That said, the author is wrong about the title and doesn't get Silicon Valley. Most don't because they don't know the historical context of how it became what it is. If you want to re-create or beat it, you have to either imitate or improve on the components that went into creating it. This is the best article I've seen summarizing the big picture of how Silicon Valley came to be:
Note: I bet many people didn't think Zuckerberg and others paid visits to the old guard to learn old lessons for IT. Probably thought it was all modern, fresh thinking "disrupting" the old stuff. A mix as usual. ;)
I am not sure about Jobs but it seems like Zuckerberg had already founded Facebook before he met with the old timer. So he was already onto something.
On another note I must say that although the phrase "to invent the future you must understand the past" (another popular phrase is; "Those who don't understand history are doomed to repeat it") I don't believe it's true. In fact Silicon Valley is the perfect example of why this is not the case.
At least from all the things I have bean reading up on, with regards to the history of Silicon Valley it started because of some demands for computing power and was cemented with the semiconductor which then ended up creating the real reason why Silicon Valley kept attracting talent. (you could probably go even further back and claim that the "Manhattan Project" was as important for SV too.
So the "real" reason SV was popular was because a lot of factors went into place none of them by design.
In other words. You can't design a silicon valley because it wasn't designed to begin with. It evolved from a number of factors and "after the fact realizations" which are not possible to copy.
And so whatever becomes the new SV will not be designed either, it will evolve when the right circumstances allow for it.
I'll agree with that. Far as the past, there were lessons being created every step of the way for future efforts to learn from. Certainly there's going to be plenty of new things in an area focused on creating new things. Obvious. There are old things that apply, though.
We even see Silicon Valley founders trying to draw from past lessons and successes as they create and grow their companies. That's smart of them. Those trying to re-create or exceed Silicon Valley aren't playing it as smart as they leave off components from its past. The Strategic Computing Initiative, DARPA, government contracts... lots of public investment in many creative teams in physical proximity happened. In parallel, we had the various booms going on in the private sector on both VC and demand side creating all kinds of companies and experience. On top of it, all these new people and developments like Y Combinator.
Silicon Valley emerges and is sustained from all of this. Probably more factors I haven't even mentioned. A lot of components to copy that the copycats either aren't copying or can't.
For instance I tried that to explain Europes problems http://000fff.org/why-is-europe-failing-to-create-more-unico... based on various lessons that IMO factors in.
IMO it all boils down to being able to create the right environment where it can happen in rather than to try and create it or even kickstart it.
Revisionist history. Gotta love it. :)
"Demolition has already begun on a row of buildings along San Antonio Road, including the International Halal Market and the Barron Park Plumbing Supply sites. The unassuming-looking market was the former site of Shockley Semiconductor a seminal, albeit unsuccessful, business credited with kicking off the silicon chip industry in the South Bay and considered by many to be the true birthplace of Silicon Valley. As of now, the only mark left of the former building is a signpost mounted years ago summarizing the history of the Shockley site.
As part of their plans, Geiser said the finished development would include a variety of silicon-transistor-themed artwork as well as a plaque and photos to commemorate the Shockley building. (http://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/2015/06/01/big-changes-af...)
Bonus: progression of the building over the years:
I see a couple of anecdotes, not a recipe for success, or even a pattern.
I agree that Silicon Valley arose from magic (or luck), and that it can't be recreated. But it doesn't need to be. The Valley will lose influence for precisely the reason it claims strength in the article; money and computer software can move anywhere, now more than ever. And mobility is increasing fast.
Technology development is diffusing, globally. Believe it or not, many people have cultural roots and don't want to leave their home town...or country. SV is still highly influential, but that will wane over time.
At one point, says Blank, the institutions of the Valley were so totally in the pocket of the Department of Defense that Stanford became essentially a research lab for the CIA. A number of engineering Ph. D. theses were actually classified. The largest employer at the time—and still the third largest for-profit employer in the valley is not Google, and certainly not Facebook. It’s Lockheed Martin."
Is this correct?
Anyway, this great (and long...) book will give you an idea just how much the U.S. government (esp defense) funded our computing advances back in the day. A chunk of that probably went to Silicon Valley, too.
Second off: I really like the patronage idea. It feels horribly unfair if you are NOT included, which is why it can't last in many places, but back around 2006 or so I joined Red Hat and we had the "Emerging Technologies Group" (now defunct).
Basically, our group was told to go make systems management applications that made people's life easier. No plan on commercailing, and we barely conferred with each other but every 6 months or so. It was pretty amazing.
Cobbler and Func came out of that, and eventually I was able to get more involved with OSS than most people do, and that led to a lot of other things later on down the line (like Ansible).
I think it's a really cool idea to just find some smart people, vaguely wave at a problem, say, "go make these users really happy" with very few parameters and see what happens.
I also believe in companies with a really strong vision of what they want to build, but what we miss is that some of our best designers are also the builders, and when we get one person designing and hundreds of people building, we can possibly get bloat and a bunch of untapped creative potential.
The theory of the 80/20 time, that I hear seems to be a myth, is a step in the right direction.
The problem with this is that you can't know who is a genius before you invest. Was Steve Jobs obviously a "Genius" before he started Apple? No. Even after running Apple for a few years, he was fired because some important people saw him as incompetent (I.e. Not a genius). It took many years before he was able to prove himself.
If investors started spending more on fewer people, it would mean that fewer "geniuses" would be discovered.
If anything, I think Silicon Valley is too much like Florence; VCs are pouring billions into unicorns headed by so called "geniuses" while depraving unknown geniuses the ability to prove themselves on the market.
Also, I think during he renaissance, very smart/talented people would have stood out from the crowd. If you go to SV, smart people are everywhere, it's even harder to identify genius in such an environment.
With that kind of money, we could have funded 100K small startups for 1 year ($80K each).
That's a lot of startups!
I think funding fewer companies with more money is a good short-term strategy (in terms of buying competitive advantage) but not good in the long-run.
I don't think Uber will be able to maintain a monopoly once the hype dies down. Once the hype has faded, competitors will come up and eat into Uber's business - For example, Google, Tesla and Apple might all have their own dedicated networks of self-driving cars to drive people around and Uber may become redundant.
Uber's valuation would deflate and most of those $8 billion would have been wasted.
I think they are missing a large demographic. There are people like myself, who don't care about style, or the newness of a vechicle. I just want to get there, at a reasonable price. Yes, safety is important, but older cars are safe if maintained. Hell, drive me anywhere in a old collector's car--with tons of metal?
Rent a Wreck was a popular business in the stone ages. People just needed cheap transportation. I honestly don't care about what a car looks like. I'm not marrying it.
Rent a Wreck is still around and I know people who use them on a regular basis.
Kidding aside, I wonder how hard it was to break in to the innovative trades without a politically connected benefactor (or be born in to it). This far out historically, we mainly hear the success stories and rarely the failures to which I expect were many and tragic.
The selection bias for positive outcomes is pervasive. There were many, many apprentices working for guys like Verocchio, and pretty much the only one we know of is Da Vinci.
That said, just because you only hear of the analogies to Jobs/Woz, Ellison, Page/Brin, Gates, Zuckerberg, doesn't mean there weren't plenty of quite successful individuals. Likely, their work was lost as it wasn't of enough lasting value to survive the political and socioeconomic upheaval of a half-millenium, but I want to believe some merely-very-good people did well. Sadly there's no real way to tell...
I am not so sure this is a fair comparison. One thing I think it lacks is patronage competitors (and thus competition).
The article seemed to indicate (unwillingly) that it was a unique combination of non-reproducible scenarios i.e. talent and talent scout. It's not like there weren't other places with other talent and patrons.
Also SV teaches us the exact opposite since it didn't start with a city with lots of money and lots of patrons (they came over time)
I think a much more likely explanation is the same that spur many other sudden sparks excellence within a short time and geographic location and that is. Some sort of right combination of progress in a number of fields, the availability of money and a fairly progressive time in history in that area.
I.e. luck more than anything else. (Just like nation building btw)
Now, this doesn't stop a company or VC from acting like a patron. We've seen a number of them release open-source software, publish papers on working strategy/tech, sponsor R&D that is similarly public, and so on. I'm not sure what the percentage is but it shows the models aren't exclusive. It's just the incentives shift VC stuff far in another direction from Da Vinci or Michelangos making goods for the public. Really far per some billionaires. ;)
This may be only a small part of the reason. One of the Renaissance's most important cause was the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire. The extraordinary people flee to established centers, and at the time of its decline Byzantium enjoyed a great cultural blossom. Constantinople was a oasis of art and culture throughout the dark age, and only after Constantinople's fall under Ottoman Empire the European art and culture had no more that established place to coalesce to and thus was forced to blossom somewhere else. In the same way today's copycat entrepreneurial centers can not truly blossom until SF looses its name and appeal.
Does anyone know if South Asian cities have had similar forced rebuilding efforts? I don't think they have. Natural disasters have not level-ed a city. War/Invasions have lead to attackers being assimilated.
IMHO, the article:
(1) Neglects how much of what caused
and/or enabled Silicon Valley really
happened and still happens outside of
Silicon Valley, e.g. Bell Labs in NJ, IBM
near Poughkeepsie, NY, and in Boca Raton,
Florida, Microsoft in Redmond, WA, US DoD,
NASA, and DARPA in DC, CERN in
Switzerland, and Linux wherever.
(2) Overestimates the role of Ph.D.
holders in nearly all of the financial
successes of the companies in Silicon
Valley based heavily on software.
(3) Greatly underestimates the importance
for economic productivity of the main uses
of the work of Silicon Valley, (A)
document preparation that got rid of
typewriters, paper spreadsheets, and graph
paper and (B) digital communications.
(4) For the last 20 years or so of Silicon
Valley, overestimates the role of
originality as illustrated in Renaissance
How Silicon Valley Did Get Started:
US aerospace needed a rapidly flowing
ocean of electronics that desperately
needed digital signal processing from
transistors, integrated circuits, and
microprocessors instead of analog signal
processing from vacuum tubes.
So, aerospace was constantly just
screaming for many multiples of more,
smaller, faster, lower power transistors.
Make a little progress in that direction,
and US aerospace would buy, cost no
object. So, desperate customers, deep
pockets, wanting, in one word, more, and
cost no object.
Before WWII, Bell knew very well that they
needed an electronic amplifier better than
vacuum tubes and started the research on a
solid state amplifier. WWII delayed the
work, but just after the war we had
transistors -- Bell gave it to the world.
Soon the needs of US aerospace from the
Korean War, the Viet Nam War, the Cold
War, and the space race and the huge flows
of US Federal money got us Silicon Valley
and microprocessors. The key background
was solid state physics.
Then, with microprocessors, could attack
that huge time waste in the offices --
word processing or document preparation.
The waste was enormous. So, a PC, some
word processing software, and a printer
would totally blow away any and all
typewriters and did. Presto, bingo, we
got the IBM PC, Intel, Microsoft, Apple,
Lotus, Adobe, Seagate, Western Digital,
Gateway, Dell, etc. Right -- document
Then, dialing phone numbers, with some
phone modems, already available for
selected high end needs, got us bulletin
board software, AOL, and a start on social
Then put the TCP/IP stack from BSD into
Windows, and, again, presto, bingo, got
the explosion of the commercial Internet
to replace dial up connections.
Then Tim Berners-Lee, at CERN wanted a
word processing mark-up language to ease
writing newsletters for the particle
physics community to be distributed over
the Internet, then common at research
institutions, and we got HTTP and HTML.
To read the HTTP and HTML, we got Web
browsers. We're talking just a simple
word processing markup language of which
by then there maybe a dozen popular ones
and many dozens more. So, we got Web
browsers for Windows, etc.
Then soon nearly every organization in the
world wanted a Web site if only as an
electronic replacement for a paper
Then there got to be a lot of Web sites
and a need to let people find what they
would like -- we got Yahoo and, then,
Google. We needed IP routers, and Cisco
People wanted to interact with others, and
we got social media and Facebook.
Meanwhile, we made great progress in the
infrastructure. Especially, Bell Labs to
the rescue again -- GaAlAs heterojunction
solid state lasers and optical fibers for
the data rates needed by the Internet
We needed, and slowly got, much more and
better infrastructure -- data
communications, data storage, processors,
main memories, BIOS features, virtual
machine software, operating systems,
programming languages, disk file systems,
and database software, and security
borrowing heavily from the history on
mainframes, lots of hardware
communications standards, and, then, the
great miniaturization of mobile devices.
Then we got a lot more in on-line
shopping, information, news, video, etc.
So, Bell Labs gave us transistors; US
aerospace gave us microprocessors; the
mainframe history gave us infrastructure
software; DARPA gave us the Internet; Bell
Labs gave us the optical fibers to carry
the Internet data; and here we are.
We might pour a little cold water on the
hype about Silicon Valley with two points:
(1) As from Kauffman in
and from AVC in
on average, the VC returns have been poor.
(2) We get another Microsoft, Cisco,
Apple, Google, or Facebook only a few
times each 10 years.
Okay, but, now what?
Maybe next year the world will say,
"Silicon Valley, what have you done for me