What can Silicon Valley teach us?



Having again spent couple of days in the heart of Silicon Valley has helped me to memorize why is it that this area is still the most dynamic economic hotspot in the world. Just visit Stanford University campus and reflect the great idea the founder Leland Stanford once had, fortified by his successors: build a community of students and teachers, provoke relationship between academia and business and enable start-ups to flourish in the nest of university - close to 6000 companies have been established in Stanford Research Park to this date. Furthermore, studies are based on teamwork and small classes. And if your parents earn below 100 000, tuition is free. Then look more towards Palo Alto: The culture of Silicon Valley as expressed by people crowding the streets of this heart town of Silicon Valley is the least formal you can find. Ties are seen almost nowhere, titles are not important. What counts are the same "PIE" criteria as what matters when you are applying to study in Stanford:  Passion, Intellectual vitality and Engagement.  So, what is your passion?

Again, it was the spirit of some pioneers that started to build some decades ago what was to become Silicon Valley (the term was coined in early 70's): a culture freed as much as possible from hierarchies and artificially built silos.  This has been of course very much to the contrary to what has taken place in the corporate world in general.  Result: most of the key innovations that has built a new world around us has been created in Silicon Valley.

What is most interesting is the fact that so much of this creative chaos is a result of the concrete meeting of the West and East. Silicon Valley has been a paradise for those, particularly coming from countries that lack opportunities for people endowed with entrepreneurial spirit. Research tells that about half of the start-ups in Silicon Valley has been raised by immigrants and Indians are the strongest foreign community by far. And I know even some Finns that have successful as technologists and entrepreneurs.

If we think about the most crucial cultural aspect of the coming 6th wave , it must be the new cultural mixture of the East and West, commissioned by the inevitable rise of the Eastern economies. This will change the landscape of our societies and push us beyond the borders of nationalistic thinking.  The mixture you need to stir the economy and wealth creation is the recipy that is found here in Silicon Valley: cultural diversity coupled with highly competitive workforce: more than third of population has graduate degree.

But what is more, this potential comes to alive only if you have a right kind of spirit that embraces the way people are treating each other: The more I learn about Silicon Valley, the more there seems to be a kind of anti-competition culture: there is simply much more sharing and collaboration than fierce rivalry between competitors. As someone said to me here: "competition is a really foreign concept to me".

In the coming sixth wave, I believe, the real paradigm shift occurs in the principles on which any collective action, business, public, NGO becomes successful. Nowhere is this going to be more visible than in the field of business. And I see it, the demonstration we all can observe by now in the Silicon Valley shows with a massive evidential weight  that diversity and collaboration are the key elements for sustainable success.

I hope we can somehow smuggle some of that spirit to Finland. But even much more importantly: what should we learn out of this case?