The Silicon Valley state of mind: New world, new mind-set

Change is the only constant; get over it. That’s the message being shared with enterprises both old and new. Harking back to the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest, being ready to adapt is crucial: whether that is fitting in with new customer demands, the increasing speed of business, or the expectation of your workforce.

Adaptation can take many forms, but at its heart, it is the “modification of an organism or its parts that makes it more fit for existence under the conditions of its environment.”

In essence, adaptation occurs when changes – large or small – are deemed necessary. In the animal kingdom, it happens so that creatures can better thrive in their environment – in the world of business it is no different. Adaptation occurs so organisations can be more competitive, reduce costs, or create more value for their customers. And to resist adaptation is to risk extinction.

Today, most enterprises understand the nuances to adaptation. It can yield opportunity for tremendous growth and innovation. It can also present a paralysing fear of the unknown; change is scary and the outcomes are often unknown. Currently, there are two primary driving forces that prompt traditional enterprises to adapt: fear of disruption, and hope for transformation.

Brave New World

The Digital Revolution has changed the world beyond recognition, cutting away the familiar branches from which the long-established businesses have traditionally swung.

Before our eyes, industries are being carved out from the middle, with smaller start-ups emerging to dethrone today’s market leaders. Of course change is nothing new, it is only the speed of change that is so frightening. And every business, no matter how large or small, knows inherently that fundamental change is the only solution. For them, innovation is committing to firm, hard bets; moving forward with measured and deliberate conviction.

This fear of the changing marketplace has paralysed some businesses. They stay stationary – willing themselves to remain unfazed by the competition swooping in. To recognise the truth, as unpalatable as it is, is impossible.

For some, accepting the need to transform is not the struggle; it is the not knowing where or how to start. They are ready to transform, but what step should they first take? This is their paralysing question. The world’s largest organisations can operate at scale with ease, but operating in an agile, and lean environment? This presents a new challenge entirely – one with so many unknowns that it can bring change to a dramatic standstill. To survive, these companies must not let change overwhelm them.

Bringing Digital to the Heart of your Organisation

Adopting the values and mind-set of Silicon Valley can have a profound effect on the way an organisation approaches everything, from software development to remote working; customer engagement to employee retention; appetite for risk and the desire to fail fast.

Perhaps best illustrated in the Agile Manifesto principles, this transformation values individuals and interaction over processes and tools; it is open to change rather than blindly following strategy. Software should be intuitive rather than relying on heavy documentation. Companies should be willing to collaborate with their customers rather than holding them hostage during contract negotiations or ignoring users’ ideas for alternative functionality.

In many respects, software holds the key. With technology so pervasive throughout society, businesses are being forced to think carefully about how they can match the digital expectations of their customers. As usual, consumer demand is at the backbone of any true business shift. Digital transformation encourages organisations to effect the changes that will take them from being good businesses, to good software businesses – an important move for enterprises looking to tap into today’s market.

On the flip side, organisations who fail to see themselves as a software business risk opening the door for disruption in their markets, with any number of start-ups ready and waiting to move in and offer customers a new experience. Taxi drivers know this only too well, with Uber continuing its rapid growth in a market previously thought impenetrable.

The Rise of Digital Thinking

It is easy to get stuck in the belief that Silicon Valley’s success comes only from its emphasis on technology; taking a lead from the Valley is more than simply upgrading your organisation’s IT. It is much more than throwing a few tablets out to the C-Suite. Questions over technology specifications have become redundant – there is only one question a CIO should ask: “How can we achieve our company goals?" The businesses that will thrive are those that are building digital into the core of their organisations – not just bolting it on as a ‘nice-to-have’ afterthought.

Most critically, time is of the essence. Speed of development and deployment is the top priority. Being a truly modern business is about enabling the organisation to act as quickly as possible, getting ahead of competitors, responding to customer demands, and, crucially, figuring out the needs of the market – for both today and tomorrow – and working out the right way to address them.

Fundamentally, the Silicon Valley approach is a project that's never finished. If you're not adapting, you're standing still. And those who stand still won’t be standing for much longer.

Robbie Clutton, Director at Pivotal Labs

Image source: Shutterstock/zimmytws