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The Big Picture San Diego Blog

Rules of the Rainforest

January 28, 2013

San Diego venture capitalist and entrepreneur Greg Horowitt took the EDC board of directors on a virtual zip line tour of his new book “The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley” at a recent meeting. San Diego has served as a living lab for Horowitt, who is one of the founders of Global CONNECT, a San Diego-based network committed to growing new technology clusters worldwide.

Horowitt asks a provocative question: Can we engineer serendipity through design? The answer is yes – if we are designing a culture and a system for innovation. Using the contrast between a plantation and a rainforest, he illustrates the prized attributes of a plantation: order, precision, accuracy, productivity, and (to make the comparison work) no weeds. Then imagine a rainforest: it mixes diverse elements together that encourage the development of new species and allows weeds to grow unchecked.

In San Diego, we talk about an ecosystem of innovation.  According to Horowitt, the roots of an ecosystem are smart policies, supportive infrastructure, flexible but strong intellectual property frameworks, enterprise and entrepreneurial support, and a robust capital “food chain.” It also includes an informed and engaged private sector, proactive innovation leadership development, responsive and responsible workforce development that includes skill-building initiatives, active youth engagement, and university – industry linkages. A quick scan of the San Diego innovation landscape reveals that, as a region, many of these roots are well established and are growing branches that expand our economy and prosperity.

Horowitt’s Rules of the Rainforest are straightforward and time-tested:

Rule #1: Break rules and dream.

Rule #2: Open doors and listen.

Rule #3: Trust and be trustworthy.

Rule #4: Experiment and iterate together.

Rule #5: Seek fairness, not advantage.

Rule #6: Err, fail, and persist.

Rule #7: Pay it forward.

The living lab of San Diego has given Horowitt insights that he and his Rainforest co-author Victor Hwang hope will lead to a focus on the development of innovation systems rather than the more traditional emphasis on innovation at the micro level of individuals and teams. Horowitt and Hwang have given San Diego a thoughtful, well-researched look at what it takes to build innovation capacity.