Blogging from Silicon Valley: Seeking the innovation spark

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Where do new ideas come from? How do you tap into that spark of innovation? What would you do differently if you were not afraid?

(Stock image)

These are questions that we do not often ask ourselves in many work environments. Sometimes it is taboo and sometimes we just become too caught up in work to ask these questions.

Some of these questions cut too close – What happens if we fail? We have repeatedly been conditioned that failure is not an option and the only outcome of fear and failure are negative experiences. Is that true?

But every day, entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley ask these very same questions and arrive at completely different conclusions.

Entrepreneurs and businesses in Silicon Valley embrace challenges and risks unlike any innovation centre in the world. This unique business microcosm of Silicon Valley cannot be replicated, although many others have tried. Examining this is wildly contradictory environment is the focus of the highly anticipated mission of the Telfer Executive MBA class of 2013-15 to California.

Silicon Valley is a world-renowned innovation centre that operates on a completely different paradigm, according to our class research, interviews and work within high-tech industries. How can one per cent of the U.S. population continue to produce more than 10 per cent of its patents and attract 40 per cent of total U.S. venture capital investment?

We are hoping to gain greater insights that will help us understand the “why” and “how” and upon completion of the week, return to Canada to use these insights within our own work environments.

Silicon Valley's working environment is exceptional in many aspects. According to Accenture’s research report Decoding the Contradictory Culture of Silicon Valley, the workplace culture has five seemingly contradictory characteristics that contribute to the region’s life-changing innovations of the world’s most successful companies:

1.    Laid back, yet driven for speed

2.    Committed, yet independent

3.    Competitive, yet cooperative

4.    Pragmatic, yet optimistic

5.    Extrinsically motivated, yet intrinsically fulfilling

Imagine a working environment like this within your own organization. Tapping into the spark of innovation means drawing lessons in non-traditional ways, especially through experiential learning. It means breaking the mold without fear of failure; staying innovative translates into openness; trying new things constantly, listening and surrounding oneself with the proper team.

During our interview with Silicon Valley innovator Gigi Wang, she quickly quoted Thomas Edison: “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Tapping into the innovative spark is also about self-reflection; when failures occur, take those lessons and change tactics for your success in the next initiative.

So I ask you – what would you do differently if you were not afraid to fail?

-By Susan Munn

This article is the first in a series this week on the University of Ottawa's Telfer School of Management Executive MBA class trip to the Silicon Valley. The trip is part of the EMBA curriculum on "Innovation and Entrepreneurship."

Organizations: Telfer Executive MBA, Accenture, University of Ottawa Telfer School of Management Executive MBA

Geographic location: Silicon Valley, California, U.S. Canada

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