Boardroom Disruption: How Silicon Valley and the Fear of Missing Out Can Reinvent Your Business

FOMO

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.

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Finding Your Soul Work: A Journey from Near Death to Nirvana

EXO1Rewind back to early 2014 and I was enjoying working for the world’s leading research and advisory firm as an executive leadership and innovation analyst. I spent my days flying around the world advising Fortune 500 Boards, CEOs and CxOs on growth, leadership and disruptive innovation.

On a Sunday night, mid-February, I’d prepped for an international flight in the morning and then…I dropped dead from a sudden cardiac arrest. I was able to revive myself, but was in a state of conscious ventricular tachycardia, a severely life threatening condition in which the heart beats at an extremely rapid rate.  I was rushed to hospital and spent several weeks undergoing a number of surgeries and also had a mini stroke, which was terrifying. I’ve detailed my health journey over this time (here and here), but in summary after an initially positive response my health deteriorated from mid 2014 leading to a further operation in December. Since then my health has improved dramatically.

Coming out of hospital for the first time in March 2014, I felt extremely grateful for being alive, for breathing fresh air and I saw the world through fresh eyes. I felt at the time that I had to make use of this opportunity to do something world changing. How could resuming the status quo be sufficient?

As Joseph Campbell puts it, “Only birth can conquer death – the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new.

But what was it that I would do that was new? As the months passed, I spoke with many people, considered diving into a few opportunities and also went back to my work as an analyst. I realized that I’d been given a very rare second chance at life and to honour that I needed to do more than what I had been doing. I also realised that what I did had to resonate within me, deeply.

Steve Jobs explains this so eloquently, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Even though I had some very trying times over the course of 2014, I was enthused by the journey I’d embarked on to search for my soul work, my calling. I came to realise that during my time as a VC and previously as a coach, I found most joy in helping great people transform themselves into being extraordinarily great – asking the right questions, guiding them to make the right decisions and acting as a trusted advisor. In this regard the role of a VC and a coach are very similar. As Roelof Botha of Sequoia Capital points out, the role of a VC is to help entrepreneurs navigate and solve problems on their own, to provide perspective and ask the right questions, and to provide frameworks for decision-making.

And so I’m super excited to announce that I’ve left my high flying analyst role and set up EXOscalr, the elite performance and transformational coaching and advisory firm. Our moonshot is to help create $1 trillion in value over the next ten years while also positively impacting 2 billion people. To achieve this goal we are working with entrepreneurs and leaders who have the capability to build exponentially scalable or exoscale companies, leaders who we can guide through a transformation into elite performers.

I invite you to join me on this journey.

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Big Data: Have You Carved Your Dugout Canoe?

Technology pioneer George Dyson spoke to the Long Now Foundation this week in San Francisco about “The Digital Universe And Why Things Appear To Be Speeding Up”.

His first nugget was that at the dawn of the digital universe over 60 years ago it was all of 5 kilobytes in size. In todayspeak that’s about half a second of MP3 audio! It’s purpose was as far away from making music as you could imagine. It was set up to design hydrogen bombs.

Fast forward and as the digital footprint expanded exponentially, its acceleration became reflected in the self replication of computers: the pace today is 5-6 trillion connected resistors being added per second.

George used a brilliant analogy, that as a long time waterman resonates with me – as a kayak builder, he initially emulated the wood-scarce Arctic natives to work with minimum frame inside a skin craft. But (today, we are) in the tropics, where there is a surplus of wood, natives make dugout canoes, formed by removing wood.

According to George, “We’re now surrounded by so much information we have to become dugout canoe builders. The buzzword of last year was ‘big data.’

Stewart Brand, from the Long Now Foundation, defines the situation today as: Big data is what happened when the cost of storing information became less than the cost of throwing it away.

Have you started carving your canoe yet?

Incubate: Driving Campus-wide Entrepreneurship

I’ve been advising the Student Union at The University of Sydney on the setup of Incubate, a campus-wide startup development program. This initiative is designed to assist students get their ventures off the ground and will commence over the summer.

The launch event for Incubate is taking place at 5h30pm on the 20th September  in the foyer of the New Law Building on the Darlington campus. I’ll be chairing a panel on the innovation shift from Silicon Valley to other global centres. Panelists include Matt Barrie (Freelancer), Nikki Durkin (99dresses) and Matt Byrne (Curicon).

Come on over – it will be a fun event.

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Silicon Valley Is The Ultimate Entrepreneur Coach

In response to Jess Gardner’s article in last week’s BRW magazine, I was invited to pen a Letter to the Editor. It was published today. Here it is in its entirety:

Silicon Valley is the ultimate entrepreneur coach. It is synonymous with two core tenets for entrepreneurial success: focus and accountability. Palo Alto’s adrenalin-filled atmosphere focuses the minds of entrepreneurs.

For those who get funded, their investors hold them absolutely accountable.

Silicon Valley is also a state of mind. Being an entrepreneur there garners immediate respect.

Palo Alto was ground zero for the hippie movement and this points to its transformational role. It has reinvented itself a multitude of times as technology trends have shifted.

Within this transformational state of mind, Steve Jobs created the world’s most valuable company. Check in, and be an entrepreneur.

Not too long ago, Australia transformed itself into a sporting nation. From paddock to Olympic podium, we stand proud as a nation.

Jessica Gardner’s article points to a country ready for another change.

A generation aspires to be entrepreneurial but is also asking itself hard questions. The start-up scene in Australia is shifting but still resembles a cottage industry.

It’s time we focused again. It’s time to hold ourselves accountable and to transform into a nation of entrepreneurs. One focus, one nation, working together we can do it.

Check in, and be an Australian entrepreneur.

 

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Silicon Valley Beckons, But (Some) Aussies Prefer A Blended Approach

One of the most balanced articles I’ve read on the “should I stay, should I go – to Silicon Valley” debate was published today in Business Review Weekly.

Well done Jess Gardner – solid research.

This part of her article resonates most for me and it’s solid Cannon-Brookes advice:

Atlassian’s path shows it is possible to build a successful global operation from scratch in Australia but Cannon-Brookes says the company has also benefited from a blended approach. He has spent about two years in total, out of the past six, at Atlassian’s San Francisco digs (the company also has an office in The Netherlands and developers in Poland).

“I would definitely tell them [start-up founders] to spend time in the US,” he says. “It doesn’t need to be a pitchforks at 20 paces kind of a thing. We definitely gain as entrepreneurs, as a business, a tonne from having spent a lot of time there .?.?. I’ve learned a lot but that doesn’t mean that I don’t bring those learnings back and apply them down here and vice versa.”

Entrepreneurs: Be inspired, travel and do great things!

His point is that in the early stages, entrepreneurs shouldn’t regard the decision as a prerequisite step on the start-up path.

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