I’m very pleased to be able to introduce our interview partner for today, Dr. Mario Herger, who is currently on tour in Europe. Dr. Mario Herger is a well-known author, entrepreneur, corporate consultant and trend scout.
Welcome Mario, could you briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
I run the boutique consultancy Enterprise Garage Consultancy and have been living in Silicon Valley since 2001. I worked for SAP for many years, partly as a development director and innovation strategist, and that’s how I originally came to America. Today I research technology trends, write books on the subject, give workshops and advise companies on issues such as innovation, intrapreneurship, creativity, the Silicon Valley mindset and gamification.
On delegation trips I convey the innovative spirit of Silicon Valley to individuals and companies and help people promote this spirit within their organisations. This is also the subject of one of my latest books: “The Silicon Valley mindset: learning from the world champion of innovation and combining this with our own strengths” (German title: Das Silicon-Valley-Mindset: Was wir vom Innovationsweltmeister lernen und mit unseren Stärken verbinden können)
How did you get where you are today?
It was realising that you yourself can solve all the problems that arise. I can get on with tackling the issue myself – I don’t have to wait for someone else. This realisation came to me when a childhood friend of mind fell ill with cancer – a problem he was not able to solve himself.
You advise companies on how they can achieve their goals. What tips can you give us?
The main thing is to work towards your goals. Fortune favours the prepared mind – you have to take the opportunities that present themselves to you, and it’s important to be geared up to this. Everyone has goals and visions, but you won’t be able to achieve them unless you start pursuing activities that are directed towards them.
If you invest an hour a day in learning a new skill, for example, you’ll at least have achieved some initial success on a step-by-step basis after 3 – 5 months. So you have to start gradually, setting aside just one hour a day to work on it. This will throw up new issues and give you fresh options when making choices.
Another aspect is to talk about your goals. For a time, I used to meet up with friends every two weeks to talk about what I was going to do next to achieve my goal – this meant I was actually putting pressure on myself: the next step automatically had to come, otherwise I’d have left a poor impression.
You mentioned that you’re now able to work very efficiently. What did you learn in Silicon Valley?
It’s important to divide up your time as effectively as possible. One problem might be too many meetings – so you should regularly ask yourself whether all the various meetings really are relevant to the issue at hand. I always take quarter of an hour before a meeting to immerse myself in the topic – if you’re properly prepared, you can make more efficient use of the time.
Another very important point is to have periods of rest – times when you simply do nonsense stuff: this is precisely when you’re able to reflect on issues and think about how to solve them. I have my “boring time”.
Some customers require an awful lot of coordination and consultation: if a customer takes more time over consultation than is needed to actually work on the project, I object – if necessary by simply turning them down. Otherwise you lose a lot of time (which in some cases is not paid).
I’ve also learned to read carefully between the lines so as to find out exactly what the customer’s problems are. This often throws up new possibilities – and that’s exactly how my book “The Silicon Valley Mindset” came about, for example. A lot of customers were asking: “What do they do there? Why are they so innovative?”
What techniques do you use to acquire new skills?
For me, learning has a lot to do with reading (I read up to 40 books a year myself), but also with trying out new things and doing research. When it comes to new trends, it’s usually difficult to find courses or the like to sign up to, so I’m often in chats, groups, blogs etc., following the latest developments and acquiring new knowledge in this way.
You also provide consulting on creativity techniques. What do you recommend here?
Well, there are a lots of creativity techniques. If I have a block, I like to change my point of view – what if I’m not the policeman defending the bank but the bank robber trying to break in?
Another technique is so-called mindfulness – consciously focussing your attention in the course of day-to-day life. Today you could look out for wherever the colour red occurs, for example, or if you’re a freelancer working on a project, focus on the corporate culture of a company – who goes to lunch with whom, what are the furnishings and facilities like. If you focus entirely deliberately on your surroundings and concentrate on what is unusual, you become more attentive and more creative.
Another option is to meet up with people who are not from your sector and ask them about the biggest problem currently facing them in their work. How do these people find solutions to their problems? It’s often the case that you can adapt this completely different approach and come up with a solution to your own problems.
What’s the difference between how people operate in Germany and the Silicon Valley mindset? And what tips can you give us?
In Silicon Valley, a challenge is regarded as an opportunity – not a threat. There’s a greater willingness to take risks – people are less fearful of failing or losing something.
Part of the Silicon Valley mindset is the “pay it forward” attitude: for example, if I sit down with someone and discuss an idea, I don’t expect anything back from them – I’ve helped them and because I’ve helped them, they will help other people, and those people will go onto help others and so on – and so the cycle goes on, until at some point I get something back myself.
The next difference is how you respond to ideas – we immediately tend to think of regulations and what’s not allowed. Silicon Valley companies think in categories like ‘world improvement’ and ‘making a dent in the universe’. Some ideas might sound ‘stupid’ at first but can eventually become something big. Take this idea, for example: “I’ve got this platform where people can send messages of 140 characters” – today that’s Twitter.
People are more open-minded in Silicon Valley: I may not quite understand your idea yet, but wouldn’t this or that be a solution? This attitude enables you to carry on with the discussion, so you’re helping move ideas forward. The Silicon Valley mindset says: “Fail is the first attempt in learning”. So I didn’t actually fail – I just learned from my mistakes. Here in Germany people try to avoid mistakes. In Silicon Valley people are more prepared to take risks. People fail and learn from the experience – and at some point, one of these risky things turns out to be successful.
Here’s an example:
Self-driving cars pose a risk – what happens if they cause an accident?
In the USA we have 40,000 road fatalities per year – how we can minimise this? Self-driving cars might be a way of reducing this figure. “Silicon Valley Mindset”
This more open-minded, positive attitude is something you can learn – and it starts in each and every one of us. You can take this argument: “That’s impossible – we’ll never get that past our Works Council” and change it to: “How can we collaborate with our Works Council to make this happen?”
If you look closely, you’ll see how often we respond to ideas, suggestions and solutions with a negative attitude.
Why should freelancers be particularly interested in buzzwords and trends such as Design Thinking and Foresight Thinking?
The latest trends such as business intelligence etc. can always be a competitive advantage. You can develop a skill that 100 other people might already have, or you can watch closely and perhaps acquire a combination of skills that is unique, thereby creating a micro-market where you have a monopoly.
As a freelancer you tend to be more open to this kind of technique because you’re actually always on the look-out for better ways of doing things. Ultimately this means you can also charge higher rates, so you should always bear this type of methodology (such as Design Thinking etc.) in mind.
We’d like to thank Dr. Mario Herger very much for this interview! At the next brainstorming session we’ll definitely all be much more aware of our own reactions.