Amy LeBlanc lives near Silicon Valley in the San Francisco Bay Area. Image taken by K. LeBlanc 4/2016
Which customs of the technology world lead to exponential success and growth in business?
Silicon Valley is a location of several cities near the southern base and rapidly surrounding the San Francisco Bay. Silicon Valley is named for its advancements in technology, one of the first being a silicon material used in conductors of electricity. Since the gold rush drew people from all over the world in the 1800s, and the military drive for technology ignited engineering miracles in the early to mid 1900s, this region has experienced massive business growth and success.
How do collective values build up a culture of people from all over the world to continue growing and succeeding here? The answer is not simply the sunshine, the seaside breeze, the nap pods, the art, nor the real estate, although those are wonderful components. The cause of rapid cycles of development are not passed down from one genius after another. It is impossible for one man to build what have been thousands of companies worth billions of dollars for products millions of people use every day. The answer is a collective culture of values which feeds and fuels the wave of innovation.
There are many books written which aim to capture the history, study the anthropology, and qualify the patterns of the top technology ecosystem in the world (2016, http://tech.co/about-tech-cocktail ). Some of these books are written by outsiders who learned through careful research, interviews, and visits to important places of the region. Some books are written by eye witnesses, workers and leaders of the biggest companies in technology today. Whether we are interested in technology or not, there are two reasons why we should care about Silicon Valley’s success and growth.
It can teach us how people grow and succeed as individuals.
It can teach us how people grow and succeed as communities.
Based on some of the books written about Silicon Valley, I’ve gathered some values that seem to appear often in its collective culture.
Value #1: Imagine
(Menuez, 2014, p.51) image taken from http://www.improgrammer.net/historical-photos-programmers-silicon-valley/)
Innovation demands us to voice new ideas, design new products, create new solutions, and always view systems or products with a new approach.
Fearless Genius displays Doug Menuez’s photograph where four programming leaders and engineers are listening as Steve Jobs “bends the laws of physics” in the 1990s. Menuez captions the photograph of these legends as: “often stunned at the technological challenges Steve demanded that they solve. One engineer was described as “spitting mad” while arguing with Steve, but most of them also relished the challenges Steve posed” (p.16).
Secrets of Silicon Valley: What everyone can learn from the innovation capital of the world by Deborah Perry Piscione reviews the many brave new inventions created by Stanford University’s students. It was a Ph.D. thesis by the cofounders of Google which developed a mathematical algorithm for a feature still used in the giant search engine. It was two graduate students’ garage creations that developed Hewlett Packard’s “far more sensitive, accurate and precise” electronic devices. The stories and legacies go on and on. Imagination can lead to amazing inventions.
image taken from books.google.com
In Secrets of Silicon Valley: What Everyone Else Can Learn from The Innovation Capital of the World (2013), Deborah Perry Piscione uses the word “culture” hundreds of times. As a former political correspondent from Washington D.C., she was an outsider to Silicon Valley who became an entrepreneur and now thrives there. She was amazed when she moved here and realized: “an approximate ten-mile radius from where we were living, are headquartered some of the most recognizable companies in technology, digital media, and social media including Apple, Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter, Yahoo!, Hewlett Packard, Intel, eBay, Applied Materials, Juniper Networks, Adobe, Cisco, Oracle, and Symantec.” (5) Now that I live here, it doesn’t take long talking amongst friends and reading the many leadership books or company updates that employees in Silicon Valley move from one major company to the next, recruited for their talent and achievements. Shared talent and experience goes a long way in revitalizing systems within these tech companies.
In fact, Stanford university’s campus is designed for buildings of certain majors to share common areas which provide the opportunity to collaborate and brainstorm ideas with each other as explained in Secrets of Silicon Valley.
Image taken from http://multipliersbooks.com/multipliers/book/#buybook
In Multipliers:How the Best leaders make everyone smarter(2010) by first hand tech-industry eye witness and former executive at Oracle, Liz Wiseman describes two types of managers from real life Silicon Valley employee interviews and survey data. One manager is a “diminisher”, someone who only cares about his/her own ideas, therefore wasting the massive bank-load of talented ideas from the employees. Employees who work with this kind of manager are exhausted, but haven’t contributed their own ideas. In contrast, the “Multiplier” is the ideal manager because he/she maximizes what can be gained from each employee’s talent and sets them up for success rather than draining all of their energy to serve the manager’s idea (p.8-13). The reality today is that there are networking events all over the world and right here where tech giants share their experiences, helpful connections, and their ideas with anyone interested. If you would like to attend these events, I recommend www.startupdigest.com for events near you, where legends come to your part of the world and share their knowledge.
Value #3: Persist
“Preparations for the Demonstration are not going well.” photo taken in 1993 by Menuez and on p. 79 of Fearless Genius
Don’t be afraid to fail. Since the 1800s when the railroad and the gold rush brought many international people to seek fortune in the San Francisco Bay Area, ideas and inventions have come and gone. Some great ideas fail even after many long, overworked years of building into it. Apple company with and without Steve Jobs experienced wonderful highs and devastating lows of technology successes and product launch failures.
Don’t be afraid to get funding for as much as you can. If you believe in your business and yourself, work hard on presenting your ideas and asking for advice and funding. Venture Capitalism, Angel Investors, and strong financial benefits to employees are ways that Silicon Valley celebrates the technological accomplishments of this era. In Secrets of Silicon Valley, expensive cars, lavish housing prices, and fancy schools represent the financial wealth of Silicon Valley’s hard working population. Some investors are eagerly searching for the next big idea, even scouting out projects in university campuses, so don’t be afraid to share your ideas.
Image taken from amazon.com/Fearless-Genius-Digital-Revolution-1985-2000. This photo captures Steve Jobs explaining how technology has limited life cycles.
Figure 1 Sarah Clark with her baby at work, taken in 1993 by Menuez, Fearless Genius 2014p.73. Now more work life balance is part of Silicon Valley but in the 80s and 90s, the tech industry was sprinting to bring their products to the public based on the belief that the public deserves access to information faster, cheaper, and autonomously.it
According to Secrets of the Silicon Valley, from the very beginning of Stanford University’s development, renowned scientist Franklin Terman encouraged students not to get their Ph.D.’s, but to start companies. The independent spirit of entrepreneurialism could create more companies, more jobs, and more revenue than ever before. Just as the “traitorous 8” left Shockley, the famous semiconductor developer to work with Fairchild, these 8 scientists and engineers encouraged their own employees to branch into their own companies, taking the “Noyce culture with them of no hierarchies.” (Secrets of Silicon Valley, p.60). With every aspect of your work, take responsibility to make it excellent. In the picture above, it may seem like this employee is owned by the company, but actually, she designed the product and code. She wanted to own the development of the product from start to finish for two years and she was rewarded by the grateful company and given the flexibility to care for her child and her creation simultaneously.
Image taken from http://fundersandfounders.com/how-elon-musk-started/ .This website explains Elon Musk’s amazing journey based on Ashlee Vance’s biography.
Tech companies see their leaders and teams of employees put in a great deal of hours. Some leaders even get kicked out of their companies but they will dedicate themselves to new projects without missing a beat because they take ownership over their ideas and want to carry them out. A modern day example of this is Elon Musk, serial entrepreneur persistently stretching the limits of science and business.
Value #5: Adapt
Silicon Valley’s booming economic beginning was fueled and cultivated in the 1800s, grew in mighty waves of military ingenuity during the early to mid-1900s, and gained momentum during the golden electronics era of the 1980s and 90s. Over time, scientists, engineers, programmers, marketers, trademark lawyers, venture capitalists, and dreamers brought to life an unstoppable cycle of constant development. They keep reinventing their products, their businesses, and themselves. They are constantly sparking each other as individuals and companies to procreate, build more, think big and to utilize their skills to make the world a better place.
A Harvard Business Review article, “The Authenticity Paradox”, is from the January-February issue in 2015. A year and a half later, its advice is still ringing in people’s ears and quoted in articles on my Linked In feed. Herminia Ibarra, author of the article, challenges us to be undaunted by the changes that might occur within ourselves as we take on new responsibilities in our professional lives. Changing is not betraying a person’s pure original self, though we might feel that way at first, but rather it’s adaptation and ultimately good for growth. This understanding keeps us moving and fluid rather than frozen in our fossilized work identity. I’ll let Ibarra’s words tell you herself: “The only way we grow as leaders is by stretching the limits of who we are—doing new things that make us uncomfortable but that teach us through direct experience who we want to become. Such growth doesn’t require a radical personality makeover. Small changes—in the way we carry ourselves, the way we communicate, the way we interact—often make a world of difference in how effectively we lead.” (Ibarra, 2015. Harvard Business Review January-February issue. quote retrieved 6/13/2016 from https://hbr.org/2015/01/the-authenticity-paradox)
Image taken from RoomtoRead.org founded by John Wood
A modern example of a technology leader who reinvented himself is John Wood. As he wrestled with letting go of being a profitable leader at Microsoft to starting a nonprofit organization, he wrote the following: “My inner voice nagged, ‘Look, you should admit to yourself that Microsoft will miss you for a month or two, someone will quickly fill the void. It will be like you never worked there. Ask yourself, are there thousands [of people] lining up to help poor villages build schools and libraries? That job is not being done. You should rise to this challenge.” (Wood, 2004, p. 36-37)
And: “I feel lucky to have worked [at Microsoft] for so long.…I met amazingly smart people and learned valuable lessons about running a business. When I started Room to Read, I wrote down the core principles I had learned at “the Soft” and that I would try to emulate [:]Intense focus on results, you cannot attack a person-but an idea, and loyalty to your employees.” (chapter 15, Wood, 2004)
Sure, there are always two sides to every story.
On the one hand, Silicon Valley is known for its openness to work with others which makes the ecosystem for exchanging new ideas and sharing human talent very fruitful.
On the other hand, competition can be cut-throat, ideas can fail, products self-destruct, CEOs get ousted by a board of financial backers and companies either stifle or burn out human talent far sooner than they should.
Image taken from http://www.rushkoff.com/books/throwing-rocks-at-the-google-bus/
According to Douglas Rushkoff (2016), author of Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How growth became the enemy of prosperity, the current business model for growth was made by man many years ago and needs an update. Rushkoff offers optimistic solutions in his book. As humans, we have the capability to adjust our outdated business model for growth. The current system stumps society’s collective advancement. Rushkoff’s concepts can lead to up lifting our entire communities. In December 2015 issue of The Atlantic “The Silicon Valley Suicides”, author Hanna Rosin warns parents not to let the pressures of the capitol of innovation affect its children. (retrieved 6/13/2016 from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/12/the-silicon-valley-suicides/413140/). We need to remember that good things can come out of experiments and failure. We can reinvent our expectations for success. Children need to experience life without perfectionism. I must stress Perry Piscione’s quote: “acceptance of failure must be in place,” in order to succeed and grow (p.26, Secrets of the Silicon Valley)
In Fearless Genius, Doug Menuez doesn’t only document 15 years of the lovely glory days of the golden age of computer revolution. On the contrary, his photographs also captured the tension, the exhaustion, the high pressure, no mercy environment of people dedicated to changing the world. His book and website are very incredible (www.fearlessgenius.org ).His purpose is for us to remember the hard work and boundaries pushed in order to create the foundations for new platforms of global communication and information that we enjoy today. I recommend the sites below to read more about his eye witness accounts of what people went through and his opinion that we need to respect it: http://www.improgrammer.net/historical-photos-programmers-silicon-valley/
Building anything wonderful has its dark moments, but let’s not end there!
Our potential for success and growth is exciting now that we have been informed by the pioneers who have written these books sharing their knowledge and experiences.
Image from amazon.com 2013 hardback cover
In The New Digital Age: Transforming Nations, Businesses and Our Lives (2014), Google executives Jared Cohen and Eric Schmidt insist that technology should give humans power, not overrun humans. In their introduction they write, “Most of all, this is a book about the importance of a guiding human hand in the new digital age. For all the possibilities that communication technologies represent, their use for good or ill depends solely on people. Forget all the talk about machines taking over. What happens in the future is up to us.”
In Secrets of Silicon Valley: What Everyone Else Can Learn from The Innovation Capital of the World, Deborah Perry Piscione summarizes Silicon Valley’s culture in this way: “The secret to this type of economy is the right mix of people, those who are risk tolerant, constantly adapting, and don’t enjoy being sedentary. A collaborative culture where people trust one another to cross-pollinate and strengthen an idea’s commercial viability is crucial. And most importantly, an acceptance of failure must be in place” (26).
With all of the possibilities available to us to succeed based on our own very capable thoughts and actions, my final tip is to take courage in your professional journey: cherish the experiences, people, impact, and lessons it brings.
Amy LeBlanc (3rd from right) listening to travel stories after a friend’s graduation from Seoul National University. The other women pictured actively serve the global community through entrepreneurialism, humanitarian activism, and education. Image taken by A.S’s step-father, 7/2014
-Amy LeBlanc, Senior Language Training Coordinator