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July 19, 2013

The Secret of Silicon Valley's Success

Posted by Sanjay Dalwani (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:35 AM

Innovation Lab: Silicon Valley | Promo [Source:Wobi http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dh69eFmHrkE ]

Why is there an inverse correlation between the amount of time and money a municipality spends on creating an "innovation hub" and the actual innovation that comes out of it? I have my own theories.

Among the first things we learned in Economics 101 was Adam Smith's faith in the market's "invisible hand." In some ways, Smith's perspective mirrors what I've come to learn about entities that try to replicate Silicon Valley in their own backyards. They never can seem to find the right formula, despite support from the smartest academics and think tanks on the planet. Maybe they're trying too hard. Maybe they should allow a kind of invisible hand of innovation to take over.

Every day it seems I come across a new initiative sponsored by a government agency or industry consortium somewhere in the world, intent on creating the next Silicon Valley on their own terms. I can't say I blame them - Silicon Valley start-ups attract the highest level of investment capital worldwide. And what country, state or city doesn't want an engine of innovation to jumpstart the economy, providing jobs and creating wealth? I say this because Silicon Valley is all about the people on the ground. You can make sweeping academic statements. You can mimic San Jose by building corporate campuses and universities (and even some bohemian coffee shops nearby). But without the right people, it's all just a pretty shell. If the best people are left to their own designs, they'll be the source of Silicon Valley-style innovation. It's not a model that can be forced upon on a city or district.

I came to this conclusion when I was thinking about the corporation as a microcosm of a large and sometimes unpredictable market or geographical region. Think about the best project you've ever worked on throughout your career. You might not even remember its name or its details, but you sure do remember the people who were part of your team and shared in its success. When I think back to my most satisfying project, I recall lots of late nights, heated discussions, and endless Chinese take-out. I also recall the camaraderie. We banded together and stood up to the "bean-counters" when we needed sufficient funding. We supported each other if someone was taken to task by a "suit" who demanded an unreasonable deadline. In fact, everything we did was incredibly organic in form. That's why we were so successful. You couldn't duplicate that team in the pages of a textbook or a carefully laid-out plan.

Of course, I'm not recommending that the next time you're faced with a big project that you should throw all organization and planning to the wind. What I am saying is that you should make every effort to get the right people in on the project and be amenable to let innovation take its course.

Behind the steel and glass of San Jose, California, there are teams just like the one I described. They're filled with optimism, a great attitude, and a fondness for collaboration. If you dropped these people into a heated hut in the middle of Antarctica, you'd have a new Silicon Valley. That's something that no government, industry group, or academic institution can ever copy.


Very true - it's the people who make up the team and bring in the camaderie required to weather any storm and quell any challenge. How can I forget an assignment in the organization - For a telco,we were tasked to build a private cloud ecosystem from scratch. The way we delivered the platform would not have been possible with each other's support, encouragement, and those small innovations and willing-to-exert mentality, which contributed to the big picture. Even to this day, we cannot forget those gruelling but rewarding days.

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