Undoubtedly Silicon Valley is a place envied by some and a marvel to others.  Situated just South of San Francisco it encompasses both the regions known as West and East bay.  An enclave of innovation, education, knowledge and some of the most cutting edge companies on the planet.  So what makes Silicon Valley so special and why has it been difficult to replicate it elsewhere on the planet?   Why were similar, pre-valley locations like the 128 Beltway in Boston no longer even remembered as Silicon Valley East?  

The Culture

As I watched my favorite Anthony Bourdain episode I got a stream of reasons flowing into my cranium.  It isn’t about what it is but how it got there and how it remains unduplicated.  Countries from around the globe want their own valley…. the Chinese, the Indians, the Japanese and I predict all will fail.  Not because they lack any of the virtues that make up the valley but because they have failed to understand and to see ‘the why’ it is so unique.  First and foremost at the foundation is the cultural and social diversity of the bay area.  People from Asia, from other parts of the US, Europe and just about every country live in the metropolitan area.  Their arrival does not require that they change anything in their new life in Silicon Valley.  They can retain as much or as little of their culture as they wish.  They can embrace other cultures, and even share in mutual events that brings them closer together as a community.  In doing so a tolerance, and even a degree of acceptance gets created that can be found no where else.  Some would argue that New York City started in much the same way, which is true.  But what happened during early immigration was a desire to shed history and to embrace the new homeland.  Maybe its the heavy Asia population in the bay area but tradition, family and culture cannot be shed even when living elsewhere.  Whether it be Indians, Filipinos, Koreans, Japanese, Malaysians, Chinese or even Tibetans Asia stays truly Asia  (to take a slogan from Malaysia’s tourism campaign).

ImageLife Catalyst

When you are at peace with life, free to be who you are and with as much of your history as you want it allow the mind and the will to excel.  You see immigrants who embrace this in their work, commitment and attention to excellence in the bay area.  This isn’t through training, doctrine or mandate it comes from free will (one of those virtues given to us in religious writings).  This creates a tremendous energy and thirst to achieve great, and to dream great for our future generations.  With this positive and constructive social climate everything is possible and nothing is impossible.  If you fail its because of the possibility for success and not the culminated outcome that may have been precipitated.  This all means that your next day is one of reconstruction, recouping ones faculties and starting all over again.  It is after all Silicon Valley where dreams can be made.

I Digressed…. Sorry

Anthony Bourdain’s program started my thinking.  Sure maybe it was the food, the drinks and the memories of being in the bay area but none of this was what gave me revelation about what makes Silicon Valley tick.   As they were showing maps and locations I came to realize that Silicon Valley lives its innovation, the world becomes the beneficiary of the metropolitan area using its works.  Great ideas, become works in process, the works in process are then applied within the community, they are perfected from the masses (those free willed individuals who aren’t afraid of what they say, who they are or what opinions they have).  Its a colorful array of feedback necessary to do it quest for doing it right, and not so much a matter of marching to the beat of an outside world.  It is after all Silicon Valley, and we enjoy life and quest to do smart things for the betterment of mankind.  Okay, maybe I’m getting a little overboard with the enthusiasm that you feel while in the valley.  Its is a bit of a heady exercise when you are at your favorite coffee shop rubbing elbows with what appears to be a street person only to find out that he’s a multi-multi-millionaire.  Or the guy who is mulling over papers in a three piece suit that you later discover is out of work and trying to find that next pot of gold to make a leap of faith into.  Its this confusing contrasts, the meld of all of the elements but the alchemy that makes it magic.  You can take all of the pieces and put them anywhere else and it won’t work… and its all about the culture that has taken years to concoct.  Even cities who have a much longer history have the opposing difficulty of deprogramming and the lack of real commitment.  I’m sure that some would agree that all too many strive for quick results but to have something like the valley takes a special cut of personalities, culture and drive.

What’s in the Wholly Valley Grail?

Success loves success, and likewise successful people like to cluster with like minded people.  Not because we are snobbish but because we are understood better, all of this takes us back to community.   Because success is contagious a full array of resources become a part of the community.  Scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, losers (yes we have to lose in order to gain) and winners… venture capitalists and serial innovators call the valley their home.  Its one stop shopping and sure you can reach people via the Internet but there is nothing like have a lunch and coming up a new innovation and have a prototype within a week.  Try and match that using technology… maybe you can do all of the mechanics but there is something missing when you deal with the realities of a person-to-person twinkle in the eye, a sense of commitment and a few words that melds with it a new understanding about the person and not just the work being discussed.  

Play Hard Means Win Hard

Hertzberg in his hygiene theory talked about how the absence or the presence of light effects workers.  While we have come a long way from the early industrial era some of our major institutions remain stuck in that time-frame.  Fear is smiling for it is willing paralysis over business.  We often see the separation between business in the US, Wall Street with ties, suits and protocol to the valley with sunglasses, shorts and sports shirts.  As is said, the clothes don’t make the man, the man makes the man.  But the clothes are telling… or the absence of clothes as was the case with the emperor who had none.  The love of life, the love of “the new” and the willingness to be fearless (yes, residents of the valley have been know to partake in some of the craziest hobbies and sports on the face of the earth, some even rising to fame on TV programs).   This condition means that work in the valley is anything but conventional.  As we have seen from such companies as Google, Apple, Intel, Yahoo and other current residents…. they know how to make the workplace a personal environment where you want to go, not where you must go.  Yes, while telecommuting is a readily available option many still prefer the workplace.  Its a communal, its community, its a part of you and the results are astounding.  Despite deadlines, targets, schedules, budgets and all of those things needs to keep the outside world happy there is a space in which energy is exerted.  Sounds a bit vague, which it is, but time has really no sense… 20 hour days are simply a result not a mandate.  If the work is done in 1 hour then the rest of the time is spend doing things to keep your innovative, creative and energy at its max.  Its really hard to explain to conventional thinkers, its even more difficult to understand if you have always been driven by pragmatics and the tasks associate with them.  Its equivalent to the leap of faith from a plane and the trust be given to the parachute.  I would be remiss if I did not mention that cultures such as this find a very high level of social commitment.  If someone is struggling others freely help, if you are ahead on matters you don’t sit waiting for an assignment you find avenues to channel your availability (even if it means sticking your nose into some other areas of interest).

Only the Lonely

Some wonder why not all people are successful in the valley.  Are they simply inept or is there something else.  People in general want to succeed.  I have seldom found people who say, “I want to screw up today”.  So what is the poison that afflict the failures?  In just about each and every case it boils down to two (2) factors; unable to be a team player (sure you know people who say they are but are simply socially inept) and those looking to apply cookbook solutions to a culture whether the cookbook is a reference and not a rule.  This is where countries and companies fail outside of the valley they try to replicate the model and force behavior that can only occur through organic means.  Can another silicon valley occur elsewhere, most certainly and what is needed is not a recipe but a state of being.  One with culture, free to reach appropriate levels of balance, a unbridled complete and total social commitment and a desire to make the impossible a reality.  I have been quite blessed during my 30+ years in the IT industry to have met and worked with/for some of the giants of the valley.  Even then its simply not enough to have an acquaintance its the ongoing interaction and trust that takes decades to mature.  This does not take place overnight, it takes patience, understanding and desire.  The valley isn’t right for everyone but it is a marvel to see, feel and appreciate for the benefit of the world community.