Secret of Silicon Valley Success Revealed!

Francis Vale

I have finally figured out why Silicon Valley is so far ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to high tech innovation.

If you promise not to tell anyone, I will share my secret insight with you: It's Traffic. That right, traffic. But not just any kind of traffic: it's-oh-my-god-hand-me-the-Uzi because-I-feel-purple-road-rage-coming-on kind of traffic. That kind of traffic. And it's present every day in Silicon Valley, without let up. It doesn't matter if it's morning, afternoon or evening. Jump in your car and head north or south down Highway 101, the main artery connection right in the VC-fed heart of Silicon Valley, and you will sit, and sit, and sit, and go maybe, if you are lucky, five miles in an hour or so. And that's on the good days.

So what do you while sitting on your BMW-leather cosseted ass hour after hour? You fantasize; you scheme up ways to do some evil office politics; you get crazed about why your start-up hasn't done it's IPO yet so you can cash out and flee from this smog leaden mess; and -- you invent.

Think about it for a minute. When do you truly, really, have time all to yourself? If you are married with kids, it's a constant distraction. If you are home alone, you will find ways to amuse yourself or you will go out with your buddies. If you are married, the spouse is sending you on a mission or busting your chops about why you squeezed the toothpaste from the middle and not from the end, like you were instructed to. Yep, being alone in the car, the music going, feeling the cool AC spill down over your face and going nowhere fast, makes for the perfect thinking chamber.

If you are a creative engineering type, your mind will almost naturally turn to thoughts like, how the hell can I make this software/hardware better? And no one will distract you from your imaginative reverie, save for the cell phone (which you can switch off) or that 18-wheel semi that just decided to swerve over your way and wipe you out. Given that it takes about two hours to go ten miles in any direction on any given day on Highway 101, you will have plenty of such free-time-to-think moments. Now multiply all those moments by all those thousands of innovative engineers enmeshed in molasses traffic, and whammo! You have the perfect think tank incubator! Who but the VC-fueled Valley would have had the visionary daring to think of such a grand scheme?

It's now clear to me why California refuses to build modern, efficient public transportation systems. Who would have time for all this creative thinking if you could get to work in twenty minutes instead of one hundred twenty? The creative juices would suddenly stop and Silicon Valley would slowly lose its global edge: There you are, stuck behind a smog belching Winnebago, and you have just come up with a brilliant idea, when look! The Sand Hill Road exit (the land of the Valley VCs) is just ahead. That's it, Bunky. Yank the wheel hard and pull off to make a pitch for that great new company you just schemed up. And all you have to say to cover your tardy tracks when you finally show up at work after that Sand Hill side excursion is, "traffic." Everyone in your cubby-filled group will nod knowingly.

So, if you are a policy planner sitting in some other part of the planet and you desperately want to build the new "Silicon Valley of Somerville, Nairobi, Aix-en-Provence," etc. you now know the secret formula. Create a lousy public transportation system, make sure the main road is always jammed to the traffic gutter gunwales, and then intersperse convenient exits to various VCs all along the way. In no time, your new patch of high tech real estate will be the innovative envy of the modern world, and, naturally, everyone will want to know how you did it.

But that's our little secret.

Copyright 2000, Francis Vale, All Rights Reserved

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