When I was in San Francisco (SF), I didn’t wear flowers in my hair (probably you wouldn’t be able to see them in my hair anyway), as Scott Mckenzie suggested in his famous song. However as he indicated, I met some very nice people there, whose friendliness really amazed me. Indeed, I realised that a random person on the street can easily talk to another random person, and it is totally fine! The second great thing was the weather, which was really sunny during the week we were there (8-15 April), especially since San Francisco apparently gets foggy at times. Something I heard of SF which I was expecting to see was its steep roads, which was really interesting. How hard would it have been to build roads and houses there! One of the roads Lombard street was too steep that they had to build eight sharp turns, making it the most crooked street in the world.
During our visit, I managed to see and experience many things including: the magnificient Golden Gate Bridge, Sutro Baths and the coastal trail next to the Pacific Ocean, tasted the Smitten ice cream (made of Liquid Nitrogen) at Hayes Valley, visited the Alcatraz Prison and met Bill Baker, who was a prisoner there during 1950s and wrote a book about his experience. In addition, visiting the Computer History Museum, Summer of Love experience at de Young Museum and seeing SF Museum of Modern Art was really interesting to see!
But ofcourse our visit to San Francisco wasn’t purely for touristic reasons. Organised by Kingston University and Legacy Ventures, as students and with my sister Selin, we had the opportunity to visit various companies and organisations in Silicon Valley. While I enjoyed visiting all of them I will mention four of the companies that really inspired me.
Institute for the Future
Institute for the Future is a non-profit research centre working with different companies to understand and forecast the future of different issues in the world. In his presentation, our speaker focused on the changes being seen in human behaviour through new technologies and how these changes were adapting to human’s needs and wants. For example, because people look down while using their phones, cities have started to put road signals on the floor for pedestrians. Another interesting point was, during the age of technology and everything turning to digital, the popularity of books rather than e-books. Here, we see an importance given to ownership, especially because you can lose the e-book if the rights are lost. This kind of findings and forecasts for the future has really inspired me to learn more. Especially since Institute for the Future has many research on various trends in different areas ranging from future of work to health, so I am excited to read them!
Visiting Reddit, made me realise one more time that its role in the world is very important. I saw that Reddit is a platform that represents real life and real people digitally. To explain more, in the world, there are people that agree and disagree, whether they are part of the same community or not. The point is that, one thing is very important to humans: being part of something bigger, a community. Contrary to Facebook and Instagram, where people might feel isolated at times, in Reddit, it doesn’t matter where you are from or how you look like. If you want to talk about something, you can talk to anybody who is interested in that particular area. It also supports communication, which is crucial to understand each other in this divided time. Reddit really inspired me and I’m sure they are continuing to inspire millions of people every day. Before I stop talking about Reddit, I recommend you checking this article and the video of timelapse out where Reddit did a social experiment on Arpil Fools Day, 2017 where any user could put a pixel on the canvas every 10 minutes. In this collaborative work where over 1 million users participated, there are several things to pay attention to such as: how identities are portrayed, how users react to different shapes and colours, or the importance given to art.
Salesforce, as ranked 2nd in the “World’s most innovative companies” by Forbes magazine is a company that provides cloud-based customer relationship management product, marketing automation tools, business intelligence, app development solutions, and more. Our speaker said that he saw Salesforce as a big startup, in the sense that it is always innovating by solving its customer’s problems and it’s main objective is to create value for its customers. Creating value for its customers means that these companies can successfully create value for their own customers as well. Another important point he told us which overlapped with what we learned in Reddit was this: community is valued in Salesforce. Ohana, which means family in Hawaiian culture, is central to their culture. For them their family consists of their employees, customers, communities that they reach through volunteering and their partners. He also mentioned that even though there was a hierarchical structure it was a very open environment where voices were heard and that it was easy for employees to connect with each other. This is very important in big companies since if employees are not encouraged to speak up, new and creative ideas don’t flourish. I assume this open environment supports Salesforce in its ability to innovate as well.
Our speaker told us that in Google, you could acquire a new skill by working on a project different than yours, which is called 20% time. This project according to USA Today, lead to the creation of products like Gmail and Google News. I feel like this is a great initiative to encourage to get out of their comfort zone, try new areas by using their skills and learning new ones on the way. In addition, we were talking about other perks Google offered like the volleyball court, gym, bicycles and nap areas. After having worked on a research project on workplace design, during this year, I asked Olga if nap areas were effective or if it created a sense of laziness. I thought that it depended on the sector and wanted to know what a Google employee would think about it. She said that it was really good for employees who needed a nap during the day, especially the ones who came really early and left at a later time. She added that every Google employee can plan their own day depending on when they are more productive or which perks work for them. This kind of workplace is what I would like to experience, having the flexibility to choose my routine and organize myself.
In the last day with Selin, we visited Stanford d.School, where we were shown around the workspaces and did a fast course on Design-Thinking where we went through the stages really fast by working towards solving the problem of travellers, by asking “how might we make the travelling experience of travellers on the plane more comfortable”. While it was a recap of what we learned at uni this year, it was really nice to see the d.school, of which we based our learnings on. While our tour we saw the rooms that supported collaborative work with its moving furnitures, whiteboards, and post-its and they were really familiar..
Even though our trip was only a week, it felt much longer, in a good way! I experienced so many great things, learned more about the history and culture of San Francisco, met great people and visited successful companies that inspired me, made me think and question things.
‘The World’s Most Innovative Companies’, Forbes. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/innovative-companies/list/ (Accessed 15 April 2017).
Weinberger, M. (2017) ‘Over 1 million Reddit users waged a virtual war to create this bizarre work of art with 16 million pixels’, Available at: http://uk.businessinsider.com/reddit-place-april-fools-experiment-creates-pixel-art-final-version-2017-4 (Accessed 16 April 2017).