Interview with Silicon Valley Innovation Expert: Peter Presley (Long Read)
The world of technology, innovation, user experience and creativity has always been a bit elusive to me. When I hear “innovative design”, “user experience” I am drawn to the concepts, though I have the faintest idea of what they really are. When I think of “innovative”, I associate it with “new” and “exciting”, a way to do things we have not thought of before. For “user experience”, I imagine a kid wearing 3D glasses with an expression of awe on his face. Fortunately, I am not too far off the mark.
A few days ago, I had the incredible opportunity to speak with a Silicon Valley Tech Expert (who is on his way to Peru for this UTEC event) on the themes of “Innovation and Creativity” in LATAM, and shed some major light on not only what these terms meant but also what they mean for us going forward, as individuals, societies, and countries.
It's the need to stay relevant.
With Silicon Valley blowing our minds and disrupting the business environment, the need to be innovative and creative is really a company’s need to stay relevant in this fast changing world. Most people associate creativity with artists, writers, musicians etc. As a writer and editor, I am constantly thinking of how to differentiate my stories so that I have an audience to speak to, just like a business must change their brand to follow key consumer behaviors. This pressure, however intense it may be, drives you to change, adapt and produce relevant work. I am sure that for even the most tech-savvy gals and guys in Silicon Valley, translating their brilliant ideas into a provoking story is quite the creative challenge!
The business environment did not have to deal with that sort of pressure until more recently. To give you a brief but informative example of such change, let us examine theme park giant, Disney (which you will see our guest, Peter Presley, had a major hand in). In the mid-2000's the theme park industry started to see a real decline in the return of first-time attendees. Between high-ticket prices, long lines and the growing ability to entertain oneself with social media and smartphones, Disney needed a strategy that would interest the new tech-obsessed generation. The success of Disney comes from its attendee's illusion that the theme park is a better and greater reality than what exists outside its gates. But upon entering, that reality would shatter, with long lines and your own disorganization of when and what part of the park to visit to maximize your experience (and justify the high ticket cost). Couple that with young ones who are growing up with Ipads in one hand and a bottle in the other, and Disney was sure to lose its “allure”. With a massive budget and a whole lot of risk, Disney and several design agents crafted a plan that would re-invent the “Disney experience” and would not only engage the tech-oriented attendees during their visit but before and after as well. They designed a wristband that would take care of all the guest's needs, money, tickets, and your daily-customized schedule etc. The before experience starts the moment you are online designing your dream vacation with new tools that allow you to personalize your experience (which would then be uploaded to your wristband and sent to you like a Christmas present a few weeks before your vacation).
Creativity is a thinking process that generates new ideas while innovation is a doing process that adds value to that idea by putting it into action.
The idea came to one of the team members while reading SkyMall on a flight. He had read about a magnetic wristband that could help your golf swing and saw this as a way to relate the Disney brand to the tech-age park visitors. Ideas like this happen all the time, but without the right environment and resources around you (money, mentors, openness to risk), the creative idea to innovative idea process is almost impossible. Divisions of Disney itself were adverse to change and relied on the age-old saying “if it ain't broke don't fix it” model but thankfully; there existed “corporate rule breakers” who would push this creative challenge and lead Disney into a successful and relevant future.
Now let's examine my last weekend visit to the zoo in Lima…
- What was our pre-experience like?
Well to even come across the idea to go, I remembered a LIP article we wrote a while back about places to go in Lima. I really wanted to do something different that day; I wanted an “out of this world – or this city – experience”. When I spotted the “Parque de Las Leyendas” in the article, I knew that was it. I was sold by the mention of beautiful botanical gardens and exotic animals; I was already creating an experience for myself. The drive to the zoo along the Costa Verde was great until I had to lock my doors and put my bag on my partner’s feet. That ended our “before” experience.
- How did the “during” part go?
We arrived in one piece, though the drop off from the taxi was more of a jump out of the taxi in a highway and run. Upon entering the zoo, we noticed several long or spread out lines of people, giving the image of a very crowded day. The lines were not all that long, but with the cutting of people and the old-style physical paper receipt and copy method at the ticketing counter, our fun day at the zoo was threatening to become a big mistake. Once we were inside, however, it was exactly what I had hoped for. It took us a minute to navigate around the complex (beware of the misleading signs) but the moment we saw a monkey swinging from the trees we were happy with the decision. I am used to zoos in the “states” where animals are kept at a very safe distance from you, which made me feel like I was better off just viewing them from a book or TV. But here in Lima's zoo, with little effort, you could touch a hippo! It really made me rethink my safety standards, but it did give me a thrill like I was in the safari and not thousands of miles away from it.
- The 'œafter' experience:
As a first-time attendee, would I go back? Unfortunately, even with the lingering awe feeling, I probably would not unless there were a lot of changes made. Beyond the reasons I mentioned above, for years I had sworn off zoos and sea parks, having seen documentary after documentary citing the abuse and isolation that animals go through. The entire time I was at the zoo, I felt guilty to be so amazed by the wonderful, out of my world, animals I was witnessing. The animals reminded me that we humans are just one species in nature and that there are thousands more I should be paying attention to. To reconcile this cognitive battle, I thought of a way to enhance the experience that was more aligned with my generation. What if the zoo was a rehabilitation center for local native species that prepared the animals to go back into the wild, like the community-run Chaparri Private Natural Reserve in Northern Peru, or the Denver Zoo in the US that rescues animals before extinction. The fact that Chaparri is community-run ecotourism already had me sold and any introduction of that idea to the Lima zoo would certainly enhance my experience. But any idea related to enhancing and changing the zoo would have to be done in an environment that allows for such change.
Could a zoo that is run and funded by a municipal government lead the way in innovation and park design experience? Even if they had the money to hire a design firm to create a new model, could they risk such a high bet?
Which leads me to my question'¦
Is Peru or LATAM, for that matter, ready for the tech-innovation-design reality that is taking “developed” countries by storm? After researching the Start-up scene in Peru I do see some promising figures. But let us see what the expert had to say.
The following is an exclusive interview with Peter Presley. Peter has over 20 years management consulting and strategic innovation/design firm experience, advising Global Fortune 500 companies on major transformational change initiatives. Living in Peru had the opportunity to learn a little bit more about the man before his big event next week in UTEC Lima. Tickets are still available to attend ! I hope you walk away from this interview as inspired as I was.
- Why are creativity and innovation important in the business environment?
Today's external pressures are not just about a competitive marketplace, but talent, skills, capability and emerging technology to name a few factors. Such pressures are making larger corporations in different global markets think more about their future, their DNA, their offering, their relevance, etc. Roles and organizational structures are changing. Dreamers and Doers working together, software working more with hardware and vice versa, and cross-functional unison/teamwork more important than ever before. Entrepreneurship is absolutely critical for our future yet not everyone has that new business creation DNA. This is going to be a challenge. Generally, large businesses do not innovate very well. They are simply not built that way. They are more built for efficiency, scale, and execution rather than possessing an amazing creative core. Things are slowly changing yet many larger firms still cling to protecting their existing business model/asset base. “Why do we need to change”? There are hundred's of design firms sprouting up across the globe which is a reflection of the need to help larger businesses accelerate on things quicker. Larger companies simply do not have all the toolkits, fresh thinking and creativity internally hence this new cottage industry called design/innovation firm consulting. There are still lots of potential in this space yet I feel it's also up for disruption too.
- How can those strategies of creativity and innovation be implemented in Peru?
My response is not just for Peru but LATAM in general. We think this is a very important topic. Approaches to creativity and innovation need to be adapted for LATAM/Peru. The economics are on a different level. There is a much more conservative approach to making bets from family based businesses. Spending $500,000 on a consulting project is generally unheard of in LATAM. This conservative dynamic needs to significantly change, as it's the larger businesses that have the most capital to invest. With no major VC (venture capital) scene down in LATAM, it's incumbent for the existing larger corporations to be thinking about the variety of tools and approaches to employ that optimize different types of capital investment. A discussion topic for April 07 at UTEC. Though great efforts are being made, LATAM startup ecosystems are not strong enough, and the quality of the ideas are still quite localized versus groundbreaking for the world or Spanish speaking market. Many governments are still not stable enough in LATAM, with many struggling with what is innovation and how to effectively collaborate with the private sector, universities, etc. From experience, trust is a core ingredient to innovation and trust in LATAM is severely lacking for different reasons (e.g. past wars, colonization, borderline fiduciary practices). Trust is probably LATAM's biggest innovation challenge. I have thoughts on how to change this which is not a short-term fix.
(Photo: Peter Presley)
- A lot of your work involves experience, what exactly does 'œexperience' mean to you and why is it important?
I've worked in the design/innovation space for 12+years, coupled with 8+ years in the management consulting field. I've been very intentional about working/living across the globe from Europe to the US to Asia and now Latin America. Global citizenship is really important to me. Fresh ideas/perspective is what it's about. Working in an office in one city for decades simply does not have appeal. People often become more closed and comfortable with familiar environments. At my previous innovation firm, I managed the majority of their strategic client base including large companies like Intel, Google, and Facebook. 50% of my time (4 of 8+years). This included managing the Disney relationship. We sold/delivered 150 projects over a 4-year period; all things physical/digital. Yet the core project was about transforming the Pre-During-After Park Disney Theme Park Experience. Questionably, this was the largest 'œexperience' transformation project in the design/innovation industry to date. 'œExperience' being about how guests/employees/partners interacted with the Disney brand across all main touch-points of the business. A book could be written on this transformation story but let's leave that to others. Creating 'œan experience' is about touch-points, interactions, brand, feeling, and feedback loops, making the whole interaction from a company to a user (B2C or B2B) delightful so that the people interacting with the system/brand/company come back for more. Many new experiences are being created these days from the obvious Starbucks customer experience to the next generation Golden State Warriors fan experience to the Costa Rica experience, which is a stealth project, we are working on.
- You have had a very successful career thus far, what drives you? How did you choose this career?
I always wanted to be an 'œadvisor' since early teens. Just loved the idea of working with multiple clients across different industry segments and problem-sets. At my first consulting firm in Seattle, I literally worked 16+ hours a day to learn the trade, the process and the way of working. What drove me from my early twenty-somethings is very different to what drives me today. Yet the consistent thread is a burning desire to create, to affect the status quo for the better, to work with talented people that make a difference. Yet today there is much more emphasis on impact versus just building security for my family. Everything I've worked on has been intentional from a career standpoint, from Deloitte to frog to Disney to my own startups (this is my third one currently). I chose these firms/ brands because they were challenging, super rewarding and collaborating with some of the best talent in the business.
Recently I founded my own innovation/design firm. We successfully grew to 20+ people over two years. I decided to sell out. Sitting in Silicon Valley/San Francisco is great but to be honest it's an island, a different planet to the rest of the world. It's without question the leader in innovation but very much geared to investing in big bets. We believe not enough people in this world are making a difference with their careers, their focus, many are simply too comfortable with familiar environments, getting a stable salary, etc.
'œSilicon Valley investors are generally not investing in scale in LATAM and many would say why should they based on the current landscape.'
- The world has some very serious issues. You don't solve these challenges sitting behind a desk in some office in San Francisco/Silicon Valley. US problems are not world problems necessarily. 60%+ Guatemalan population is below the poverty line, Brazil is still in recovery mode from recent mishaps, the Argentinean economy is struggling in a major way, Colombia is still trying to understand the 'œhow to' of innovation but making progress with Medellin revitalization, Panama has an identity challenge based on decades of colonization, Peru is still working out how it's indigenous populations blend with an emerging modern culture, the list goes on. Building a bridge between Latin America and Silicon Valley is a mission, a strategic project, and the first to be housed under our new venture firm Silicon Seed. I have a variety of plans working with different ecosystems that are underway. We firmly believe the gap between rich/poor and developed/developing nations is growing significantly. There are not enough people in the world addressing this gap. Silicon Valley investors are generally not investing in scale in LATAM and many would say why should they based on the current landscape.
“Building a bridge between Latin America and Silicon Valley is a mission, a strategic project, and the first to be housed under our new venture firm Silicon Seed.”
- What is the main advice or message you wish for Peruvian businesses to take away from your visit?
We've touched on this before. Your question is really important. The gap is widening between rich/poor, those who have/have not. Silicon Valley generally invests in big bets. Not enough big bets are coming out of LATAM. The startup ecosystems in the region are not producing enough high-quality ideas, the government systems are often unstable which varies from country to country, the pressures of emerging tech like AI are very real and will eventually hit LATAM from mining to agriculture to manufacturing. Family-based businesses are super risk averse and that's a problem.
“I believe the owners of larger LATAM corporations have a responsibility to Peru, its society at large, to start taking more risks and defining more bets. Yes, the intent is to light a fuse on April 07'¦ it's time to start building a narrative, a story about Latin America”.
- Larger companies have deeper pockets to innovate and create new products/services and even NewCo's. I'm encouraged to hear the InterCorp's/Breca's are progressing. More needs to be done. The April 07 UTEC conversation is about large company incubation and tactics/strategies involved to create new value. I believe the owners of larger LATAM corporations have a responsibility to Peru, its society at large, to start taking more risks and defining more bets. Yes, the intent is to light a fuse on April 07. This is not about glamorous marketing, PR or creating private special clubs. This is also not about just innovation but also about changing the culture, hearts and mindsets. The young need more belief in the future and I believe the larger LATAM corporations have a major responsibility to start changing their DNA from its core. Society will benefit. Lastly, we are shooting a documentary, which is going to be awesome. It's time to start building a narrative, a story about Latin America. Lima/Peru come April 05 is the start of that journey. More to share come UTEC event on April 07. Please sign up here
Documentary schedule (Photo: Peter Presley)
“Everyone is creative. Creativity is not just confined to the designer space. Creating amazing products often involves many different disciplines. Yet innovation is not easy and often requires a good level of investment yet there are always exceptions (e.g. Peru's X-Runner venture)”.
Documentary schedule (Photo: Peter Presley)
Peter is a seasoned business advisor with 20+ years experience consulting Fortune 500 companies on transformational change/ strategic innovation initiatives in Europe, the US and Asia. Peter is Founder of a stealth incubation firm based in San Francisco with expanding presence in London, Tokyo and Costa Rica.