Silicon Valley’s mystique isn’t being exported

Ray Zinn

Silicon Valley’s mystique isn’t being exported

Silicon Valley’s aura is unique. Try though they might, other localities have yet to replicate it and likely never will.

In The Valley where I helped drive the semiconductor industry, we thrive on doing, and every vector of activity is based on doing things big. Nobody in the Silicon Valley technology world dreams of starting anything less than a global business. A good starting point for us is a million customers or users. Changing the world is considered the norm. In a word, Silicon Valley’s culture is geared to the exceptional.

Biases abound

Everyone is led by their biases, and in Silicon Valley, biases abound. What underlies the Silicon Valley mystique is a collection of well-integrated biases toward action.

Bias for disruption: Small, incremental changes are fine, but Silicon Valley prefers wholesale change. This is reflected in our entrepreneurs, our daily language, and our venture capital choices. The phrase status quo is only used negatively in Silicon Valley.

Bias for flying fast: Though I prefer investing in entrepreneurs seeking to create enduring companies, Silicon Valley prefers starting fast, ramping up faster, and selling out once the product concept is proven. This attracts venture capitalist who also have short horizons.

Bias for brains, not egos: In Silicon Valley, the best idea wins. This generates an egalitarian environment largely free of egos. Pride is replaced with patriation, collaboration, and a constant focus on the end-game.

Bias for global: From our semiconductor origins, Silicon Valley recognized that we were changing the world. The Internet has brought the cost of changing the world down to start-up affordability. Few venture capital pitches in Silicon Valley include business plans with mere regional or national aspirations.

Bias for bucks: Capitalism is a good word in Silicon Valley. With this is a bias for acquiring capital to disrupt technology and life as we know it. Taking investment money, making money, and then giving away our billions are considered saintly, not evil.

Cultures migrate, but are rarely exported

Herein is why no other city has replicated the Silicon Valley mystique.

What drives us is mainly cultural. Our local culture has self-assembled over the last 60 years. Our collective biases for risk taking, coopetition and disruption are interwoven into our people. What we think, whom we dine with, what risks we consider worth taking, even our local language evolved to support our biases for disruptively changing the world. It is an integrated culture, and like most cultures, it does not travel well.

Think about regional cultures in the United States. The warm hospitality of the Old South cannot be found above the Mason-Dixon line. Nor can the overly tolerant ethos of San Francisco be found in The Middle. Cultures can migrate, but it is a slow and sloppy march in the best of circumstances.

Silicon Valley’s integrated culture is less likely to find roots elsewhere. One aspect or another may be adopted in Austin, Portland or the Research Triangle, but the entire set of biases and the support systems that feed them cannot simply find new homes as a unit. Yet without each of these elements, what Silicon Valley does on a daily basis cannot be replicated. As long as our unique set of biases and abilities stays here, then Silicon Valley’s mystique will remain unique.