How, Not Where: Taking The Silicon Valley Culture Out Of California

Replicating the success of Silicon Valley businesses


Silicon Valley has succeeded. Known as the first name in tech, it’s home to some of the world’s biggest companies, has spawned countless imitators, and, at the last reckoning, employs over a quarter of a million IT knowledge workers. It’s made billionaires out of quite a few of them as well.

And while the high density of talent has added momentum to the region, it is not geography that lies at the heart of its achievements. Silicon Valley lives and dies on its culture. Placing an emphasis on agile working and collaborative processes, the Valley encourages out-of-the-box thinking and creates an environment in which new ideas are given the time and space to breathe – rather than being left to wither on the vine.

However, it is a misconception that such a culture could only work in that region. With the right approach, organizations all over the world can replicate its success.

Creating Silicon Valley Success

Critically, it’s about taking a holistic approach to your organization’s culture. Consider the physical environment, although some companies place a little too much value on this, it is an important part of a productive workplace. At Pivotal Labs, for example, we invite clients into our offices, work alongside them, and create an immersive experience that helps them understand how we work. We aim to form small, autonomous and balanced teams composed of the right mix of skills, which reduces the time to get answers, or make decisions. This increases the collaboration between those who may not be used to meeting face to face.

Additionally, in our open plan office, we ensure there are multiple ways for colleagues to engage with one another, resulting in teams sharing best practices, or asking for help. We’ve seen this happen between our clients as well as our staff.

Small things such as providing breakfast for everyone to start the day together; having short company-wide stand-up meetings in which new faces can be introduced, ask for help, or share interesting updates and announce events, can also encourage a feeling of community. Lunch activities, such as presentations and board games, also create stronger relationships.

Another one of our tactics is to encourage table tennis breaks at regular intervals. This isn’t a gimmick (and it’s certainly not part of our business plan to produce an Olympic-level team of ping pong champions), it serves an important purpose in helping offer a moment away from coding that allows workers to recharge mentally and avoid repetitive strain injuries.

Opening Minds

We also have frequent ‘Lunch and Learn’ sessions for both our staff and other members of the industry. Aiming to broaden the skills base of our workforce, we work hard to curate a wide range of topics: from highly technical subject matters – such as Katrina Owen's entertaining talk, 'Here be Dragons' – through to more business-focused themes, like Dave Wascha’s inspiring presentation on ‘Why Good Companies Make Bad Decisions’. We want to establish ourselves as a central pillar in the technology community, giving staff (and external attendees) a platform to share knowledge and inform peers about topics on which they are truly passionate.

Additionally, it’s a chance for our staff to practice public speaking in a safe environment. They can get feedback on ideas, run through presentations ahead of conferences, and refine their content in front of an interested and supportive audience.

Exposing employees to as much relevant information as we can, from all sides of the industry, not only helps increase their own talents but allows them to communicate and collaborate more freely with their colleagues.

At its heart, the Silicon Valley state of mind comes from freedom, with employees given free rein to bring new ideas to reality. Creativity cannot be ordered or bought, it must be nurtured and encouraged. There is no right or wrong answers in the drive towards creating the right setting where inspiration and inventiveness will thrive – though businesses that are willing to give it a try are already taking steps in the right direction.

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