Innovation Isn't Dying In Silicon Valley; It's Just Changing

from the change-is-good dept

Apparently Judy Estrin, a well-known Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur and exec, is coming out with a new book warning that the infrastructure needed for innovation in Silicon Valley is going away. The complaint basically appears to be that there's too much emphasis on the short-term, with companies focusing on the quick flip rather than the long haul trends that need to be satisfied to drive real innovation.

I can absolutely understand where this is coming from -- but I think it's wrong. There absolutely are a bunch of folks in Silicon Valley who are focused on the quick flip and the easy cash out. Those folks have been around for a while. They get a lot more attention in the boom years, and during the down cycles you see them fleeing for somewhere else. But that doesn't mean that the overall culture of innovation is in trouble.

In some sense, the argument sounds similar to the complaints we hear from long-time journalists bemoaning bloggers, or professional television producers whining about YouTube. The tools of innovation have changed the marketplace, allowing many more entrants -- and not all of those entrants are all that serious about it, or even that good at it. So, there's a ton of crappy blog content, and millions upon millions of videos that would never, ever show up on a television. Yet, there are also plenty of gems exposed by these systems that would never have come out otherwise.

And the same is true for innovation culture in Silicon Valley.

The "tools" for creating a startup make it easier and cheaper than ever before to simply throw something up and see if it sticks. And, yes, much of it is terrible -- just like plenty of online content is terrible -- but out of that some great stuff evolves. The fact that there are plenty of short term thinkers just throwing stuff quickly at the wall isn't necessarily bad for innovation -- it just means that innovation is taking a slightly different path. There are plenty of folks in Silicon Valley still thinking about the long haul, and looking at the trends and understanding them. But the ability to throw something up and see if it sticks is valuable as well, as it allows a lot more testing of ideas in the real world, without having to make huge initial investments. That isn't to say that short-term thinking is a good thing. It's not. But some folks doing short-term thinking doesn't preclude others from using those lessons to build real long-term innovation.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Aug 27th, 2008 @ 11:12am

    Sturgeon's Law

    “Ninety percent of everything is crap”

     

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    dorpus, Aug 27th, 2008 @ 11:57am

    How is it easier?

    Is it really easier and cheaper to create a startup in Silicon Valley today than it was in the 1960s, when it was all farmland? Or does the entrepreneur need to join the exclusive club of VC funds, who supply $1 million as a minimum? Where are the $50 startups?

     

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      Jake, Aug 27th, 2008 @ 12:33pm

      Re: How is it easier?

      That's inflation for you. What cost $50 in the 1960s probably costs $250 or more today, and even back then it wouldn't go all that far. Besides, whoever said a start-up has to end up being traded on the NYSE and occupying two floors of a skyscraper to count as a success story?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 27th, 2008 @ 1:27pm

    Re:

    me tooooo!

     

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    in the know, Aug 27th, 2008 @ 1:32pm

    Judy is right

    My experience with firms in the valley is that many of the employees there are too isolated from major segments of the business world to ever have a good enough understanding to serve these markets. There are certainly some very talented innovators there, but other areas are just as deep if not deeper - and are closer to the customer needs. That said, the money is in Silicon Valley, so firms will likely continue to incubate there, but will have to look outside for subject matter knowledge...

     

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      Mike (profile), Aug 27th, 2008 @ 8:41pm

      Re: Judy is right

      My experience with firms in the valley is that many of the employees there are too isolated from major segments of the business world to ever have a good enough understanding to serve these markets.

      You're working with the wrong firms. Don't judge the whole valley by the few bad folks you're working with.

      As I said in the post itself, sure there are some folks who are there for the quick flip, but don't let that blind you to the others who are tackling big problems.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 27th, 2008 @ 5:24pm

    I'm sure regularly-increasing patent litigation has absolutely no effect on the innovation...

     

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    Taylor Davidson, Aug 28th, 2008 @ 7:29am

    Let innovation flow

    Spot on. There are still plenty of people focused on big, transformative innovation; but as you point out, the easier access to the tools needed to create, distribute and scale startups has created a larger quantity of incremental-at-best innovation.

    And what's wrong with that? We can't control what people try, or focus innovation efforts: that would defeat teh point. Let people test and fail, learning about the differences between a feature, a product and a business.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2008 @ 8:12am

    makes me chuckle . . .

    "The complaint basically appears to be that there's too much emphasis on the short-term, with companies focusing on the quick flip rather than the long haul trends that need to be satisfied to drive real innovation. "

    This is funny for those of us outside the valley. Its always been true, but what makes it funny is it seems the people in the Valley are just now noticing something that has been obvious to the rest of us for 30 years.

     

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    John Wilson, Aug 28th, 2008 @ 12:24pm

    Kinda ignores one thing

    The whole phenomena known as Free and Open Source which doesn't quite play the same game as traditional tech startups in Silicon Valley.

    It's possible there to work on the long term without the pressure of quaterly profits etc and the distraction of same.

    ttfn

    John

     

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