quick version of the meaning of metaphor which might horrify a linguistic specialist, we can probably agree that language, prose or poetry, is used to communicate with others and therefore must be meaningful to others. Much of language is metaphor. It has been said that metmetaphoraphor is the root of all transfer of meanings in speech. In metaphor or analogy a word is detachable from its original meaning and transferred so that the meaning no longer adheres to the original object. By using words in new contexts, new meanings and aspects of the word may be revealed. However, we should keep in mind George Orwell’s warning not to use metaphors without knowing their original meaning.

Metaphors use symbols (words or signs) which have intuitive meanings and are used within “a universe of discourse.” A universe of discourse is a context where the symbol has an understood meaning. Just as we would not describe a painting using terminology of chemistry, when using stories to communicate understanding we must not stray into universities of discourse having other accepted symbols. When I started working in international development I was confused by colleagues using the term “actor” – with a meaning familiar to sociologist but to a physicist (me) had me wondering how movies came into the picture.

It seems to me that this universe of discourse is really the same as the “phase space” introduced in our December 2013 blog. (For reference, our November 2013 blog first introduced complex systems concepts).

Metaphors are liberating; analogies can constrain.

If we use a rainforest analogy we would have to say the trees are like this and the weeds are like that, and so forth, and the poetic symbolism would be lost. If I reminisce about my youth and inexperienced using the metaphor of being “apple green” (an implied metaphor from Dylan Thomas’s poem Fern Hill) this metaphor has more poetic power that the analogy that I was like a green apple.

Metaphor opens up our imaginations.

The linguistic philosopher Wilbur Urban in analyzing metaphor wrote “it is the nature of the symbol to take the primary and natural meaning of both objects and words and modify them in certain ways so that they acquire a meaning relation of a different kind.” Thus, according to Urban a symbol has (1) reference to the original object – a rainforest in our case – and (2) reference to the object for which the symbol now stands – a complex adaptive innovation ecosystem in our case.

The rainforest metaphor as described by Hwang and Horowitt connects rainforests (the original object) to companies (the object for which the symbol now stands): “A company that seeks to manufacture cheaper, better, more profitable products would run operations like an agricultural farm. However, the community that seeks to generate high levels of innovation throughout the whole system would do the opposite …. not controlling the specific processes but instead helping to set the right environmental variables that foster the unpredictable creation of new weeds.” The metaphor is also a comparison of properties or traits. The trait concept will be revisited in future blogs when we say more about a neglected topic so far, namely, how innovation ecosystems change over time.

As noted in our June blog in this series readers should at least be beginning to see how the rainforest metaphor expands our thinking and leads us to understand that rainforest ecosystems not only have much in common with complex adaptive systems but that rainforest innovation ecosystems are complex adaptive systems. The rainforest symbol has acquired a new and different interpretation as a complex adaptive system. This realization opens up the large volume of research on complex adaptive systems to be used not only to understand but to analyze and predict the behavior of innovation ecosystems. Having grabbed our attention the metaphor remains as a comfort blanket as we enter the sometimes insecure world of complexity.

To parallel Monsieur Jourdain, we may be surprised we’ve been talking about complex adaptive systems without knowing it.


Stop Trying to Save the World

The Rainforest Revolution
News on growing ecosystems for innovation and entrepreneurship

 

How do we accelerate entrepreneurship, technology, and impact at scale?

Join over 1,000 of your fellow “new economy builders” to learn the latest tools for supercharging startup ecosystems at the Global Innovation Summit in Silicon Valley. The Global Innovation Summit is the centerpiece of Global Innovation Week, which features multiple events and activities throughout the region. Click here to register before December 31 and get 10% off — your last chance to get an early bird discount!

SUMMIT: FEBRUARY 17-19  |  WEEK: FEBRUARY 15-21

 

THE BIG PICTURE


 

Can 17th Century French History Transform Healthcare?

By Henry Doss, Chief Strategy Officer of T2 Venture Creation, from Forbes
The leader of a healthcare industry coalition uses his doctorate in 17th century French history to solve the problems of a 21st century healthcare system in desperate need of innovation. Read more here.

 

Stop Trying to Save the World

New Republic
The reported failures of many big ideas to address problems in the developing world may not be because they were the wrong ideas, but because they did not take into account that human society is a complex adaptive system.  Success comes not from scaling up location specific solutions, but rather from addressing the underlying problems in such systems.  Read more here.

 

Want to Build a One-of-a-Kind Company? Ask Peter Thiel

Knowledge@Wharton
An interview with the legendary entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel, whose book “Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future” shows how the nature of competition can weaken innovation. See more here.

 

Entropy Can Lead To Order, Paving the Route to Nanostructures

University of Michigan News
Scientists use the principle of disorder to encourage particles to join together into stable structures that could be used in astonishing ways. Read more here.

 

Why Is Innovation So Hard?

Forbes
Innovation doesn’t come naturally to most people, who have difficulty changing the way they think – especially those who are used to striving for an orderly and quantifiable process. Read more here.

THE LATEST NEWS


 

Colombia Is One Of Latin America’s Most Promising New Tech Hubs

TechCrunch
Government-led tax incentives and efforts to attract investors help the nation shed its reputation for lawlessness and corruption to emerge as one of the region’s best places to start a company. Read more here.

 

How Can Government Support South Africa’s Startup Ecosystem?

VentureBurn
Building a culture of entrepreneurship, cutting red tape, easing labor laws, and adopting successful capital generation models were four recommendations for government action that emerged from a recent startup South African conference. Read more here.

 

The Startups of Nazareth

Bloomberg BusinessWeek
Cutting-edge startups are growing in the ancient Israeli city of Nazareth, part of a tech boom that struggles with the same sectarian issues that are now plaguing the nation. Read more here.

 

APPLY FOR THE INNOVATION ECOSYSTEM AWARDS

Application deadline is December 31, 2014. 

We seek the world’s top companies and organizations that enable the super-linear growth of the ecosystems around them. They must catalyze the ideals of connectivity, openness, diversity, and trust that are essential to the innovation process. They must nurture the success of others.  Rather than a simple “Best Of” list, where one focuses solely on the entity itself, we are looking at what the entity does to catalyze more activity around itself.  We seek to reward those entities that create multiplier effects beyond themselves, that catalyze the growth of entire ecosystems.

Applications will be evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • Connections: does the company/organization connect people that are otherwise disconnected in meaningful, productive ways?
  • Platform: does the company/organization lower the cost of doing business across an entire system?
  • Culture: does the company/organization foster trust in the community, industry or society?
  • Motivations: does the company/organization demonstrate social responsibility or sustainable, systematic impact?
  • Team: how does the company/organization collaborate with employees, advisors, suppliers, distributors and other partners?

APPLY HERE


Can 17th Century French History Transform Healthcare?

By Henry Doss, Chief Strategy Officer of T2 Venture Creation, from Forbes

“Mankind are so much the same, in all times and places, that history informs us of nothing new or strange in this particular. Its chief use is only to discover the constant and universal principles of human nature.” – David Hume

If there is an industry that is in desperate need of innovation and innovative leadership, look no further than the healthcare field. From functional payment systems, to new technologies, to ethics, to distribution and delivery, virtually every feature of the healthcare system needs substantial change and improvement.   Nowhere is this more dramatically apparent than in the arena of payment systems and delivery.

Who are the leaders who will cause the transformations we need in healthcare, and what can we do to educate young people to take on the challenges of healthcare delivery? What might be a course of study and learning that would help prepare a leader to navigate the complexities of the healthcare system?

One area of study just might be 17th century French history. And Dr. David Lansky just might be the model.

David Lansky is the president and chief executive officer of the Pacific Business Group on Health (PBGH), an organization focused on improving the affordability and availability of high-quality healthcare. He leads a coalition of fifty large employers and health care purchasers representing over three million Californians, including CalPERS, Wells Fargo, Intel, Safeway, Chevron, and the University of California. In addition to working through the PBGH coalition, he also serves on various health policy boards, such as the Congressional Budget Office Panel of Health Advisers and the federal government’s Health IT Policy Committee.

Dr. David Lansky’s path to this leadership role was hardly linear, nor was it entirely intentional. The intersection of the study he engaged in to acquire a Ph.D. in 17th century French history and his ultimate career path is a glimpse into the mystery of how one prepares to lead. And his story provides insight into the role that the Humanities can play in the world of business.

I spoke recently with David about his work, his commitment to innovation leadership and the relationship between his academic background and his life’s work.

Henry Doss:     Your career path is an interesting one, to say the least, progressing from taking a Ph.D. in 17th century French history, to serving as the CEO of a healthcare organization. How did this happen? How would you counsel young people who are thinking about “career planning,” while pursuing their own degrees?

David Lansky:     Well, honestly, I’ve done almost no career planning. The only exception was a point in my early 30s when I figured the most interesting opportunities to influence society in my lifetime would be in either education or healthcare.  So I went out and talked to people in both worlds and picked healthcare.  Even then, I never contemplated formal training as a way to advance my career.

Doss:     So, luck, more than planning? What do you say to a young person –or anyone for that matter – who is engaged in actually planning a career path?

Lansky:     The positive elements of my career have been 70% luck and 30% taking advantage of opportunities.  I think all of us are exposed to “serendipity” and each person’s challenge is to be aware of and choose opportunities to latch on to and exploit.

Your education can and should help you to better understand what you value, so that you are prepared to make those decisions. The importance of my academic training is less about the skills that I acquired, and more about shaping my values and what I wanted to achieve in life.  Too much of an emphasis on job or skills development, too soon in life, I think can lead you away from understanding and codifying your personal value system.

I studied a lot of social history and felt a lot of sympathy for the “little guy” who is tossed about by the great figures and forces that we read about – kings, wars, famines, bankers. As a historian, I was taken with the question of how social institutions and their leaders can make life better or worse for most people.  I got pretty deep into the life of one 17th century French city – their courts, hospital, city council, church life, and so on — and felt a lot of empathy for those people.  It was a great experience to step back to 30,000 feet and look at the life of a whole society and then think about how we still operate like that today, but are rarely able to look at things dispassionately and comprehensively.

So, as a result – at least in my case – my in-depth study of social history led me to develop a value system or point of view that in turn prepared me to jump at the opportunities that chance or luck or randomness threw at me in due time.

Doss:     So, your education prepared you to be consistent in a value system, but maybe not so much in terms of the raw skills you need for a leadership role in healthcare?

Lansky:     Well, “yes,” to the first question, but “mostly no” to the second. Let me explain a bit.

For me, it has been important to know what I value.  I like to be ready to say “yes!” to opportunities that are consistent with my values and might move me forward towards my goals.  If my goal had been maximizing income, or academic standing, or political power I would have responded to different opportunities.  What was important about my own education, and what I would not want to have missed, is the opportunity to gain self-knowledge and an ability to place contemporary challenges in a historical context.  As part of my learning process while studying history, I concluded pretty early that I’d rather make history than write about it.  But I didn’t have the courage or hubris or charisma or brilliance to be a political leader or inventor.  So I just took the “lessons of history,” my own political and social values, and my particular, limited skills and applied them to a contemporary problem as best I could. And when I did this, I learned very quickly that being a “leader” may just be hanging around long enough and learning from some very wise people.

Doss:     So, now you find yourself in a position of leadership in a business setting.  But you started out preparing yourself to be an academic/scholar.  Looking back, would you change anything about what you studied, in order to better prepare yourself for business leadership?  Or, asked differently, what would you say to all those students out there who are studying in the Humanities, who are also worried about what they’ll “do with their lives” when they graduate?

Lansky:     This is a hard question, and it’s highly individualized. But there are two, distinct parts to this question. There’s the values learning that can support leadership development, and there’s the skills learning. I want to talk about them separately.  When it comes to skills, I think anyone who begins to grow in their career, and to take on significant leadership accountability is going to feel “skill constrained.” That is, you are simply never going to master all of the skills you need or want to have, as you take on more and more responsibility. In my case for example, I sometimes wish I knew more about basic business – the kind of things that are routine for someone who takes an MBA.   I’d like to know more about the law. And clinical medicine. But I don’t.  The lesson for me is you should surround yourself with really smart people who do understand these domains, and who can provide leadership themselves, teach you, and collaborate with you. You can’t think you’ll become a technical expert in every area you need to lead.

Doss:    Then the next question gets us to innovation, leadership and how the Humanities can inform your creativity and strategic thinking in an area like healthcare.  Do you see any specific parallels between the meta-issues you face today and those of 17th century France you studied? That is, are there things you learned that are unique and specific to your area of history that might give you unique and highly pragmatic insights into business challenges of 2014?

Lansky:     There are parallels between 17th century France and 2014. Most of those are probably obvious – as people are people and western culture, at least, has been fairly stable over the past few hundred years. As a student, it was sobering for me to realize that the way people perceived and solved problems four hundred years ago – in post-feudal France – was not much different than how we address them today. Most actors belong to interest groups, make choices to protect their economic interest and class position, and then offer rationales to deflect the discussion from those particular interests.

Doss:   Yes. And that sounds like a very precise description of the political struggles we see in healthcare today!

David:     I think policymakers and business leaders understand this well. Most successful day-to-day policy initiatives involve moving past these deflections, understanding the underlying interests, and negotiating among the competing interests. It’s hard to move past something you’re not aware of and I think – in my case at least – a deep inquiry into history helps me navigate toward practical solutions.

Doss:     So you learn that structural and economic forces drive the bulk of big, national conversations.   How then do you navigate through a force or forces that are that powerful?

Lansky:     Well, as I’ve worked in the world of healthcare, I’ve noticed something else, something that runs counter to my academic training: that is that relationships between individual people can trump structural and economic forces. You don’t see that very often because most people form relationships with other people who already share their interests. In any era, it seems that running a city or country is hard work involving lots of concessions and negotiations and patience – regardless of whether it’s a post-feudal kingdom or a 21st century global information economy. Individual leaders matter a lot – they do set the tone for consideration of important issues; people do pay attention to them; and a strong leadership vision can motivate amazing behavior. But for me, learning this in the context of training in history enabled me to better understand how to move past large-scale social forces and engage in leadership relationships. I think this is really important.

Doss:     So, in a very real sense, you are attributing your success as a leader, not to technical knowledge in any particular domain, but to a highly developed generalist view of history, culture, economics, and politics.

Lansky:   I think that’s mostly right, except for the implication that technical knowledge is somehow not leadership-oriented.   I encounter many people with valuable technical knowledge – and we really can’t get a lot done in the real world without their great skill, passion, and sheer hard work. But sometimes deep technical skill in one domain can obscure the larger context, what we often call vision. I observe that the teams that get important work done have both someone who communicates vision in a way that motivates people to pursue it, and they have people with passion and skill at applying technical skills towards achieving it. Conversely, and this is true of my own career as well, even a strong technical direction is very hard to fulfill if there isn’t a larger convergence around a vision.

Doss:     That makes a lot of sense from the leadership perspective. Now, more specifically, how do you go about leading, encouraging and developing innovation in the healthcare space?

Lansky:   It’s interesting. I sometimes fret that my organization isn’t innovative enough. We aren’t developing apps, we aren’t exploiting social networks; it seems like we’re slogging away to encourage change among the giant insurance companies and government agencies and hospital systems that still actually control our $3 trillion in annual health care spending. The visible “innovations” – which are wonderful – are just fleas on the elephant’s back. But my colleagues remind me that our efforts to provoke and redirect the US healthcare elephant are themselves “innovations.”

In that context, the innovation challenge is not to get a lot of people brainstorming the next cool app to solve a persistent health care issue. It’s to look for the little cracks in the vast healthcare ecosystem that might respond to a tactical disruption, and to help people locate them and wriggle into them in a way that gets a reaction. I need to give people hope that the system will respond if we provoke it in the right way, that we have thousands of allies wanting to see the system be transformed.  Then, our organization’s job is to guide them to develop the right kinds of evidence, communications, and advocacy strategies to maximize their impact.  What’s innovative, for us, is the process of instigating change – more than the change itself.

Doss:   So, to continue the thread of this conversation, do you see your educational background – professional historian — playing into innovation and new/better ways of doing things, in ways that a more traditional business training might not?

Lansky:   Hopefully, because I’m trained as a historian to think about longer periods of time, I’m less likely to sub-optimize my evaluations of innovative products and services by only asking whether there’s a market for it today, and instead looking at it in a larger economic, political, and cultural context. When I think of innovative ideas or approaches, I try to ask this:   “How can we help this innovation navigate the strong crosscurrents of the healthcare system so that it ultimately helps more people and is economically viable?” And my training as a social historian leads me to always ask: “How will each group respond? Who sees this as a threat or who could become an ally? Are there policy roadblocks or facilitators?” So, in a way, I think I tend to conceptualize problems in broader terms and in a values-driven context.

Doss:   So, you’ve had the benefit of both a broad, and intense education in the Humanities and a broad and deep exposure to the world of business and healthcare. There are quite a few young students and young professionals out there who are thinking about how to prepare themselves to be better leaders, and to have as broad a set of opportunities as possible. What would you say to them about what to study, what to read, what to take time to write about, in order to be on a long-term leadership path?

Lansky:   Well, first and most important, I would say to anyone who has the ambition to lead other people towards challenging goals that their path will be easier and perhaps more successful if they have a broad understanding of human psychology and behavior. I’m certain that most transformational initiatives in the real world must overcome the routines and comfortable preferences and economic positions of the society they seek to affect. And to do so requires a combination of forceful leadership and sensitive accommodation. Many great leaders discovered the combination of skills that was effective for their era, so understanding how they were able to detect those cultural drivers and adjust to them is very valuable.

The leadership of a vision requires something else as well  – a feeling for what inspires people to follow. For that, understanding culture and religion and social movements is really valuable, and in that context, anthropology, psychology and sociology can teach a lot. But it’s not about reading, necessarily. These lessons are all around us today and everyone is your teacher. So engagement in the world of give and take – participating on non-profit boards and government committees, volunteering in communities different from your own – those things can help you internalize the lessons of the “Humanities” just as much as academic training. I guess I’d say learn broadly, but also be engaged in meaningful ways in the world.

Doss:   And on that note, David, thanks for taking time to reflect on History, healthcare and leadership!

 

Henry Doss believes leadership can change the world.  He is a venture capitalist, a volunteer in higher education, a student and a musician.


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