Patrick Wu

Growing Innovation in Alberta

With a little love and care, a rainforest can grow in Alberta.

Okay, not literally. The rainforest is a metaphor for messy, vibrant, uncontrollable ecosystems that are always growing. They change in unpredictable ways and are always evolving and adapting, without intervention.

This is the basic analogy in The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley, by Greg Horowitt and Victor Hwang. The major thesis is that the Valley runs on a culture of trust and collaboration. If we want to do something similar here, we need to encourage that same kind of culture. We want to build an interconnected community where collisions of ideas can happen faster, like a rainforest.

This is in contrast to a farm, which is ordered, controlled, and driven by production metrics. Many organizations, large and small, still run on these kinds of principles. The argument is that innovation doesn’t happen when people think only in terms of production metrics.

Lunch… Without Lunch

This particular book helped spark the Rainforest Alberta initiative. Rainforest Alberta is a grassroots movement, aiming to bring Albertans together to make more collisions. “Founded” by a group of tech entrepreneurs, Rainforest Alberta hosts weekly “Lunch Without Lunch” meetings every Wednesday, so called because although they meet at noon, it’s not catered.

At the LWOL, new faces are introduced to the room, sharing what they need help with, and what they can help with in turn. Then the crowd is let loose to collide.

Learning the Landscape

The Rainforest AB community also does an internal audit of the ecosystem, using something called the Rainforest Scorecard. Every few months, a new cohort of community members gather to do this assessment on their perceptions of the ecosystem. Consultants from Rainforest Strategies, LLP help facilitate these Summits and crunch the data.

(You can use the link above to do your own assessment, then compare notes with the scores presented by Rainforest Strategies. I’d be interested in hearing what you get!)

Calgary’s very first Summit in 2016 was… not good. The cohort in attendance gave us an average score of 464/1000—a failing grade.

This was what sparked the mantra “464 to 800.” The goal is to reach a score of 800/1000 in the next few years (2025, I believe).

Fortunately, the score has been climbing in that direction. The most recent cohort in Calgary saw the average score rise up to about 600—not great, but at least it’s not 464.

Alberta’s efforts have caught the attention of people across Canada, who are keeping a close eye on us. In fact, the Rainforest Strategies group started using Alberta as a case study specifically because of what we’re doing. It wasn’t very long until Edmonton started doing Rainforest meetings as well, working towards the same culture of innovation and collaboration there.

Planting the Seeds

How can you be a part of this? If you’re interested, you should take a look at the Rainforest Social Contract. These are the principles that the founders of Rainforest Alberta believed were critical to a thriving, supportive culture. It sounds like a lot of work, but it’s all very straightforward stuff.

The Rainforest AB Social Contract
The Social Contract embodies the principles of the Rainforest.

As of July 31st, 2018, there are over 1700 people who have signed the Social Contract.

But if you’re serious about innovation, I strongly encourage you to think about how you’re living these principles. Not just in your work life, but also in your personal lives. It’s not enough to sign a piece of paper saying you’ll do these things if you aren’t actually going to do them.

So how are you giving back to the community? Are you paying forward the help you receive? Are you willing to support the personal development of those who are struggling? Are you teaching others to do the same?

And most importantly, are you leading by example, or are you just “leading” by talking about it?

I’ll talk more about why this is important some other time.

Photo credit: Rainforest AB

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