The frenetic pace of this trip just doesn’t stop, such is the nature of Silicon Valley. Professor George Foster at Stanford University summed it up perfectly for us on Wednesday: “the scale of ambition here is astronomical.”
This is a powerful statement. It defines the culture that permeates the innovation engine that is Silicon Valley. Australia’s tall poppy syndrome does not exist, nor do our uncompromising bankruptcy laws, and creative business people feel free to explore the upper reaches of their potential. Organisations wanting to innovate can learn from this environment as there are some fundamental attributes of the Silicon Valley culture that can be transformed into organisational capabilities. And this is what the Bond Silicon Valley Study Tour students are learning through an unbelievably immersive experience.
Let’s look at Bond MBA alumn Tristan Cameron who took us through Google’s SF headquarters on Tuesday and joined us to watch the SF Giants fall valiantly short of a win against the Chicago Cubs at AT&T Park that evening. Tristan was beaming. He radiated happiness and excitement and energy. It was so palpable that tour member Hugh McFadden asked him “are you always this happy?” Tristan holds down the position of Global Sales Implementation Manager, has travelled to 19 countries this year for work, has teams around the world which means that work is being performed 24/7, and loves his life. Google takes care of him. There are the much-touted perks of free food and gym memberships, but Tristan talks of his immense autonomy (“I haven’t spoken to my direct report in weeks: as long as the work’s done it’s all good”) and the fact that he is part of a team that is changing the way the world operates. Autonomy, purpose, support. Free breakfast at 6:30 and dinner at 7:00 also influence working hours…
Tristan Cameron with the Team
Pheadon Stough from Mitchell Lake talked about the importance of the Pay-it-Forward culture. A defining feature of the Silicon Valley way is the opportunity focus: how can I help you? If I can’t, perhaps there is someone I know who can? Phaedon took us through The Battery, a club housed in an industrial warehouse building near his offices. Wow. This is an invite-only establishment with 4,000 members focused on engaging and stimulating forward-thinking minds. It is distinctly different to places like the Olympic Club which are seen as highly exclusive and the realm of successful investors and business people. The Battery is exclusive in the sense that it focuses on creative and innovative people. Membership comes from invite only, and each member is limited to two introductions in their lifetime. This is a coterie of creatives, a network of naturally innovative people, a space in which to connect and collaborate.
Our time with Phaedon reinforced the importance of people: in the modern business environment people are everything. Companies jostle to attract and retain the best, setting their work spaces and job descriptions up to appeal to the factors which are true motivators. Don Hoffman from Twitter summed this up neatly: “I want to work with an awesome team on interesting and challenging projects.” Our time with Phaedon reinforced this view, and then he introduced us to Mike Cannon-Brookes from Atlassian: he walks the talk.
Wednesday night culminated in a grassroots pitch event at Startup House, a coworking and event space in the SoMa district of SF. Here we saw a different version of The Battery forming the same purpose: bringing like-minded people together in a space conducive to collaboration and creation. We met and talked with a wide range of players in the startup space: young adventurers just arrived from all over the world with an idea and a desire to achieve, unfunded startups grinding out, a team who had just received $25k from a Twitter pitch event two weeks prior, scouts from VC firms looking for talent. I took the opportunity to pitch Ditterich Agriculture, an agribusiness startup I cofounded with two of my former students Caile and Shiny. The atmosphere was fun and vibrant. Everyone was talking to everyone. Six startups gave a three-minute pitch to three VCs and responded to five minutes of q&a. Ditterich Ag won the night and we now have a free month’s residence at Startup House! Caile, I can see some excitement in your future…!
We are halfway through the tour, feeling completely exhausted and incredibly energised. The students’ daily reflective video blogs are showing incredible insights into the cultural enablers of innovation. They are blending the material learned through academic readings with a rich experience of innovation in action, resulting in a powerful understanding of the ways in which organisations can encourage, enable and commercialise novel ideas. In the end, it comes down to the people.