by Nishant Dahad
After two days at the Global Innovation Summit, when it comes to talking about how innovation ecosystems can be fostered, a common theme that a number of the speakers have touched on is a sense of collective trust and fairness that is the basis for a successful ‘Rainforest’ (the metaphor for innovation ecosystems at this summit). It is this nature that has allowed Silicon Valley to become so prosperous as a centre for innovation, inherent perhaps in its very inception with the collaborative journey of the traitorous eight in forming Fairchild, and what, as many speakers say, is necessary for hopeful ecosystems.
An invisible stumbling point over any economic transaction is an innate characteristic of human beings, whereby they are reluctant to complete such a transaction with anyone in front of whom there is a social, cultural, ethnical or language barrier. In the opening session of day two, Victor Hwang, executive director of GIS 2012, said that in Silicon Valley and successful rainforests, such barriers were overcome by a prevailing sense of trust within and between communities that allowed exchanges of ideas, and paved the way towards a number of collaborations that may not occur in other places in the world.
This is essentially a summary of the idea covered in the book that he and Greg Horowitt authored, entitled The Rainforest. This collaborative nature of the Silicon Valley community is a culture that could be developed and sustained by aspiring innovation ecosystems over the world.
This is a notion that was supported by Randall Kempner of the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs, a speaker at a later session about Rainforest Dynamics who argued that there were three aspects key to innovation – assets, network and culture, and whilst the first has seen a lot of, if not excessive attention, the last two are equally important, and in terms of culture, he stressed that an openness to people and collaboration are crucial for innovative activity to occur.
In a trusting environment, it should logically follow on from this that for it to be upheld, fairness should exist among the actors. This was claimed by Horowitt, the other executive director of the summit, in his speech, also in the opening event of the second day. He discussed the concept he and Hwang wrote about, of individual actors in a transaction giving up short-term gain to enhance long-term prosperity, giving the example of Intel’s founders, Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce offering as much as 50% of their firm’s equity to venture capitalists.
An instance when any actor, be it businessmen, scientists or venture capitalists seek more than another party deems fair, their reputation potentially becomes tarnished, and there is also a likelihood that the level of trust between them reduces. This reduces collaborative capacity, and in turn innovative potential.
After a number of speeches from thought leaders in the field of innovation, a trend emerged that suggests a trusting environment in which people are inclined towards collaboration and fairness is an important feature of a ‘rainforest’ and trust is essential for providing the correct conditions for innovation. This leaves governments with a difficult situation: while they may be able to create the right environment, with low bureaucracy, IP protection, low corporate taxes and other such schemes, what they cannot necessarily do is control the extent to which a society trusts each other as well.
Nishant Dahad was writing for The Next Silicon Valley at the Global Innovation Summit 2012