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Silicon Valley: that mythical place where dreams and fortunes are made (and broken) in the tech world. It’s been an amazing confluence of geography, culture, networking and chance that have made it the tech capital of the world, and I think most people would agree they do things a little differently there.
But there’s much the rest of the business world can learn from tech startups and tech giants alike that can help a business in any field work smarter and be more competitive.
It doesn’t stand for “most valuable player,” but rather Minimum Viable Product. This is the idea that rather than starting with a complicated new product or idea, a company will figure out what is the minimum they can create that will be viable, in other words, that will generate sales. This is an excellent strategy for getting something to market quickly, generating cash flow, and getting feedback from real users. Which leads us to…
Tech startups want to fail quickly if they’re going to, so that they can move on to the next thing. With a minimum viable product model, they can see which products, which features work and which don’t quickly and relatively inexpensively. Instead of spending time and money perfecting something people don’t even want, they create the basics, launch, and get feedback. Sometimes the MVP is a total failure, but more often it leads to…
Think “Product 2.0;” tech companies are well known for iterating and improving on their products as they go. Something initially released as an MVP will go through multiple iterations adding new features and removing ones that don’t work or aren’t needed. In the tech world, this goes for everything from apps to smartphones, but it’s a concept that can — and should — be applied to many other business sectors. Don’t stop at the first version just because it works; keep iterating and improving on any idea.
Tech companies are also known for eschewing many of the traditional trappings of the corporate world, like long, sit-down meetings. But any business can benefit from instituting stand-up meetings, which keep things brief, relevant, creative, and flowing. Imagine the time and money saved if all your company meetings were more efficient and effective.
Agile is a project management methodology that focuses on empowering team members to make decisions and breaking projects down into manageable chunks, usually in two-week intervals (called scrums). The emphasis is on communication and coordination rather than planning and control. In an agile setting, a team meets every two weeks to discuss progress on the project, changes, and what the direct next steps are. Each team member knows exactly what his or her task is, but has the power to make decisions within that framework. Many businesses would benefit from taking a less top-down approach to management, empowering employees to have more control over their own work.
A beer keg and ping-pong room may not be in the future for your company, but every company can take a page from Silicon Valley’s culture in creating a workplace where people actually want to come to work. Google is famous for the perks it offers employees — everything from free massages to on-site childcare — but they choose to do so because they know they demand a lot from their employees and they value their productivity and input. More businesses would benefit from treating employees as valuable assets rather than just cogs in the machine.
Think Outside the Box, or Better Still, Ignore the Box Entirely
Every year, new ideas come out of Silicon Valley that turn an industry on its ear — think Uber, AirBnB or Netflix. More traditional business sectors can learn a lot from this kind of total 180 degree innovation. Many times, tech companies don’t just try to improve on an existing product category, they go back to the source problem or question and ask themselves, “If there were no solution for this, how would I solve it today?” Innovation is the difference between the company that stagnates and slowly dies and the one that is propelled into new levels of profitability and relevance.
Clearly we’re not going to see investment bankers wearing shorts and ironic tee-shirts to the office any time soon, or sand volleyball games over the lunch hour at prestigious law firms. Nevertheless, there are concepts and innovations from Silicon Valley that even the most traditional businesses can adopt.
What innovations from the tech sector would you like to see implemented in your field? I’d be interested to hear your suggestions in the comments below.
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