The Mechanics Of The Silicon Valley State Of Mind

How businesses can make digital a reality


'Do or do not, there is no try'. That was Yoda’s message to Luke Skywalker in the swamps of Dagobah. It was meant as motivation to a young Jedi, but applied to business today, it can be a useful mantra for organizations facing down the intimidating prospect of transforming their business into a digitally-led and agile enterprise.

The adapt or die mentality is crucial, and although transformation does not happen overnight, there is no middle-ground: failure to embrace the changing times will mean losing ground on the competition, losing customer loyalty, and losing staff.

A recent study by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) found that the UK is facing a digital divide, with the majority (55%) of organizations adopting digital technologies and process, while the rest (45%) begin to slip further behind.

So if the old Jedi Master is right - understanding the next steps in changing your business is going to be critical. Often viewed as an airy concept, and accompanied by vague phrases such as ‘there is no one-size-fits-all approach’ and ‘transformation comes from within’, getting started can be a challenge. But as Chinese philosopher Laozi noted: 'a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.'

A philosophy best exemplified by Silicon Valley, this customer-centric, and entrepreneurial approach to innovation offers organizations the best chance to grab the digital opportunity with both hands. And as with Luke’s Jedi training, it’s a gradual process, not an overnight transformation. Achieving the Silicon Valley State of Mind requires seven key steps:

Set Clear Goals

It’s important that your business understands why it is transforming. Spend time building out a robust and comprehensive plan of what success for your organization really looks like. Consider what the key metrics are that will allow you to track progress, and ensure that these are measurable things. Targets such as ‘changing the customer experience’ are so vague as to be meaningless - businesses must set tangible goals: aiming to increase revenue, resolve known issues and deliver new products into the hands of customers.

Understand the Implications for your Business Model

Adopting the Silicon Valley state of mind means taking risks and moving away from the so-called ‘tried and tested’ recipes for success. Although an operating model may have served your organization well for the last decade, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it will be suitable for the next 10 years. Of course, before you make any operational changes, it's vital to re-learn how to release products into your organization. This means knowing the gatekeepers and processes that will help you make a change.

Secure Commitment from across the organization

Transformation will not take unless everyone in the business is pulling in the same direction. This is especially important with senior managers and business leaders, those who set the agenda for the rest of the organization. Regular, in-person participation from the C-Suite is vital; demonstrating strong commitment to the project.

Just as important is commitment from the middle management and 'worker bees'. If transformation is only on the C-Level agenda, you'll be sure nothing will really change.

Encourage Cross-Functional Coalitions

Part of the transformation means a more open and collaborative workplace, in which departments can work closely together to improve business’ capabilities and, ultimately, push towards a single goal. Every effort should be made to eliminate single-department, isolated projects. Make the move from ‘project’ teams to ‘product’ teams, in which working groups comprise of any expertise a product requires, from operations to security, legal and beyond.

Make Strategic Investment

There is no such thing as a free lunch; everything costs something and digital transformation is no exception. It doesn’t, however, mean that money and resource should be thrown around with wild abandon. Organizations should make a clear financial commitment to the transformation, but this should be done with forethought and a clear strategy in mind. Look at how venture capitalists operate - modelling innovation and making the financial investment necessary to support this work.

Put the Right IT Infrastructure in Place

IT and technology are central to any transformation journey. Your organization needs to operate from an infrastructure platform that is flexible, agile and adaptable. The secret of Silicon Valley is the ability to change pace and direction at moment’s notice – IT should enable this, not hold it up.

Make Digital a Core Competency

Offer staff the training needed to make digital skills a key part of the business’ strategy. Upskilling in the latest applications and tech solutions will be vital, allowing the workforce to optimize their performance, as well as think outside the box to adapt and improve on these ideas.

The best businesses will operate like magpies, evolving their services in order to remain at the forefront of the market. Perhaps most importantly, as Yoda notes, conviction is the crucial component. Taking half steps towards transformation will not take you anywhere. Organizations must go all in, bringing the lessons of Silicon Valley to the heart of their strategy. To follow his advice further: 'Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.'


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