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As Routine as it Gets: The Last Sprint

Day 26: Meanwhile, a certain routine has settled in. The week – or as we call it here: the sprint – starts off with a joint workshop, where the participants further develop their Design Thinking skills. The following days, the teams continue to work on their ideas and validate their assumptions – foundation of their business models – in calls with colleagues and customers. At the same time, I can observe how the tension increases towards the end of the week, sticky notes are written more hectic than usual or simply rewritten, and some team members must step out a couple of minutes for cooling down in fresh air.

The sprint ends Friday morning with a pitch, during which the participants present the current state of their business model. There is feedback among the teams, but also from the “sharks”, who take turns putting on a yellow or black hat – meaning what did they appreciate and where do they see room for improvement. Afterwards I can feel the adrenaline level drop, though only a little: One hurdle taken – getting ready for next one by carefully reviewing the comments.

Design Thinking Creates Tomorrow’s Solutions

Do you know the motto of Stanford University? It is actually German and says “Die Luft der Freiheit weht”. Translated from German, it means “The wind of freedom blows”. The “Farm”, so its’ unofficial name, is one of the worlds’ richest universities, based in the valley close to today’s tech giants and highly acclaimed both in academia and industry. And it is home of d.school – the Design Thinking Institute founded in 2005 and led be David E. Kelley, the godfather of this still very young discipline.

One might ask: Why does a university put so much effort into this topic? And what has design to do with engineering or information technology? And why are we learning and applying these techniques in our SVC? Well, it’s all about creating intelligent solutions.

The origin of design thinking partially lie in the development of creativity techniques in the 1950s. Throughout the following decades it shaped from a very vague approach to a clear method with a strong focus on a human-centered design. Design thinking focuses on three core elements:

Can you be Creative on Demand?

Often “creativity” is associated only in the context of art. Wikipedia puts that into a larger context: “Creativity is the ability of a person or group to make something new and useful or valuable, or the process of making something new and useful or valuable. It happens in all areas of life – science, art, literature and music.” To me this reads like the description of the Silicon Valley Challenge. Our team members were selected upon the creativity shown through their applications – so they have this ability. Next to that, the business model innovation process is based on inventiveness, open-mindedness and curiosity to conceptualize novel and intelligent solutions. And of course, chemistry is creative, too!

The creative ability and process is immensely supported by the inspiring setting here in the valley. There are so many stimuli one can only take advantage from: latest tech trends from the bay area, a rich offering of classical European music and art; odors and spices in the streets swapping over the pacific from Asia; graffiti and street art wherever your eyes wander. We were hoping our participants would absorb all these impressions to further feed their imagination.

 

What business model innovation actually means

As a traditional chemical company, looking back on a proud history, business goes as usual day by day. Clearly, there are challenges and hurdles the business teams must tackle. However, in the end, we continue to grow our business the way we have always been doing it. No wonder we often hear sentences like: “Das hamma doch scho’ immer so g‘macht” (Bavarian for: That’s the way we’ve always been doing that).

Lately, business model innovation has become a strategic core element of all kind of business. Why? Because digitalization, speed and globalization turn all businesses upside down. Here in the valley they talk a lot about exponential growth – which is source and driver of all innovations twisted here.

So, what is business innovation all about? It is about re-calibrating or creating new business by focusing on customers and their actual needs. Sounds kind of obvious. What is not so clear, is how to do that. Throughout the last years a new set of tools has been developed by creative heads around the globe. Grove, Osterwalder, BMI Lab and BMI Inc – only to name a few. They have worked out visual templates which are shared openly and are a quintessential fundament to any kind of business innovation. Though even more importantly, they stand for professional moderation skills which enable organizations to think out of the box and work on new concepts.

A cultural experience

The spirit of Silicon Valley is driven by visions which can’t be big enough, acceleration and the constant desire for improvement. Also, Salesforce is based on these principles. Their founder, Marc Benioff, worked for two tech giants in the valley, Apple and Oracle, before founding his own company which pioneered cloud computing. He had a big vision, he was convinced about the technology which could advance and speed up a certain application. Today, “Salesforce” is the number one tool worldwide when it comes to systematically supporting business processes around customers. But the success of the San Francisco headquartered company is not based on technology only – it is based on its unique culture: transparency, diversity, customer-centricity and most of all highly motivated employees. It is not for no reason that you become the world’s best workplace two years in a row.

The result of our visit to Salesforce last week? 19 completely overwhelmed SVC participants. We were blown away by the professionality, hospitality and openness of the different experts we met throughout our tour.

The result of our visit to Salesforce last week? 19 completely overwhelmed SVC participants. We were blown away by the professionality, hospitality and openness of the different experts we met throughout our tour.

Here in the valley, we are confronted and experience so many different cultures every single moment. The team members share apartments with colleagues from different nations around the globe. Stepping out of the door they immerse into a diverse and colorful live around them. In workshops they learn how to apply creative design thinking techniques – kind the opposite of stage-gate driven linear processes. The co-working spaces make them easily connect with other entrepreneurs and their mindset.

The true value of prototyping

Prototyping is kind of fun part of every workshop. All participants love it. Working with your hands to create something real, something tangible. This is what makes us human beings truly happy – and by the way explains the success of any Home Depot store.

Our three teams embraced this task after two days of intense idea creation, designing first business models and getting deep and deeper into the design thinking process. They sketched the status of their ideas with pen and paper. Not only their skills, but also their creativity amazed us.

Prototyping has several beneficial aspects: First, it supports the team members in sharing the diverse aspects they carry in their mind and grave out different features. Through discussion and understanding this will then sharpen the idea on the way of prototyping. But secondly and foremost it supports you in testing out your ideas and getting real feedback on it – from customers, non-customers and even third-parties.

 

Wrap-up first week

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” said once John Dewey, American philosopher, atheist and educational reformer. Throughout the weekend our participants had time to reflect on their first week – or as we call it in the program: on their first sprint.

So many things have happened only in the opening days: Travelling abroad, settling in the apartments, building teams, soaking up inspirations from Silicon Valley, understanding latest technologies like AI or 3D. And most of all: working on first ideas. One participant confessed me: “I was actually a little

Why we are here

First day of SVC: we all get to know each other. Today’s kick-off session started with a classic introduction round here everyone talked about why they applied, what skills or unique talents they bring to their teams and what they hope to get out of this journey.

The answers I could hear mostly centered around learning new skills, creating an entrepreneurial mindset and taking WACKER to the (digital) summit. Well, this is summarizing pretty well the very reason why we at WACKER DIGITAL decided to run this program!

Plus, it is just great to hear everyone explain how much work they put into their applications, how excited they are to be part of this journey and to see how grateful they are for this opportunity to work on new ideas.