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Are We Too Scared to Even Try?

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The Talent Unleashed Awards will be celebrating its fifth birthday this year and having recently returned from an once-in-a-lifetime trip to Silicon Valley with last year’s winners, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the experience and some of the lessons we’ve learnt, as well as share some tips for this year’s hopefuls.

Embracing failure  

For young startups, the experiences gained in colossal companies like Facebook, Google, Tesla, Airbnb and LinkedIn are invaluable. The first and perhaps most telling lesson being the American commitment to failure. The likes of Google and Tesla thrive not because they always make the right decisions, but because they have the courage to make risky ones; some of these risks pay off and accelerate the growth of the company and the ones that don’t are used to learn from. Take Google, which away from its core revenue earning business is constantly experimenting with other ideas and concepts in other sectors. They are always pushing boundaries and while some may not work, it is the intention that carries the most weight. There appears to be little or no stigma with failure in the USA: it is absolutely seen as part of the journey to success.

Quite often this culture of failure clashes with British cynicism. Our reluctance and fear of failure can render us somewhat paralysed, while the forever optimistic Americans forge forwards, mistakes and all. This American mentality is one that I would like to see adopted in the UK, as it is only through defining failure as a natural symptom of success that we will be able to truly encourage innovation.

Moving towards social responsibility

Dedication to continuous improvement on a global scale is a trait highly valued in both Silicon Valley and in the Talent Unleashed awards. It is an ambition that we embrace in our applicants – going as far to give it its own category. While this competition was originally created by Talent as a way of us giving back to a sector that had done so much for us, quite often it feels like we end up learning more from it. Many of these inventions, stories and solutions have inspired me personally and educated me in humanitarian issues that I was not aware of. Quite often, I’m left feeling somewhat unworthy to judge such monumental and life-changing entries. It is a joy to see how so many others are constantly thinking about how to use technology to make our world a better place.

For instance, past applicants have included tech that can create prosthetic limbs faster than national healthcare systems and tech that can turn leftover coffee granules into clean fuel. Another entry that always sticks with me is a solar powered water purification unit that pumps clean water into areas where it is not available. This one entry alone saves/improves lives, reduces the pain of illness and loss and is saving the lives of children and adults – thus transforming thousands of lives both directly and indirectly-proving to me how important it is that technology works for something greater.

Leaders of the future

Another key interest of mine (and a competition category in its own right) is progressive leaders. And what better leader is there for winners to learn from than the Woz – the man who I believe singularly set the standard for employer branding? Much of Apple’s identity is owing to Steve Wozniak; his generosity and genius, and whilst I take nothing away from his Co-founder Steve Jobs, he was among the first technology giants to champion how a company is only as good as its component parts, people, culture and communication, and attest that regardless of company size. It is not enough to have a good product – it must connect with its audience, staff and board members. Having spent time with The Woz, you can understand why he captured the hearts of staff: he is open, caring and, despite fame and fortune, has his feet very firmly embedded in the people camp. I have always taken culture before strategy in business and again, it is something that applicants should consider (“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”).

There are aspects of his ethos found in companies across the Valley. Airbnb is an excellent example of a company that goes further than its service. Not only are its tech and analytics great, but its philosophy and strategy is rooted in its people. Each employee is a valued part of the company’s journey and their input is expected and respected. Despite its large size, the company continues to build its culture around its employees, rather than from the top down.

Conversely, Tesla is an example of a company structured very differently – from the size of its gigantic robot assembly lines to the glass-walled offices suspended above it. At Tesla, it aims to fully integrate every employee into the process, and through its eco-friendly endeavours, demonstrate how companies can and should change the world.

What else are we looking for?

Alongside innovation, improvement and leadership, I also keep an eye out for good communication and commitment to the cause. Communication is important because it is vital that applicants are able to clearly explain what they are doing and what makes them different. Meanwhile, commitment and passion is mandatory and whilst we are looking for inventive tech, brilliance and heart also plays an integral part.

Applications for the Talent Unleashed Awards are open until August 31st. Click here to register if you think you have what it takes.