For some odd reason, December makes me more pensive than usual, prompts me to focus not so much on the fleeting minutiae of life but on the big picture. I have no idea why this happens — but it happens, every year. And as a result, […]

For some odd reason, December makes me more pensive than usual, prompts me to focus not so much on the fleeting minutiae of life but on the big picture. I have no idea why this happens — but it happens, every year. And as a result, I start to sleep less and think more. Previously I would smoke and drink coffee as I assembled my thoughts. Now I just hit the treadmill.

Last night was no different, so instead of trying to sleep, I went for a walk on the treadmill while I watched the bittersweet love story, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” (Thank you, Netflix on demand!) The movie stars Jim Carrey as Joel Barish and Kate Winslet as his girlfriend, Clementine Kruczynski.

Essentially the story is that Clementine undergoes a procedure that erases Joel from her memory. Joel does the same, but as luck (or the Hollywood dream factory) would have it, he runs into Clementine. You know — the whole boy-meets-girl thing with a lot of side plots and little bit of psychedelia! Actually it’s one of those tragicomic stories that make perfect sense at 3:45 a.m.

And while I know this may sound crazy, the movie made me think of Silicon Valley and what makes it special. Hear me out!

Every so often, we comes across a new technology, get excited and fall in love with it. Optimism gives way to sheer nuttiness (aka a bubble). Then the bubble bursts. And at that point we decide that we are no longer in love with the idea, press the button and reset our memories — only to fall in love all over again with the next new innovation that catches our eye (or makes sense). Technologies change, characters change, names change, but innovation remains a constant. Innovation that comes from optimism.

A couple of days ago, I met up with a friend who’s just moved back to San Francisco from Los Angeles. She was struck by the sheer optimism of folks in the Bay Area. I could relate — that’s precisely how I felt when I moved here from New York to work for Business 2.0 in March 2003. The relentless optimism was jarring for someone like me, who’d long ago been dubbed an eternal contrarian and a skeptic by all of my friends. But it was especially hard for me to understand how Silicon Valley could be optimistic in the wake of the dot-com crash. I lived through it…and it was painful. I literally shut the lights off at Red Herring, the magazine I so dearly loved, not long before boarding my flight to San Francisco.

Yet whether it was 1995 or 1999, 2003 or 2009 — optimism has been a constant in Silicon Valley. And I think that’s what makes Silicon Valley special. Many argue that being the nexus of money (Sand Hill Road), institutions of higher learning (UC Berkeley and Stanford University) and the technology ecosystem is what makes Silicon Valley such a unique place. And while that might be true, what really makes Silicon Valley special — to the point that it can’t be replicated anywhere else — is its relentless optimism. And that is the crucial difference between Silicon Valley and London and Bangalore and Shanghai. Israel is the only place close enough to have the full package, but it has other issues — like a lack of a big enough market.

Entrepreneurs are eternally optimistic — they have to be if they’re going to change the world. And because they’re surrounded by other optimists, there is very little time for them to mope around. I can rattle off a dozen people in Silicon Valley who, after taking it on the chin, just got up and started all over again. Every year thousands of new entrepreneurs show up here, full of crazy ideas and brimming with optimism, thus breeding even more of it!

And there’s nothing wrong with that!

  1. Thanks to people like you, we get shots of reality, now and then, apart from tech news. Thats what makes you special(apart from the other zillion reasons your friends and co-workers can come up with).

  2. Someone once said: “success is going from failure to failure with unbridled enthusiasm”. Failure is just not an option!

    1. Oh that is good, though I would put it slightly differently … dwelling over failure is not an option

  3. I don’t think that Israel’s ‘lack of a big enough market’ is an issue. On the contrary, since it causes startups here to think globally right from the beginning.

    1. Simon

      I am still not convinced because Israel is yet to produce a global scale company. Which is the reason of my comment — thinking globally doesn’t mean they get to deliver on it. But as I said, it is pretty darn close to Silicon Valley.

  4. Good introspective article..

  5. [...] becuase of my headache, it was hard to keep spirits up. Then my teeth started to hurt. This post by Om Malik about the eternal optimism of Silicon Valley made me feel a bit [...]

  6. Amen. Nice one Om…….

  7. What makes Silicon Valley special is simply marketing. That place, above all others, has more cult figures per square foot than anywhere else. Some companies publish massive dissertations about, say, a new hardware manager being brought aboard.

    Same optimistic folks exist everywhere.

    But only a virtual Hollywood has that much marketing of nothing significant.

    1. Really interesting view point.

      Marketing helped Intel develop processors
      Marketing is behind Juniper’s routers
      Marketing is what made VMWare
      Marketing is what made Google.

      Absolutely…. marketing rulz.

  8. A simple concept colored vividly in Om style. Oh, I miss my Valley, but what could I do? They all wanted Mr. Product Sector analyst to support their follow-ware:

    Q: What is hot and likeley to make money?

    Me: Independent dispatch of service trades via mobile self enrolled, its the next big thing in under served market.

    Q: what about Facebook apps and virtual goods.

    A: You people are retarded.

    Q: Fired, you are.

    1. Well… that means you now have an opportunity to come back to doing what you want to do… get fired, reboot, rekindle. Say what?

      1. Of course, crossing over from a staff analyst to a founder….I may not have the right stuff. My series of short stories, “down and out in Silicon Valley”, attempted to capture what happened after my analyst contract was cut at a prominent EU R&D lab in SSFO. What ensured was tragicomic.

        My real illustration as a comment to your post is that some of the optimism is misdirected into “follow-ism”, where no wrong can be done – thus snuffing out some real, business case startups that serve verticals. The verticals have suffered amongst the fund-raising for….Face book Apps and virtual goods, and other things such as social networks that were not innovative in any way.

  9. Call it optimism, call it delusional arrogance. :) It clearly works.

    1. I am settling for optimism this morning :-)

      … though when you put it in context of very smart people, delusional arrogance can be construed as optimism.

  10. As long as criticality isn’t thrown out the window altogether, you’re completely right.

    Also, it’s important for SV to constructively participate in society. What has happened with the move into clean tech is absolutely great, and represents the best of SV, which in the past to me has seemed indifferent to the real needs of real people, as opposed to relatively wealthy people who merely like to play with consumer toys, or businesses looking to acquire other businesses for inflated prices just because they “might” have a play.

    I want to see tech innovation that makes life better for all life on the planet, not just the ledger. That’s something to be proud of getting rich for.

    1. Jack

      As someone who has been around the block, the move into cleantech is part of the whole process of Silicon Valley. I think 1990s (and the Internet) were a big shift that is still continuing though we continue to see marginal stuff dominate attention.

      I think the Valley (like rest of the industry) is slowly but surely coming in sync with the mass demands in general, regardless of what the “early buzz” might indicate.

      Anyway… on winning and sharing your winnings — that is good aspiration for everyone, everywhere.


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