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Did you know that there is no city called Silicon Valley?

I wonder how many of you can remember the famous song of the German rock band Scorpions, Wind of Change, from the 90’s?

It was released in January 1991 and became a worldwide hit topping the charts in Germany, Europe, the United States and United Kingdom.

Now, who would have guessed that the video for “Wind of Change” would be viewed more than 380 million times on YouTube as of April 2017? Well if Scorpion’s Klaus Meine knew about the 4th industrial revolution, the never stopping new waves of technologies transforming multiple industries and products like You Tube, have no doubt that he would have invested more time in writing a few other songs!

Well, I recently had the privilege to visit to the world’s heart of innovation, Silicon Valley. Did you know that you can’t find a zip code for Silicon Valley? There is no city called Silicon Valley rather it is a region of booming advanced tech industrial area. I can hear you asking ‘’where the hell is Henno going with this?’’ Please bear with me, keep calm and carry on reading.

It was a 5 day immersive experience program organized by Silicon Valley Innovation Center and absolutely one-of-a-kind opportunity for me to hear about the latest trends in digital transformation, directly from the Silicon Valley players. The program brings together customers, partners, start-ups, accelerators, governments, research communities, and universities in a lab setting. During the 5 day program we had the chance to hear answers to the questions like;

– How can I make my organization more innovative?

– How can we become more customer-centric to understand what our customers really want?

– Can I afford to allow my staff to make mistakes along the way?

– Would I not lose control if I accept failures and lose money as well?

– Is my organizational construct right to create a culture of innovation in my company?

During my quest to find out why people in Silicon Valley are more innovative than in many other places in the world I met quite a few highly inspiring people and they have told me some special stories. Two of them stood out for me and I would like to share them with you.

The first story was told by the HR Director of Tilt which is a FinTech company offering pooling of cash between groups of friends. The company has just been acquired by Airbnb and they also recently have won a prestigious employee engagement award. She told us that they have introduced a new way of evaluation people. Instead of complex performance evaluation models and scorecards they just ask three open questions:

1. Who did you develop?

2. What did you innovate?

3. What did you grow?

I was especially struck by the first question which in my view invites people to help each other to become better thus creating a learning organisation. Such approach can certainly help overcome the problem of not sharing as well as having reservations to give each other constructive feedback.

The second person who told us a great story was the Innovation Director of HP. His answer to the same question was that people need to be ‘’touched’’ to create maximum engagement. He said that you need to touch the heart, the head and the wallet of people. The heart can be touched by strong guiding principles, a clear purpose and a great working atmosphere. The head can be touched by empowering people and creating space for people to experiment instead of telling people what to do. The great thing about touching the wallet I have learnt is that many people in Silicon Valley actually earn more than their line managers since people are paid for the value they create instead of the function they operate within.

I am not trying to sound funny but organizational culture is not a mythological creature with wings that lands on the companies and greets people with hopes or promises for a digital or innovative world. Organizational culture is not about imitating others or copy pasting one experience to the other regardless of their similar natures. Organizational culture is not about CEO’s ticking the boxes for fancy trends and a few paid PR activities that hit the headlines. It really goes beyond brain storms with yellow sticky notes on walls or a ‘’industrial-looking’’ fancy office designs or fancy words of values on walls.

I believe cultures are created by leaders on day to day basis by what they do, they say, not say or not do. Tools that support innovative culture won’t help if leaders still try to force fit the square into triangles with the fear of loss of status quo or financial benefits.

A culture that embraces innovation won’t happen itself. Leaders need to change the way they invest, organize their business model, hire talent, reward, recognize and develop people to successfully create an environment that nurtures unorthodox ways of thinking and actively solicits new ideas from anyone in the organization and does something with those ideas flowing within.

I know for sure that you will remember the song called ‘’Imagine’’ by John Lennon. Well, I shall leave you just to imagine being a part of an organization that is prepared to put all their energy in value creation and innovation to secure their market participation and long term future.

To know more about the latest trends and best practices in digital transformation for your company visit

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