In preparing my research on Korea’s entrepreneurial ecosystem these past few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about what makes my home, Silicon Valley, so successful as a tech entrepreneurship hub. There are many unique qualities, from the way people and capital move, to the unique business culture that permeates companies here.
What I want to talk about, though, is the rapid way ideas travel in the region. One of the benefits of the Valley is the sheer number of people that do tech here. Engineers, start-up founders, financiers, and everyone in between are abundant. If you are riding in public transit in San Francisco these days, it is quite possible that you will overhear a tech conversation. Ditto in a bar, a restaurant, a Giants game. It’s all consuming.
These same tech conversations happen at parties here all the time, and leads to the three most important words at the heart of Silicon Valley’s success (and really, the success of any geographic industry cluster). I’ll initiate a chat with someone, and we go back and forth about work or some common interest. Then, one of us inevitably introduces a new conversation thread with the words “have you heard.”
Those three words are core to the way ideas travel throughout the region. In some of my conversations, I have gone through six or seven rounds of these sorts of conversation threads, each one introducing new information that I had not yet acquired from other, more general news sources like TechCrunch or VentureBeat. The accumulation of these stories and notes represents the heart of the “throbbing knowledge” that percolates among tech workers.
At times, I think that people in the region don’t fully comprehend the magnitude and importance of these conversations. Indeed, they are so commonplace as to almost go without a second thought. But, travel to almost any other area of the world, and such conversations quickly become obviously absent.
One of the most important qualities of Silicon Valley is speed - speed of execution, speed of failure, and most vitally, the speed of ideas. The way ideas move in Silicon Valley, through phrases like “have you heard,” lies as one of the region’s true competitive advantages. When other governments start to talk about building innovation clusters, they would do well to remember the important social dimension that is so crucial to the development of innovative technology.