Usually when we think of innovation culture, we think of a company (like Apple) or a CEO (like Steve Jobs). It’s not often that we think of a place. But if an innovative culture can be infused throughout a company (yes, it can!), why not through a whole valley?
When it comes to Silicon Valley, we know we are at the apex of what’s new in technology. How does that happen time and time again?
Secrets of the Valley
1. Start small and seek to scale up relentlessly.
Remember when amazon.com sold just books? The wildly successful corporation has spread its wings. These days, according to George Packer in the New Yorker, “Amazon is a global superstore, … a hardware manufacturer, …a utility, like Con Edison, …a video distributor, … a book publisher, … a production studio, … a literary magazine, … and a grocery deliverer, … and someday it might be a package service….” Or, to use a Silicon Valley-based company, remember way back when Woz designed an all-in-one computer, screen, and keyboard? Look at Apple now.
2. Focus on developing the best pool of talent.
The big tech companies are laser-focused on the value of the cream-of-the-crop talent. That drives many of the recent high tech mergers at Yahoo!, Facebook, Intuit, and Google.
We also love Intuit’s college recruitment challenge. Fast Company describes it this way:
"Intuit's HR group uses ‘Immersive College Recruiting’ to identify the highest potential graduates at the top universities. They ... invite students to on-campus idea jams focused on solving real business challenges facing the company. The best performers get internships—and eventually jobs.”
3. View customers as co-creators, not targets.
Even the largest corporations such IBM have learned this lesson: IBM changed how it handles trade show marketing after “consulting” with a wide range of users.
4. Ditch “business as usual.” Make the unusual, usual.
This is the polar opposite of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It goes to the heart of innovation—it is disruption. In other words, if you are doing business as usual—whatever that is for your company—then you probably are not innovating.
According to Fast Company, “While most companies strive to create “laser focus” for their business, Silicon Valley companies also know that focus causes myopia—and they do everything they can to infuse outside thinking into everyday thinking.”
5. Build an environment of cross-fertilization.
This speaks to the infusion of an innovation culture across Silicon Valley. It has become the Mecca for tech entrepreneurs, venture capitalists interested in tech innovation, and talented employees on the lookout for the next exciting venture to join.
Take in your surroundings. What are people in similar spaces doing and not doing? Who can you work with for mutual benefit? Do you hire talent from other successful companies? Have you tried crowdsourcing to make up for difficulty in finding talent? All these factors create a culture of cross-fertilization where a flat org structure and open minded managers feed off each other's success and failure.
6. Encourage risks. And stop thinking of them as “risks.”
They are steps in an innovation process. Fast Company makes the great but counter-intuitive point that encouraging people in your company to take more “risks” implies that “risk-taking” may lead to blowback for failure. Nike’s CEO instead supports numerous iterations of trial-and-error attempts at innovative solutions until the right one is developed. Our friend Stefan Lindegaard calls this "Smartfailing." Others have used the term "Fail fast, fail often."
As Fast Company says, “Most Silicon Valley companies value trial and error…. The goal: quickly learn what works, what doesn't, and go from there."
7. Talk the talk and walk the walk—be the disruption.
Your products need to be a disruption. It's one thing to be disruptive internally but do those activities influence outcomes to real products? It’s not an added layer. It is the layer. It is Netflix and Hulu and Apple. It’s disruption as the usual. And it’s exciting.