Imagine Creativity Center is a creativity and innovation center that organizes innovation trips around the world in which many different individuals work in teams to find solutions to the challenges posed by the sponsoring companies. Its founder is Xavier Verdaguer, a Spanish serial entrepreneur who lived in Silicon Valley for many years and fell in love with the attitude and ambition of the people to develop world-changing projects.
Imagine was founded in 2011 with a one-month program in Silicon Valley to ensure that participants, called dreamers, learned-by-doing developing ideas for the sponsors and, at the same time, made an immersion in the most innovative and entrepreneurial ecosystem in the world. After some years learning from this experience of joining diverse talent and creating teams that generate great ideas, Imagine has continued to launch new editions such as Imagine Express, Imagine 7 Islands or Imagine Latam, amongst others.
During the last month of July, I had the chance to participate in Imagine Silicon Valley 2016 developing a disruptive innovation project on behalf of Cuatrecasas Gonçalves Pereira, as one of the sponsors of the program. Cuatrecasas is a leading law firm in Spain and Portugal advising on all areas of business law and the first law firm to participate in this innovation program.
I have had the opportunity to live and work together with an incredible team of staff and dreamers at Hero City, a unique co-working space at Draper University. In addition, we visited some of the most relevant technology companies in the Valley, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, AirBnB, Pinterest and Dropbox, amongst others. We also conducted activities in Stanford and Berkeley Universities and met relevant personalities such as Angelika Blendstrup, Joaquim Trias, Daniel Kottke and Jordi Argente, amongst many others.
I can say that thanks to this experience I have discovered people, places, cultures, companies and technologies that have boosted my creativity to the extent that I have been able to lead a project regarding Blockchain and Smart Contracts in a field of activity that was completely unfamiliar to me –the global trade industry– and that involves knowledge of different areas and a very different way of working to my day-to-day lawyer experience.
Blockchain, like many other emerging technologies, has the potential to transform many sectors and, therefore, requires end-to-end solutions. Consequently, as a lawyer, the opportunity to develop new skills and to work multidisciplinary with talented people in an ecosystem such as Silicon Valley, has opened my mind to a new and exciting way of working and living. Precisely, one of my professional dreams has always been to innovate in one of the most traditional sectors, the legal industry.
In my opinion, Imagine’s model of bringing together people with great enthusiasm and very different talents and skills –in terms of their age, experience and occupation– to find innovative solutions to challenges posed by sponsors, combining work, fun and team experience and the discovery of new things, is the way of working that will prevail in the future.
I will highlight five common points that I consider play a part in the success of Imagine’s model and of the model implemented by Silicon Valley technology companies.
1. People’s attitude
One of Imagine’s key elements is the selection of its participants, the so-called dreamers, who, regardless of their age, experience and occupation, must share a common pattern: enthusiasm for learning and creating new things in teams, ambition and desire to change the world, a positive attitude towards challenges, working capability, determination, responsibility, compromise and generosity. Attitude is essential and, at Imagine, one can feel a special positive attitude and passion for learning, changing the world and sharing.
In this regard, if there is something that makes a difference of Silicon Valley with the rest of the world is precisely people’s attitude. Technology companies are looking to hire intelligent, hard-working, creative and determined people, that are not afraid to try new things and making mistakes and that are good team players. In fact, in many cases they prefer an acqui-hire over expensive recruitment processes that lead to hiring normally one person who may not fit the culture or a given team. In addition, their employees are people who, in general, value most working with bright people, who inspire them and with whom they love working.
2. Creating an enabling environment for innovation
Imagine designs innovation trips that put you out of your comfort zone, in such a way that the enabling environment to develop innovative solutions arises. This model, which combines hard work, leisure and learnings –learnings not strictly about your occupation or your culture, but about other very different professions, places and people– is at the heart of innovation. Ideation must be multidisciplinary, including a divergent part, not connected with your challenge, and a convergent part, connected with it. If you only take into account information exclusively connected with the challenge you are trying to solve, the solution will not be very disruptive. The greater the divergence, the greater the potential of developing disruptive ideas. In fact, the best ideas usually come from professionals that are not experts in a given area. An example of this can be seen in the legal industry, where disruption is coming from professionals outside of the legal profession.
In this regard, professionals at Silicon Valley technology companies come from various fields and, all together, talk dozens of languages. They represent the global public for which they work. This diversity is very positive for the interaction and the generation of ideas. In addition, workspaces and cafeterias are designed to promote the interaction amongst professionals, discussions and games.
3. Design horizontal and flexible structures
One of the things that has surprised me about Imagine is that we were all treated as equals at the time of sharing our ideas and thoughts, regardless of our age –which ranged from 15 to 45 years– and experience. This horizontal model creates very important bonds between people and is a great retention mechanism for organizations.
This is something that is also considered relevant in technology companies. Indeed, despite the strong growth witnessed in just a few years, they have made considerable efforts to maintain the open culture that can often be seen in the beginnings of a company when everybody contributes in practical ways and feels comfortable sharing ideas and opinions. In addition, they place great importance on learning from mistakes and put working capacity over experience.
Moreover, employees value the flexibility and horizontality and, therefore, the trust placed in them, as well as all the benefits and facilities that they are granted. In fact, these companies have teams specifically responsible for ensuring employees’ happiness.
4. Create teams to develop common challenges
I consider that a key element for Imagine’s success is that specific teams are created to solve a concrete challenge. Therefore, its members have a common goal and feel totally involved in its solution. Otherwise, it is very difficult that professionals of different disciplines, which are not used to working together, can innovate.
In this regard, technology companies work in many cases in small startups in a multidisciplinary and flexible way. In addition, they conduct internal competitions on an annual basis to present ideas and projects, and the winning proposals are developed inside the companies.
5. Creativity is developed through method
Another thing I have learned at Imagine is that creativity and innovation skills are learned through method. We can all be creative and innovate. As Javier Ideami said to us, it is a muscle we must train. We have the potential to become what we dream of being. That is precisely one of the main objectives of Imagine, to promote the talent and creativity of the people that participate in its programs.
On the other hand, the people who work in the main technology companies in the most entrepreneurial ecosystem in the world have come this far through their own effort and ambition, in the same way that I have been able to participate in this program. In this respect, one of the things that caught my attention is the number of Spanish professionals leading projects in some of the most relevant technology companies of the Valley. This shows that we can get where we dream of. We set ourselves our own limits.
In this context, another learning worth noting is that we should not fear sharing our ideas. Execution is the most important aspect and, while sharing, we can test our idea and add up with others’ ideas.
Finally, in my previous experience, I have realized that writing helps me to reflect and learn. This is something that is also considered important in Silicon Valley, where they are more used to, for instance, keep minutes of all meetings. As David Urbano said to us, what is not written is not recorded in our brains, so we do not learn.
Ultimately, I believe that Imagine has designed a model capable of generating a key environment to awaken and promote inspiration, creativity and enthusiasm for pursuing the dreams of the people that share these innovation trips. This in turn enables the development of disruptive innovation solutions for the companies that sponsor the programs and promotes intrapreneurial attitude.
In my opinion, this model will prevail in the future in organizations, as is already the case in the world’s leading technology companies, because it generates the favorable environments for innovation. This is key to maintain a competitive advantage in any market.
I would like to thank, firstly, Cuatrecasas, and specially our president Rafael Fontana and our CIO Francesc Muñoz, the trust placed in me for this project. I feel proud to be part of a firm that represents many of the mentioned values, especially with regards to giving young professionals voice and participating in innovation projects such as Imagine. I also wish to thank the team of Bergé for their implication and cocreation efforts in this project.
Last but not least, I would like to thank the staff of Imagine, specially its founder Xavier Verdaguer, who is an inspiring model for all of us, and the dreamers, for having the opportunity to share with them this experience. Now I am lucky to be part of this amazing family that is Imagine because, as Xavier says, having participated as dreamer in one of its programs is just the beginning.
Many thanks to all of you!
Do not miss the following summary video of this experience by Berta Vicente Salas: