I was lucky enough to join some fellow MGM execs on a trip to Silicon Valley to discuss innovation. I won’t get into specifics for obvious reasons, but the general idea was to try to answer the question “how do big companies innovate?” Turns out there are several ways, and lots of companies are doing cool stuff to try to ensure their “big bureaucracies” don’t slow them down so much that they end up like Blockbuster or Kodak.
I was struck by how much activity is happening in Silicon Valley around a host of topics; from virtual reality to food supply to big data, companies, individuals, universities are active in looking for new breakthroughs. And the buzz of activity seems to feed on itself, with smart and fearless innovators running into each other at Starbucks and discussing even more new ways to do business.
For someone like me not from the area and who hasn’t spent much time there, it was both inspiring and intimidating. And I see why other places want to “replicate” Silicon Valley but haven’t been able to.
My real “a-ha” insights revolved more around those I was with from MGM. We probably talked more about our business problems and ways we might tackle them in two days of a variety of meetings and traveling between those meetings than we would in months in our normal environments. A big part of that is the lack of physical connection as we don’t have one corporate campus. It prohibits the kind of random interactions that Tony Hsieh is so fond of, and doesn’t allow us to easily pop in to each other’s space to resolve issues on the fly. Instead we look for time on each other’s calendars and decide to spend 30 minutes “brainstorming” in late October since that’s the first time we can all meet. Which is a shame, because I heard some amazing things from the team during this trip, I learned a lot and I think we shared some great insights and learned about each other’s strengths and interests.
There isn’t much we can do about that quickly, but something I want to keep exploring with my senior team. I think if we were together more, we would innovate – I learned that some of my peers have some amazing experiences, opinions, capabilities that could help me in problems I am facing. And while I’m not sure what the most important factor is to promote innovation in a big company, I believe communication (open, transparent, often) is a big key.