The problem of the digital age for economy and society is not so much about the digitization of everything it’s the exponential speed of the change. We human beings are not used to such a speed in all of our history.

Companies who understand that, don’t feel comfortable at all anymore and act.

So did my employer ZEISS, a world famous brand in optical based in Germany – and mechanical technologies since 170 years. I was challenged to find a job shadow position in one of the major digital brands in Silicon Valley, U.S.A., to experience the pace of change at its origin.

Thanks to Gerry McGovern, a leading Internet evangelist and Martin Hardee from Cisco,  I found such a unique shadow opportunity. Thanks to even more people from my network, I was able to reach out to Managers, Directors and VPs from Apple, Google, Facebook, Adobe and Marketo to share knowledge and experiences while in Silicon Valley. (Can drive the 101 w/o a GPS meanwhile)

May 2015 was a special time at Cisco as there were many things going on – there was a CEO transition with a fireside chat that I was able to attend, a newly redesigned homepage going online, strong financial numbers were being reported and there were two large digital related events that I was able to attend and learn from.

For the sake of authenticity and speed, I ran an internal blog online for Zeiss summarizing my findings on a regular basis.

Even though I have visited the US almost 20 times, there were 2 big surprises: Seeing an incoming CEO be such a down to earth man and the extreme punctuality of business meetings – all over the valley.

There were also some not to obvious insights with respect to thought styles and the pace of change. Simply applying the North American thought style in Europe, to become faster would need much more than a saying. The speed of change will require more shadow opportunities – it can’t all be learned at once.

Recommendations I got for ZEISS from the expert talks revolve around out-of-the box thinking, innovation and creating seamless personalized digital customer value add.

From all the observations I made,  I could create a list of doable actions, that can be applied “next Monday morning” – small and big things alike.

A final thought: just adding new digital projects won’t be the patent recipe to succeed in the digital age, because it doesn’t change our unique value proposition. Instead, making use of emerging technologies will be needed, to fundamentally change the way the customers gain value from their experiences with our products and solutions.

The worst thing a company can do, is to be arrogant about disruptive ideas, as Porsches CEO recently did laughing on Elon Musk’s losses with the Tesla. I created a reminder in my Calendar 3 years from now, to check the situation 😉

Thanks again to the entire Cisco Digital Team for being my base camp for 4 weeks, their great hospitality, their openness and time spent with me.

Will always keep the time and the farewell party as a best memory – will stay in touch, promise.




Uwe Grunewald

Account Executive bei Carl Zeiss AG