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How a week in Silicon Valley helped shape my digital mindset.

The widespread adoption and exponential growth of Digital Technology is universally considered a fundamental driver of change in today’s society and business.

Businesses such as Airbnb, Slack and Uber – none of which existed before 2009 – are the multi-billion dollar poster boys for digital disruption.

I recently travelled to Silicon Valley, and here, I discovered commonalities in the most disruptive businesses. I explored the mindset approaches they all practiced, and in this blog, I'll share how you can apply these learnings to your business.

Rapid growth and disruption of the traditional business model.

Digital Technology creates new and faster ways for companies to access data, talent and customers. It provides customers with access to new products, information and services that improve their lives.

The challenge for many companies is how to respond to the digital revolution that is happening around us right now. I believe in doing that the first step is to develop the right mindset, and here a quote by Keynes springs to mind: “The real difficulty in changing businesses lies not in developing new ideas - but escaping the old ones.”

When living in this world where change is the only constant - the only barrier holding us back is how we are used to thinking and behaving.

Is ‘Digital’ a mindset or technology?

Recently I visited Silicon Valley on an expedition with Hyper Island, HEC and a group of Executive MBA students.

Our focus was to explore the idea that today, ‘Digital’ is a mindset and a way of being and working, rather than a particular technology or platform.

We met start-ups, large “traditional” multi-nationals (such as Orange) who were in the valley running labs and accelerators. We met AirBnB and Slack, and they all had the same mission; to disrupt. And, there were also two additional commonalities: A clear focus and a shared mindset.

A clear focus on Technology and Customer Experience.

Technology companies understand and adopt customer-centricity. They organise themselves around the customer and their needs and focus primarily on customer experience. They create products and services people want, and they use technology as an enabler for this. Technology enables them to get closer to the customer - their belief is that they will get exponential growth and scale through their use of software.

A shared mindset that believes you can and will break and recreate anything.

From business models to 100-year-old regulations, these companies think that you can break and re-create anything. I saw that their mindset had three approaches, and they are all about the “how" they do things not “what” they do

These approaches are to:

  1. Be purposeful and aligned around why they do what they do

  2. Work as a network. They are externally and internally networked and can work without silos, which makes them very connected globally

  3. Be action orientated. Their organisations have less hierarchy and much more autonomy and self-management. They have devolved decision-making and responsibility that encourages rapid prototyping, enabling them to be quick to market

How you can apply this in your life or business.

Firstly don’t get hung up on digital. Digital is the context and a mindset. That mindset can only come by personally using the tech in your daily life. For me, the adoption of Slack has made me at least 20% more productive and enabled the team and me to work more transparently and efficiently. Using these new services opens up so many new experiences and opportunities - travelling using AirBnB allows me to feel like a local staying in different apartments where I can cook and hang out with the locals. Using Uber and removing the payment part of the a taxi service means I can jump out in a split second - it's frictionless.

Secondly, the culture of any business (and even any class of students in education) is a critical factor in meeting the new challenges “digital” brings.

But what is culture? For me, culture is how things get done. It’s the how rather than the what. It's ways of working, processes, staff attitude to customers, and to each other. How you behave, how the leadership acts, what organisational beliefs you have and how they are reflected in the business. When things are going well at work, you don’t notice the culture but when challenges and tough times arise it’s your culture that you fall back on.

As the famous management guru, Peter Drucker said “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast.” So, work with it - there are some great free tools and processes out there (the Culture Map for instance) that enable you and your team to map out your culture - what you want it to be and how to get to get there.

Changing your mindset to understanding digital as how things work, working with culture and focussing on great customer experience I believe are the three vital ingredients for success today.

Following the trip, I was inspired to bring some of this learning to the Manchester community. We already share so much of the customer-experience-centric thinking in our Experience Design Lab. But what about culture? I spoke to the team at Hyper Island and Skillset, and we successfully created a Transformational Leadership Programme, and we were delighted with the positive effect this created within the teams that joined us over the three days.

We've taken this a step further, and will be bringing our Master Class Digital Acceleration to 7 cities, where participants will be delving into a whole new way of understanding digital communications in the context of our networked society, and its implications on businesses and customer growth. Work with digital experts in interactive sessions to identify new opportunities, and take part in collaborative workshops alongside fellow change makers from varying industries. Participants will emerge from this Master Class with a strong blend of knowledge, methodology and tools to engage and grow your network.

You can now sign up for classes in either Stockholm, Los Angeles, New York, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Bogota or Singapore between November 2016 and May 2017.

Learn about the Master Class

I'd be delighted if you could join us!


David McCall is the MD at Hyper Island in the UK and he recently returned to Silicon Valley to understand what has changed since his last visit. We hope to share details of his trip with you soon, but for now you can catch up via Instagram.

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