There’s been a lot of talk about innovation, maybe too much talk. And a lot of that talk about innovation is about innovation in Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter or whoever, and a lot of that talk is about innovation in the United States or Silicon Valley.

And that’s all fine, but really intrigues me is what happens if you don’t live in a big city? What happens if you don’t live in the middle of Silicon Valley? What happens if you live in Australia – somewhere like Tin Can Bay, Gympie or Buderim where I live? What do you do?

So what I am interested in is this: how do you do innovation anywhere, absolutely anywhere? Somewhere like this even….

Unknown

…. this is a little island of the south coast of Iceland. Slightly remote! And possibly not the place you might think is going to be the most fertile ground for innovation. Well, let’s see, we will come back to Iceland later on.

So for me, I am really passionate about innovation and startups particularly. I have started 3 startups and of my own worked with over 100 startups and I think I am beginning to spot a pattern! I have worked with people designing handbags to people working with nanotechnology. So that is quite a spread of people and businesses. I am really into startups because they are exciting, optimistic and there is lots of energy at that stage – everything is possible.

And often for the founders those businesses are an extension of their personality and their passion. Many of those founders are trying to make their own little dent in the universe; they are trying to make a bit of a difference. So that’s why I like startups and startups at an individual level are pretty important.

Startups biggest net job creators

But startups are also amazingly important at a community level. A recent study from the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas found that over the last 30 years or so startups have been the biggest net generator of jobs, on average around 3 million jobs per year. So startups are the biggest net generators of jobs, not big companies.

Startups are important for all of us – individuals and communities. But ignoring all that for a second, if you were thinking of conventional wisdom and were thinking about ‘where do I start?’ the top four places in the world that you might think of could be Silicon Valley, London, New York and even Toronto. They are amongst the top places in the world to start a business according to all the research and conventional wisdom. They are all great places.

I lived in London for about 5 years and used to do a lot of business in Toronto, New York and visited Silicon Valley several times. But I choose to live here because of the lifestyle and this is where I want to be.

So what should we do? Should we all pack our bags and say goodbye to our husband or wife, our kids and the cat or dog and head off to Silicon Valley because that’s where we have to be? Well maybe not, maybe we actually quite like being here.

We don’t all have to be in one of these hotspots: but can we learn from these places? The answer is ‘Yes, of course we can.’ We can learn if we look at these places in a different way, as we can with many things in life.

Lessons from the Rainforest

These two guys are venture capitalists from Silicon Valley – Victor Hwang and Greg Horowitt and they recently wrote a book called The Rainforest. What the Rainforest says is that Silicon Valley is not just a collection of buildings, it’s all about people. They use the analogy of Silicon Valley as a rainforest – it’s a lush place, there is water running through it, it’s fertile, there is diversity and in fact it is one big ecosystem. And it’s not just an analogy – we are all humans in an ecological system and it’s real. The key to understanding is that all the elements of the rainforest – in business terms, the entrepreneurs, the knowledge, the wisdom, experience, contacts, money, lawyers and so on – all those elements need to come together so that they are stronger together. They are more than the sum of the parts – and that is the ecosystem idea.

This is what communities across the world – often in unlikely locations – are learning from and planting their own mini rainforests, and we can do this here as well.

Continued in Part 2….

Edited transcript of TEDx Gympie presentation. Full presentation can be viewed on Youtube.