How to adopt the Silicon Valley mindset

Think like a tech firm, and your business rewards could be huge

Silicon Valley is awash with fast-growing businesses. They are lean, fast-moving, agile, results-driven and above all, innovative. The passion to find new models, to push the boundary of the possible, drives the Valley’s entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and large scale enterprises.

Making this happen day after day requires a mindset of flexibility and a willingness to constantly learn and adapt. These are the building blocks for Silicon Valley firms, from the smallest start-ups to tech giants like Google and Apple, and there’s no reason that this mindset should stay limited to California’s tech world.

Global entrepreneurs and other industries (including banking) can cherry pick from the business practices of the Valley’s most innovative firms to respond to today’s rapidly changing business environment.


Getting the right mindset

Repeated experimentation and learning about what doesn’t work are key characteristics of what Carol Dweck, author of the book, Mindset, and Stanford University professor of psychology, calls the ‘growth mindset’.

Those with a growth mindset, Dweck says, make multiple attempts to solve difficult problems – they don’t mind when early attempts don’t work out. Rather, they learn from those misadventures and make better decisions in future as a result.

So, a key question is how do you spread a growth mindset throughout your company? In many corporations, ‘innovation’ is seen as the domain of technology experts. Real change is most likely to occur when an innovative mindset is embraced across all departments. Thinking in an innovative way and working through challenges with an open mind is everyone’s job.

As Stanford Professors Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao report in their book, Scaling up Excellence: ‘Even in big companies, the impetus for creating and scaling excellence often doesn’t start at the top. Excellence might not be everywhere; it can start and spread from anywhere.’ This is exactly what Bally Technologies, a leading provider of gaming systems for casinos, found.

Their framework for innovation excellence has earned the company more than 60 awards and tripled its return on assets. The company has created a platform which connects those specifically tasked with innovation with all the other teams working on a project.

This dynamic has taken root across the company, and the result is an innovative ecosystem where new ideas flourish at all levels across all departments.


Industry success

All industries need to adapt and respond to increasing competition; organisations that infuse a culture of innovation and learning into their DNA will be the most successful.

To get started changing your mindset, take a cue from Google and break old patterns of thought. According to their innovation guru, Gopi Kallayil, focusing on the customer, rather than profitability, is a simple way to get new ideas flowing. This has led to some of its greatest innovations, including Instant Search, which provides pop-up suggestions to users.

Running a company-wide contest to come up with solutions to seemingly intractable problems can stimulate innovation and reinforce an innovative mindset, emphasising that new ideas can come from any level in the corporation.

Trying out some of the ideas it generates, and learning from – rather than criticising – failure, will move you a step closer to incorporating the Silicon Valley mindset.