Full Time Report: Silicon Valley Study Tour

| Uncategorized

What a privilege it is to be a teacher.

In the past week I have seen transformative learning in action: one student reflected he “has changed his views about what he is capable of.” Others narrowed down to specific skills, or ways of thinking, that they have gained. Personally, this experience has consolidated knowledge and enriched my understanding of innovative organisations and environments. For me, nothing is quite so powerful as the blend of academic rigour and immersive experience.

I spoke on this topic at our final session of the tour at Hacker Dojo, a community of hackers and startups in Mountain View and the place where Pebble launched their incredibly successful Pebble Watch kickstarter campaign. A certain app called Pinterest also traces its roots through here. I recapped the merits of STEM education and promoted the view that Entrepreneurship Education is a critical enabling tool to create the workforce of tomorrow #STEEM! In this environment the students saw in action the kind of grassroots activity that forms the basis of the world’s greatest innovative ecosystem.


Students Catharina and Hugh at Hacker Dojo

Prior to the Dojo we were at Stanford, touring the d.School and absorbing the atmosphere of this preeminent educational institution. Ben Sand, cofounder of META joined us for a chat and started with a query of where we all thought we would be in 2-5 years, such is the forward-looking nature of this community. META develops 3D augmented reality “spaceglasses where individuals share an augmented environment, interacting with it and with one another. One of META’s quirky differences was the fact that their entire team of 30-40 lived and worked on their Portola Valley Ranch property: this breeds high levels of engagement and identification with the firm and makes for a rich example of corporate culture. Ben shared how this was incredibly important when they were smaller, but when they reached a staff of about 70 the benefits started to break down and they are expanding off-ranch. Our students learned so much about the nuances of team size and firm structure from this interaction.

DojoOur time with Ben and at the d.school consolidated an understanding that had been forming this whole week. We had seen it at Twitter and as we toured the Google campus. Environments like Startup House and Hacker Dojo complemented the Portola Valley Ranch example. It was a quote I took from the d.school tour that brought the point home: “space is the body language of an organisation.” What a powerfully insightful statement. The environment created by the organisation gives context to the work that will be performed. Open workspaces encourage collaboration, colours can invoke emotions to guide outcomes, campuses can set an entire scene for employees. Companies in Silicon Valley think very carefully about the spaces they create. Duncan Logan from Rocketspace claimed he had the design of a coworking space down to a science, and the calibre of emerging firms suggests he is right.

Another example of the design of a work environment is Omada Health, a company providing a digital platform to help employers and health plans have a positive influence on the incidence of diabetes and heart disease. The company’s offices at 500 Sansome Street exuded “we are all in this together” and Adrian James, cofounder and president, explained that a shared vision was crucial to building a cohesive team. With US$28.5m in funding Omada is growing very quickly, and Adrian spoke of the challenges of attracting and retaining quality staff. Jocelyn Ding recently joined the Omada team and has written a wonderful piece on her reasons for doing so (I really encourage you to read this). Prior to Omada Jocelyn was a VP of Executive Operations at Google, having had the communications security and compliance company Postini (of which she was a shareholder and EVP) acquired by them in 2007 for US$625m. Omada is a small startup and Adrian shared that the one way he could have lost Jocelyn through the hiring process was by hinting that something existed that would limit her ability to do the things she wanted to do. “Our job is to remove any barriers between our staff and their work” he proclaimed. This is an empowered organisation of 190 team members, working to the vision of inspiring and enabling people everywhere to live free of chronic disease.

Dojo Omada

The crew with Adrian James of Omada Health (front right)

An environment is an intricate blend of multifaceted variables, each contributing to a collective influence. Organisations must consider how decisions regarding their strategy, structures, systems and people impact firm performance. Our time in Silicon Valley has impressed upon us the need for engaged workforces to be driving innovative outcomes. Reading a Gallup report on this topic and understanding the McKinsey 7S model can provide some topics for discussion, but actually experiencing it allows individuals to truly understand the effects. Our crew of seven students and an instructor has experienced a life-changing week, one which will form the basis for altered management and work practices, role desires, and even decisions about whether to be an employee or an employer. Each of us has experienced what the academic papers can only talk about in a way that is personal to us, drawing from our own unique experiences. And that is the true benefit of experiential education: a personalised, immersive learning experience blending the best of academic rigour and practical relevance. My sincere thanks to the companies and individuals who gave their time freely for the benefit of the students: your impact is meaningful and enduring.




Comments are closed.