WHAT IS RAINFOREST CULTURE?
For a workable definition of Rainforest Culture, we begin with the Oxford Dictionary and rephrase in innovation terms:
- The customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of highly innovative groups.
- The attitudes and behaviors characteristic of highly innovative groups.
A Rainforest Culture is not a place like Silicon Valley, California, or Cambridge, Massachusetts, or Tel Aviv, Israel; nor is it the buildings, coffee houses, or computers in them. It is the living system of the customs, arts, institutions, attitudes, and behaviors that are practiced among the people in those places. In the Internet age, a Rainforest Culture exists among people who relate using the customs, arts, attitudes, and behaviors of the Rainforest, whether they are physically together or not. Evidence of strong distributed Rainforest Cultures can be seen in the communities that curate Wikipedia and myriad open-source software tools and products.
Generally speaking, Rainforest Cultures: 1) demonstrate the value of diversity and connectivity; 2) have a social contract of some kind that support innovation; and 3) use feedback loops to help the innovation ecosystem maintain a degree of resiliency and sustainability. Above all, 4) Rainforest Cultures demonstrate trust between participants, which is perhaps their most important attribute.
CULTURE SERVICES: MEASURE + FACILITATE + EDUCATE + COACH
Measure: The Rainforest Scorecard is our primary assessment tool for measuring innovation culture. It addresses six clusters of attributes of innovation cultures: 1) Leadership; 2) Frameworks, Infrastructure, and Policies; 3) Role Models; 4) Activities and Engagement; 5) Resources; and 6) Culture. Taken together, the six clusters address nearly the totality of customs, arts, institutions, attitudes, and behaviors found in high performing innovation ecosystems. The “culture” attribute of the Rainforest Scorecard assessment addresses specifically those customs and attitudes that are pervasive in an organization or ecosystem, separate from the specifics covered in the other five areas of the assessment. Take the Rainforest Scorecard assessment (short-form) for free online, and we’ll send back your results with expert interpretation and visualization.
Facilitate: The strongest accelerator for growing and reinforcing Rainforest Culture is a flow of five activities that become a continuous improvement cycle: 1) Charter an innovation improvement group and have them distribute the Rainforest Scorecard assessment as widely as possible inside their innovation ecosystem. 2) Convene members of the ecosystem for a facilitated session that integrates learning, analysis of the Rainforest Scorecard results, and developing innovation initiatives that address the weakest of the assessment scores. We call these Rainforest Immersions. 3) Document that collaboration in pictures, text, and actionable innovation initiative plans. 4) Publish the documentation and innovation initiatives widely and encourage storytelling/social media posts about the work. 5) Create support teams to work each improvement initiative, and after a period, reassess using the Rainforest Scorecard; then reconvene with a broader stakeholder group to celebrate, take stock, and update improvement initiatives and teams. Each of these steps can be facilitated by our consultants in partnership with local resources to create an ongoing continuous improvement cycle that drives the culture of innovation.
At every step, encourage participating companies and other entities to institutionalize Rainforest assessment measures, concepts, social contracts, and so on, into their strategic plans (independent of the improvement initiatives). By making Rainforest cultural elements part of corporate, government, and civil society strategic planning, the culture of an entire region becomes more innovation friendly over time.
Educate: Our Innovation Fellows program is designed to transfer the knowledge and develop the practical skills necessary for leading innovation and innovation ecosystems. We cover the relevant areas of organizational science, networks, innovation funding sources and processes, and other topics that accelerate Rainforest success. Mastering this knowledge base is an important part of growing and sustaining a Rainforest Culture. Participants learn through a combination of: 1) Deep reading of a variety of literature on innovation and innovation ecosystems. 2) Reflection, as a regular practice. 3) Journaling, a critical part of the learning process. 4) Direct and frequent applications of the learning to specific issues of the local innovation ecosystem. 5) Discussions, presentations and dialogue with peers. 6) Professional essay and strategy writing on innovation topics. 7) Frequent feedback on both content mastery and practical skill, from peers.
Coach: The habits of thinking, communicating, and working in production oriented cultures are deeply embedded in most people, especially business, government, and academic professionals. Education and facilitated work sessions can make a dent in those habits. New Rainforest habits benefit from support and direction as they are formed and displace old habits. Coaching helps individuals integrate the new customs, arts, attitudes, and behaviors that grow a Rainforest Culture. Coaching is particularly important when individuals experience themselves making moves that are counter to the prevailing production culture they are used to. Behind nearly every pioneer and high performer can be found a great coach or mentor that helped them establish the winning skills and habits that led to breakthroughs.
RAINFOREST CULTURE BUILDS UP FOUR ATTRIBUTES FOUND IN STRONG IN INNOVATION ECOSYSTEMS
Innovation on Purpose. In communities and organizations where the underlying culture does not support innovation, there is seldom opportunity to learn the science, tools, and methods of innovation. Consequently, when a novel approach does crop up in such a places, it is by accident. Beyond that, it may not even be recognized as an innovation that would seize an opportunity or solve a problem. Our approach, particularly in the Innovation Fellows program, includes education that tunes awareness to spot innovation when it is present; builds conditions conducive to innovation; and hones specific skills for chartering and managing innovation teams and initiatives. Innovating on purpose means you can resolve problems and embrace opportunities creatively and confidently.
Innovation, Consistently Over Time. One attribute of an entrenched culture is that it drives consistency – it’s “just the way we do things around here, it’s the way we are”. If your desire is to be consistently innovative, your culture needs to support that through customs, arts, social institutions, behaviors and attitudes. Our approach and methods can help any organization or ecosystem develop that consistency. While we can’t predict exactly when an innovation will happen, our work helps you establish the conditions where innovation will flourish.
Innovation Crosses Borders. High performing innovation ecosystems are the result of relationships and interplay between diverse stakeholders, often operating in service to purposes larger than rational self-interest or even the mission of any single company or institution. Our work helps you embrace, negotiate with, and leverage the diversity of thinking, resources, and frameworks it takes to solve really complex issues, challenges that can’t be mastered alone. In collaboration with others, you’ll be able to tackle deeper problems and respond to bigger opportunities.
Innovation Wants an Atmosphere of Trust. Trust is perhaps the single most essential ingredient of a flourishing innovation ecosystem. Where it is missing or weak, things move slowly, at great expense, and collaboration suffers. Where trust is pervasive transaction barriers are lowered across the board, and effective communication and connections are the norm. The Rainforest framework, lexicon, activities, and in particular, the Rainforest Social Contract help participants in innovation ecosystems develop trust. Where there is trust, populations conduct more experiments faster, they move through iterative cycles from concept to implementation, and generate better outcomes for all concerned.
Whether you’re working to improve innovation culture in a single organization or an entire innovation ecosystem of entities and individuals, culture change is possible, and Rainforest tools can guide you along the path. You may deploy our tools into a context where clutter, confusion, and unpredictability are the norm, or you may be in an operating environment where rational programming is required to maximize output and reduce risk. Either way RFS tools and processes will help you increase your innovation results.