The Silicon Valley tech-mythology-machine, replete as it is with unicorns and trolls, is a wondrous device designed as much to assist in reality distortion and suspension as it is in self-paving its streets with digital gold.
We all know the story of how the Valley has reinvented itself through various technology phases. Currently it is awash with apps and social media. Even though they helped create this social flow, a few of the tech pundits are swimming against this tide, reinventing themselves as mindfulness gurus, but that’s a fairy tale for another time.
There is a new tide washing into the Valley: autonomy – artificial intelligence, self-driving everything, asset-rich services on demand and cognitive systems that know us to the point where they are 2-3 moves ahead of us in our own personal game of thrones. Their aim is to be 6 moves ahead, and they are rapidly progressing to this point.
But this is all backdrop.
The real foundation of Silicon Valley, the grease in its gears is FEAR. In particular, the FEAR of MISSING OUT (FOMO) is driving the Valley’s sense of urgency.
FOMO is the ultimate reality distortion field creator. This is best explained through examining the fluidity between viewing a new venture in terms of its friction points versus how much it could scale with limitless fuel. Take Uber as an example. Donning friction-tainted lenses restricted many from seeing it as anything more than yet another taxi service, operating in a highly regulated market with well entrenched incumbents. However, for those who looked at Uber through fuel-filled lenses, they saw its true potential, namely to revolutionise transport. They were able to suspend reality long enough to understand the ultimate promise of Uber. Those who then went on to invest early enough into the company may be rewarded handsomely.
In a low FOMO environment, i.e. most other places on the planet than Silicon Valley, there is little incentive for people to don fuel-filled lenses. They have the luxury of sitting back and waiting for a venture to achieve sufficient traction, they wait for the entrepreneurs to derisk the business. However in a high FOMO environment, those who hesitate: miss out.
Nowhere else on the planet is the FOMO-meter so high. In fact, it is off the charts in comparison to many other geographies. The same can be said for the boardrooms of so many companies. Does your company have a FOMO culture at executive level? For most organisations the answer is a resounding “no”. How then can incumbents compete against agile Silicon Valley startups? The short answer is that they cannot.
Ask the former Kodak board if they understood FOMO. Apparently not.
I’d like to advocate that every board, every senior executive needs to up their FOMO ante. How high you might ask? Not to hysterical levels, but high enough to palpably increase the urgency around tackling disruptive innovation. High enough to also burn the boats and chart new courses if necessary. Definitely higher than the dual path some would advocate of keeping business as usual turning over while exploring new paths on the side.
How do you instill FOMO into the boardroom?
1. In the short term, have your board do a tour of the Valley. Not the bells and whistles version with champagne on the tour bus, but the grungy start up tour where they get exposed to the highest levels of FOMO.
2. In the mid term, look to bring Silicon Valley into the boardroom. Place at least one FOMO expert on the board. Their experience and skills will prove invaluable to you in dealing with the status quo.