Telfer Executive MBA Class of 2019 arrived in San Francisco at the beginning of the week with an idea of what we could expect based on our conversations with alumni, through our peers who have work-related experiences in the Valley and through learnings from our first year at the Telfer Executive MBA program. It is only after experiencing San Francisco for a short few days that we began to appreciate what the city truly has to offer.
It starts small
In Silicon Valley, the future is now. Spectacular things are happening in high-rises across the city, garages around the Bay, throughout the coffee shops and on the campuses of Stanford and Berkeley. New businesses are bourgeoning in every corner of this iconic city. Ideas are developing within some brilliant minds and will soon be unleashed onto the world. We didn`t have to imagine a city where little robots bring you lunch and where autonomous vehicles powered by renewable energy sources arrive on-demand to take you where you need to go, we were living it.
Education is not excluded
It is not just the technology that is cutting edge; Berkeley is innovating education with experiential learning, companies are experimenting with new business models which are changing the way we view entrepreneurship and people are convening here from around the world with a growth mindset, ready to disrupt the status quo with their latest and greatest ideas.
Things move fast in this town
There is minimal time to get your idea off the paper, to quickly build prototypes, to test your concepts, release, then to iterate. Failing fast is never scoffed at as long as you learn from the experience. People in Silicon Valley are not afraid to share their success stories and their failures. In fact, they wear their defeats with a sense of pride. They get up, dust themselves off and try again. All around you people are ready to connect, collaborate and learn.
Our week-long stay can perhaps be summed up in three major themes: collaboration, innovation, and connection.
Collaboration is of paramount importance for success. Every executive briefing we attended this week focused on the importance of collaboration. Whether partnering with a company viewed as a competitor or building a culture which celebrates collaboration amongst teams within a company, the businesses of Silicon Valley understand that the more we collaborate and brainstorm ideas, the better the products and outcomes will be for everyone.
Our team was also surprised by the level of ownership displayed in all employees, from restaurant servers to managers at Berkeley Accelerators and directors at Google. Individuals clearly define the goal of their organization, take ownership of any variable they can effect, regardless whether it is in their job description, and initiate the most effective path to positively alter these variables unencumbered by unhelpful historical practices or norms. This culture of ownership enhances collaboration, as it demands individuals to always work towards a common goal.
Innovation was another recurring theme we experienced during the informative sessions and we often heard “Innovate or die” this week. Orange Silicon Valley, a division of Orange which is one of the leading telecommunication operators, developed a “Fab Accelerator” platform, enabling them to keep their ear to the ground and to stay current with what is going on in the Valley. There is a symbiotic relationship between big business and start-ups. Big businesses use start-ups to stay relevant, continue to innovate in transformative ways, and to attract top talent.
We also found a pervasive positivism in Silicon Valley, which only enhances the city’s ability to innovate. People and organizations find ways to always offer constructive options instead of criticism and approach every interaction, however minor, with the best possible outcome in mind. This explains why people at the top of the ecosystem freely engage with anyone. A senior manager from Google mentioned when faced with a problem that seems insurmountable, he thinks of how it can be resolved instead of being limited with resources constraints. Our visit to Google was one of our favorites and we hope that future cohorts can experience the same knowledge sharing.
Lastly, the importance of connections and networking was another major learning point, which our team took away from this trip. We experienced this in many formats. Our visit to Reid Smith LLP gave more colour to the importance of the synergetic relationship between the players in Silicon Valley, from academia to accelerators, from venture capitalists to the lawyers who represent them. The network of connections within Silicon Valley is crucial for a business to survive. We attended an Alumni Reception which reminded us of the power of connections, and how networking in Silicon Valley is a way of life.
We visited Berkeley’s Skydeck and Berkeley’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre in the Engineering Department. These two presentations provided further evidence of the close relationship between start-ups, academia, big business, and venture capital.
We noticed the importance of connections on the last day when scheduled visits to Cisco and IBM were unexpectedly cancelled. On very short notice, our Executive Director, Sophia Leong, was able to invite two incredibly talented speakers who shared their stories of success (and failures) in Silicon Valley. These speakers gave us a real feel for the culture of this city and the importance of networking.
Overall it was an enlightening experience in Silicon Valley. The learnings described in the above are only a select few which we took away from our week in this unique region. We only hope to be able to transfer the learnings and enthusiasm from our week packed full of fruitful and empowering information to our future projects both in our careers and our next year of the program.