Visitors of the innovation capital of the world have different reasons why they come. Most of them come to San Francisco to feel the city and dive into its atmosphere. Those are the tourists.
But then there are those visitors, who come, because innovation is a hot topic. Not all of them have the same goals in mind. Some visit, because they get paid a nice jolly trip by their company or government. Often those are government officials and employees of organizations that are state-owned. If it’s a minister or high-ranking politician, then they are here for the photo opps with some legendary founders like those from Google or Facebook and shake hands with them. It comes in handy that they are often accompanied by large groups from media. Those are the most unnecessary types of visits, of which 95 out of 100 don’t lead to anything. Silicon Valley people already are disgusted with those types of visitors.
The other kind are people who want to get inspired and find new ways for themselves and their companies, and maybe do business. And those are the more interesting people, those who want to learn, and maybe even prepared by reading insights about Silicon Valley. That may lead to certain expectations and an image of Silicon Valley that may prevent the proper understanding of the region.
Some of the visitors are highly motivated to see quick results. As they are used from their own successful careers as busy consultants and executives, the expect immediate results. Tell me your secret, hand over the step-by-step instructions, and when they don;t get it, then they complain with the organizers. While doing so the visitors miss many important details. The behavior of the hosts, the little details on the streets, the technologies that hide everywhere, the way people treat each other, and the words they choose. The bling-bling is right in your eye, but seen the nuances is much more difficult, but that’s exactly what makes the Silicon Valley the Silicon Valley. And a desperate search for answers prevents from seeing.
Silicon-Valley-Blueprint of Innovation? That doesn’t exist…
Those visitors are for us those who will benefit the most from a visit, but not in the way they expected. The surprise is: there is no Silicon-Valley-Blueprint. There is no manual how innovation and the mindset can be replicated step-by-step to your own country or company.
And that start with the understanding that you didn’t come to find answers, but to find the right questions. The question about your reason to exist. The reason why your company exists and what your own reason to exist is.
We call this moment of discovery as ‘breaking’ the visitor. Our goal is to move delegations from a search for answers to a search for questions. From a “How can this be done?” to a “Why am I doing this?” This often happens on the second day of a visit, the most stubborn need a bit longer. And this is a pretty painful process.
Sweat, Blood, and Tears
Originally, the dissatisfaction of the delegations came as a surprise to us. We heard complaints such as:
“The program is not dense enough!”
“Four visits per day is not enough!”
“We can skip the half day of relaxing tourism at halftime of the week, we didn’t come to make vacation.”
“We want more of those types of meetings with discussions.”
“Why did we even visit that company / person?”
“Explain us after every meeting what we can learn and how we can apply it!”
After four dozen of delegations we are neither surprised, nor do we avoid creating dissatisfaction. We are actually designing it. Those complaints show us that we hit a nerve, which occupies the visitors. And on the second day the participants fall asleep in the car. They are done, too exhausted from all the impressions. Their brains work extra hours. Things that they dismissed before or judgmentally looked at them, make them suddenly realize that those may be the core components of the experience and the understanding.
When Critics Become Fans
We listen to the complaints, we improve where we think the criticism is valid, but the core we maintain. At the end of a tour we ALWAYS see that we were right. The biggest initial critics turned into the most ardent fans. The tour had changed their lives. And this is something that you need to experience, and not just read about it somewhere.
We stay in touch with our tour alumni, and what they created since is motivation for us to bring Silicon Valley to people and make them understand. Not the blueprint is the thing we bring them, because it simply doesn’t exist.
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This article was also published in German.