A Silicon Valley state of mind

20 Apr, 2016

The weird and wonderful business practices at Silicon Valley start-ups have proliferated enough of our social space to inspire punch-lines on episodes of South Park, Portlandia, and even a quick story mission in Grand Theft Auto V.

While much of this tongue-in-cheek criticism is likely an attempt to puncture the growing heads of executives (who think themselves pioneers of a new era in both tech and the world at large) there’s no denying these groups consistently produce good work and happy employees.

With this in mind (and armed with a pinch of salt) here’s how to apply Silicon Valley practices locally to garner similar results:

Ditch the jargon
Jargon can be useful as a kind of shorthand for changes in a rapidly growing field. But if not kept in check, jargon can become a way to say much about nothing, or create in-group and out-group statuses amongst clients and employees. According to Steve Jobs, using jargon indicates trying to sell something rather than trying to educate people on how and why they would want to use your business.

So, make like the godfather of Silicon Valley and ditch ‘brands’ and the ‘optimisation’. Instead, opt to find new and simple ways of explaining yourself and your business.

Ditch the insincerity too
Yours. Yours faithfully. Kindest regards. These terms used to mean more than they do in their current state – bits of social proprietary we stick on the end of emails to people we don’t really know and don’t want to offend. Formality is sometimes necessary, but there are ways of avoiding over-familiarity without coming across as an Orwellian spambot.

Did someone send you some information, or do you have a request? Try adding a simple ‘thanks’ to the end of your email. Your name will do just fine for any other occasion.

Free stuff is nice but doing your best work is better
Facebook employees want for little. They get everything from free food to free haircuts. All this contributes to happy employees. But VP of People and HR at Facebook, Lori Goler, believes people come to work and stay working at Facebook because they enjoy making an impact on the world around them.

People thrive in an environment where their input is valued and they’re able to add something that wasn’t there before. Your employees will be motivated to do their best work if you introduce ideas of ‘the bigger picture’ and encourage side projects.

Free stuff really is nice, though
Facebook isn’t the only company in Silicon Valley to offer its employees good benefits. LinkedIn, Google, Netflix and many others give their workers complimentary food and comprehensive healthcare benefits. In turn, their workers are grateful, and perform well at work. Think of it as an investment in your business.

If you need to cut financial corners at work, don’t do it by skimping on the treatment of your staff. If it’s unavoidable – discuss which benefits they can do without.

There are many ways you can bring Silicon Valley into local business. And with advancements in tech, it’s increasingly possible to cross the divides that in the past restricted South African progress in comparison to that of the US.

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