Silicon Valley Swimming

The concept challenge for the Sloan Fellows of the London Business School was autonomy in entrepreneurialism and they were set free in the Silicon Valley and San Francisco for a week to learn and discover through visits with corporations. They engaged with startups to established companies such as Google X and Twitter and, as in any form of discovery, you find what you didn’t go looking for.

The culture of the entrepreneurs in that part of the world is that of a holistic community. They are all together in the mission, they converse and they share even within their delicately constructed secrecy shields. The comfort this sense of community creates is remarkably supportive of innovative thought and creative doing. In our land the entrepreneur is envisioned as the hearty warrior, the titan fighting against all to succeed against the odds. So much energy is expended because of the lack of collaboration and sharing. The community embrace of the Silicone Valley allows for the energy to be focussed on a determined innovation and this innovation resides in both product/service but also very much in culture.

The focus on culture is key for all as all must adopt the mission equally. No one I met worked “for” anyone . . . they are all working with and alongside. It is a fundamental construct that transforms organisational behaviour. In one company the concept of transparency was taken to the point of issuing ‘board papers’ to all staff the week before the Board meeting. Their workspace had no walls, all meeting environments were largely glazed and any meeting of over 4 people was announced to all. They all owned, they were all aware – and yet as entrepreneurs, in their adopted culture, they had every ability, nee right, to work autonomously. To continuously innovate.

The decided and concerted breaking down of any traditional corporate structure was apparent in most all companies we visited. The sense of individual buy in to the cultural more, yet innovate autonomously was ever prevalent . . . and never more than that offered by one successful organisation whose values were shared as: make friends (community), no half assery (there are no half measures), haul ass (create at pace) integrity, be a hero, balance.

There is a bravery in those words. The culture that results from them is at the cutting edge of innovation in their own business. The single richest lesson taken away from this mad swim in the Silcone Valley? . . . it is the people and their culture that matter.

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