Everywhere I go around the world, people ask me to “explain” the magic of the Valley. You probably know the elements: great universities, billions of dollars of smart money, a comprehensive industrial cluster, a culture of achievement, abundant support facilities, a magnet for smart and diverse professionals, numerous mentors and domain experts, a global perspective, terrific food and other amenities, and great weather and stunning scenery. At the same time, the transportation infrastructure is marginal and government policies and regulations are only tolerable. There is no “affordable” housing. It is not perfect, but it is still the most exciting place for systematically creating innovations that change the world.
I was CEO of SRI International for 16 years. Now with my new company, I work with companies and governments to help them improve their innovative performance. SRI is where the computer mouse and the significant features of the personal computer were invented, along with HDTV, Siri, and many other transformative innovations, like electronic banking and robotic surgery. It is in the heart of Silicon Valley near Stanford University.
When I was CEO of SRI, we leveraged Silicon Valley’s capabilities and created a new business model based on the use of value-creation best practices, as described in these posts and our book. SRI, which had been failing for 20 years, became recognized as a global model for innovative excellence. Our goal, like that of the Valley, was to create innovations that positively impacted the world.
To me, a significant factor defining Silicon Valley is the intense networking. It feels completely different than, say, working in Boston or New York. Those innovative regions support many kinds of businesses. In Silicon Valley, there is effectively one business, innovation in all its forms.
Obviously, Silicon Valley is full of brilliant people, but it is the innovative IQ per square mile that is unique. That is, smart people with the skills, passion, and drive to make new things happen. Of course, if all that IQ failed to communicate, share, and collaborate, then Silicon Valley’s collective IQ would be no better than each individual. And, as we all know, that is not nearly enough to address today’s major multidisciplinary opportunities.
There is a railway stop in Menlo Park. Down the street is SRI International, across the street is Stanford University, and a few more blocks away is Sandhill Road, where dozens of VCs invest billions of dollars each year. Next to the train station is Café Barrone, sometimes referred to as the center of Silicon Valley.
Berrone’s is an outdoor restaurant serving simple, good food. It is a comfortable place to meet, sit outside, and have an enjoyable lunch. If you say, “I will see you at Barrone’s,” everyone knows where to go. You often find teams pouring over a computer discussing a new startup or some other deal. When standing in line to place my order, I often discover someone working on a new innovation. It is a networking super node.
Is Barrone’s the center of Silicon Valley? In a way. There are many such outdoor restaurants in Silicon Valley, all acting as networking nodes. In addition, there are endless conferences, social events, incubators, and lectures where people meet to share ideas. They all help power Silicon Valley and make it an inspiring and highly competitive ecosystem. Silicon Valley’s collective IQ is extraordinarily high.
The next time you are in the Valley, stop by Café Barrone. If you see me, make sure to say hello so we can share lessons about our new ventures.
PS. Innovative IQ per square mile is likely a good predictor of innovative capacity. For example, Stockholm seems to have achieved a critical mass in fintech and gaming. And then there is Israel. Indeed, without a critical mass of innovative IQ not much will happen.