I had an email exchange this morning with a friend in the bay area who is fighting mightily to build his business. It’s been a tough journey for he and his partners but the years of work and sacrifice are getting closer to paying off. As we swapped stories he responded to a question about his company’s future with the following:
I can get a job anywhere and plug away with a good salary.
This is true.
Even if his current business fails, he has developed highly marketable skills that would be hugely valuable to any of his future employers. And given the hiring needs in Silicon Valley these days, he’d most likely see multiple offers for companies looking to hire him.
Its often said that Silicon Valley has a “reality distortion field”.
So maybe the valley doesn’t actually have a reality distortion field at all. Maybe they’ve figured some things out about what it means to build a 21st century economy. To build an economy that not only welcomes, but seeks to invent the new. An economy that welcomes the weird. An economy that sees risk not as a liability but as an asset that yields a more valuable return than just cash.
And maybe in the war of words around who is going to oust the bay area as the next Silicon Valley, we’re losing the point. That maybe this isn’t a place to be overthrown or unseated but a model to be embraced and adapted to other local environs. That trying to recreate it will fail, but embracing it’s softer principles of innovation, risk, learning and celebration of the weird can lay the foundation for 21st century economies to emerge.
As I write this, Apple has passed Exxon to become the most valuable company in the world. The contrast of 20th vs. 21st century economies couldn’t be starker. On one hand you have Apple reinventing every industry it touches, with $75 billion dollars of cash in the bank and building a spaceship in Cupertino and on the other you have belching exhaust, depleting resources and government subsidies.
As we collectively work our way through the present pains of this massive global transformation, Silicon Valley presents a living, breathing manifesto for what it means to be a 21st century economy.