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Category: Visit

The Plush Toy-Effect During Silicon Valley Tours

Innovationis the result of a complex interplay between ideas at the right time, drive, and culture of the surrounding ecosystem. Those elements may seem barely palpable, and some may even think they are impossible to learn or change, because others – namely coworkers or society – have to change first to allow innovation. Culture is this big word that intimidates. And this word indicates that it can only change when Others change. Comfortable, if you look at it, because it gives a great excuse why you couldn’t move things forward. You wanted to, but alas, the others blocked progress.

Nothing is more wrong than this attitude and opinion. Culture is composed of many small behaviors. And to change those we have to start with ourselves. A visit to Silicon Valley can help with that. Such a visit does not only mean that visitors are experiencing and observing, but that they are observed as well. How do they delegates behave? What do they say? How is their body language?

And this is where I as a host and speaker for many delegations use some props that highlight such counterproductive behavior for everyone in a humorous way. I use a simple plush toy. Not just any plush toy, but one that’s ugly. Pot ugly. Disgusting. Yikes!

As soon as a delegate says something in a negative way, the plush toy makes its move to the delegate and has to stay as long until somebody else says something negative.

Phrases such as “That’s never gonna work for us, because the works council would block that” or “Just show that to our legal department and they’ll shoot it down” stop a conversation and ideation before they even started. With the help of such a plush toy the participants are shown – often under the embarrassment of the person receiving the toy accompanied by laughter from the rest – how often they are reacting negatively. Instead, we ask the delegates to spin the phrases into a positive sentiment. “How can we implement that with the help of the works council?” or “What are the different risk options that the legal department can show us?” invite to a dialog. Those questions are open, not closed like seen in the original phrasing.

Especially politicians, representatives from chambers of commerce, or even some CEO have a tendency to use negatively spinned sentences. At the beginning of a tour the plush toy is making many moves between those delegates. But exactly those delegates start observing diligently. Not only others – because they want to get rid of the embarrassing plush toy in their hands – but also they start watching themselves more carefully.

And the results can be impressive. Already on the second, latest the third day the plush toy can stay home. The entire group changed their behavior. Questions are becoming open, show more interest, ask for opportunities and connections to other ideas. The participates are realizing their own creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial potential. Talents that had been hiding in them or been suppressed are being unleashed.

Some delegations even gave their plush toy a name. Negativity Nancy was the name of the gnome for a delegation from Northern Germany.

At the end of the visit the particpants take home the realization that its not so much about the technology. After all, they have access to the same technologies. But that ist’s purely based on their mindset, their behaviors, the believe that everything is possible. And so it comes that often I end up with the plush toy, because I as tour host are way too often too negative. But what do you expect from somebody who is from Vienna? We are the champions of complaints!

This article has also been published in German.