All, Internationalization, Musings
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(Translated from an account by Gian Berger, master’s student at HWZ University Zurich* and Head of Digital & Channel Marketing at Migros, Switzerland’s largest retailer)

June 2022. San Francisco – A clear blue sky above and a sensational view of the Golden Gate Bridge below – finally possible again after two years of the pandemic.

HWZ University Zurich is Switzerland’s largest part-time business university. Its Center for Digital Business pioneered academic educational programs for a digitalized business world. DIGIRAM editor Gert Christen is an alumnus of HWZ and founded their entrepreneurship department before returning to California.

Students of the HWZ University master study program “Digital Leadership” were once again able to travel to the capital of technology and startups to experience the famous Silicon Valley spirit up close and personal. Gert Christen, head of the HWZ University Silicon Valley Outpost, created an exciting program. Many conversations with startup entrepreneurs, pitches of digital business models, insights into Amazon’s corporate culture, amazing networking events, and reserved time for reflection sessions opened space for discussions and exchanges between students and actors of the Silicon Valley ecosystem. Together the class condensed their most important insights of the study trip:

#1 New Work has definitely arrived – how will it evolve from here?
#2 Customer centricity – convenience first
#3 Networking and cooperation
#4 Be brave – a culture of learning, not of failing
#5 Think big – Mindset 10x: What if we could vacation on the moon?

#1 New Work has definitely arrived – how will it evolve from here?

While still being discussed in Switzerland, New Work is definitely being practiced in Silicon Valley. Very many companies work remotely. It has become a must-have criterion for workers who do not want to miss the flexibility anymore that they got accustomed to during Covid. The office as a central hub is a thing of the past. Companies are experimenting to find the right balance between being an attractive employer in the war of talents and allowing remote work vs. how to facilitate the informal and creative exchange of employees being physically together. It will be interesting to see how this evolves.

#2 Customer Centricity – convenience first

Customer benefits are at the center of the activity of Silicon Valley companies. Products have to absolutely delight customers and must offer convenience. Explorative customer research and learning from customers’ desires is a part of the DNA and a crucial success factor. Amazon e.g., has defined its mission as “we want to be earth’s most customer-centric company”.

#3 Networking and cooperation

A very open and active culture of networking is being practiced in Silicon Valley. Everyone talks with everyone else and takes care of their network: In co-working spaces, lunches, coffee meetings, social events, or online via LinkedIn and Zoom. People actively exchange and share knowledge. Companies that operate in the same markets often cooperate on important issues, following the motto “how to make the overall pie larger and not just the individual slices bigger”.

#4 Be brave – the culture of learning, not of failing

Being proactive and hands-on. Put good ideas into practice even if only some of the facts are known. Wanting to succeed and being ready to test fast, learn fast, and adapt fast. All of these attitudes are firmly anchored in the Silicon Valley mindset. Setbacks are accepted as opportunities to learn in an agile, iterative manner. While accepting a certain degree of risk, actors proceed with a goal in mind, not hoping for luck.

#5 Think big: Mindset 10x – what if we could vacation on the moon?

Ideas are preferred in big sizes, and dreaming is desirable. How to make something 10x better than today. The mindset of Silicon Valley and its working methods include drawing up big long-term visions, always becoming better, and finding ways to turn visions into realities. In the words of Astro Teller, CEO of Google X: “Big dreams are not just visions. They are visions paired with execution strategies. In this spirit: Hire people who are smarter than you”.

What can be transferred to Switzerland from these Silicon Valley insights? Do it on Monday!

There is always the question of whether these insights can lead to equal value add in Switzerland. The Silicon Valley culture is very different from the Swiss way of proceeding with precision, heavy, fact-based planning, more restrained manners, and the generally less liberal business environment. 

These are the reasons literal copying would not lead to the same results and would not work: The Swiss work ecosystem has different foundations. However, taking a closer look at our five insights, we can see that they all deal with “mindset”. And this is the positive news: We can work on our own mindsets and establish strong routines step by step. What can you do next Monday that needs few resources and little effort? Approaches that everyone can try:

  • Promote exchange: Active networking such as regular lunches or coffee meetings with colleagues, customers, and alumni.
  • Promote trust: Having more confidence in employees and seeking their opinions and feedback.
  • Digital products or processes are never finished: Launch new ideas, even knowing they are not perfect, and adapt them based on learnings.
  • What do our customers love? Talking with customers and stakeholders about the things that trigger their excitement.
  • Look at things differently: Writing the day-of-launch press release for the next concept and only then moving to plan and development.

To keep working on one’s own mindset will not only fuse the best of both worlds – Silicon Valley and Switzerland – but will also help with personal growth. This is the way to influence yourself in a positive way and your environment, too.
Just do it on Monday!

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