As so often, the journey begins before the journey. In our case with a meeting of the participants at Google in Munich. Not all, but at least half of the registered participants took the time to invest in a preparatory workshop. If you’re already flying into the Valley, it might be a good idea to think about what questions you want to ask and what you expect from the trip for yourself. Already in this preparatory workshop there is a very relaxed atmosphere, at first subliminal and then getting stronger and stronger, almost like in the classroom just before the class trip. Maybe it’s the playful working atmosphere at Google, or maybe it’s the likeable speakers? Either way, it doesn’t take long and you’re feeling very comfortable. Because it just feels so familiar. The “classmates” in our case are the managing directors and owners of medium-sized family businesses who have come together to go on a journey of discovery in the tech El Dorado “Silicon Valley”. To learn, to understand and to take something for themselves and their companies from the digital world. Not for much longer, then we’ll finally get going. Somehow everyone is already a bit excited.
After the arrival of the participants, despite the collective jet lag, they gather in Palo Alto for a nice dinner to get to know each other and to get in the mood for the coming days. They exchange experiences and expectations, because networking is an important part of the trip for everyone. Many are in a similar situation – “digital” what does that mean for me as a down-to-earth medium-sized company? We want to get to the bottom of exactly this question.
On the first day, we will drive to Google in Mountain View and experience the original Google Campus with its unique Californian flair. Great presentations with the one or other “aha” experience on topics like: how does Google make innovation, how does Google see the future, why the cloud might be much more secure than your own data center, insights into the fact that the basis of innovation is collaboration in a global world and why Google has built its own toolset for this. After Google, it goes on to IDEO. World renowned for innovation and design. They finally invented things like the “Apple Mouse” and an effective method for user centric innovation, “Design Thinking”, now a standard for digital innovation. That’s a lot of content for one day. We get in touch with the people who made it themselves, this digital “thing”. From the conversations we get a lot of information about how digital innovation works. In the evening, we go out for dinner with our colleagues from Google and IDEO to deepen the content. In private, the conversations among ourselves reveal a few more important insights. Class trip atmosphere.
On the second day we all go back to university. But not just any university, but “Stanford”. THE tech university where many of the successful entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley studied and started to develop their business ideas and products. Yesterday we learned that IDEO invented Design Thinking and today we learn how it really works – not only in theory, but in practice. It goes out into the field, or rather onto the Stanford campus, and we talk to students to learn about their consumer behavior. We use this new knowledge to develop innovative solution ideas, for digital products and services, to better meet the needs of these users. For one or the other a real key experience. So digital innovation has methods that can be learned. And quite simply. No magic!
The next morning we set off for the Plug & Play Accellerator. Many start-ups are located here and meet with investors in a systematic way. The founder of Plug & Play, Saeed Amidi, takes the time to talk to the entrepreneurs. An inspiring exchange. Four selected startups pitch in front of the entrepreneurs. From Industry 4.0, virtual reality, to artificial intelligence. Exciting. Many participants are asking themselves, how they can intensify contact with such start-ups and whether a German SME, is at all interesting for them? Even if they might come from Berlin or Stuttgart, can it work at all? And does it even fit on a cultural level – sneakers and ties? We finally realize: it’s new, it might be a challenge, but it works. In the early evening we are received by the German ambassador in San Francisco and meet German startups from Silicon Valley. A lot of new conversation material for the dinner.
The time passed somehow very fast, we already arrived on the last day. Today we’re still going to Salesforce to find out about digitalization of sales and marketing. The customer has changed. The customer has a stronger voice and therefore more power. The customer is mobile and in digital channels – even in B2B. Companies have to adapt to this. In a visionary presentation we will get to know the influence of machine learning and the Internet of Things on services of the future, which will raise customer orientation to a more individual level. Interestingly enough, not from a man in his mid-twenties, but from a gentleman with white hair, who already seems to be a veteran of digitalization. Interesting. Digitalisation is probably not a generational issue after all. Recruiting 2.0 with the startup Smart Recruiters forms the end of the journey.
What a pity, the class trip is already over. But we will meet again. The first follow-up meeting has already been arranged.