The Spirit of Silicon Valley

Stanford Campus

“Silicon Valley is a state of mind, not just a place.” This idea has often been quoted, but it only touches the tip of the iceberg. Silicon Valley is not just a state of mind; it is a spirit of sharing and “paying forward” to new entrepreneurs and society.  It’s about giving and celebrating together, not just taking from others.

In their rush to copy Silicon Valley, many regions around the world try to clone the valley’s institutions and best practices — our state of mind — but they fail to understand our original small-town spirit of sharing and collaboration.  It is this sharing of risks, glories and failures that separates us from the most of the world, which usually punishes risk-taking, sharing and failure and shuns “losers.”  Our “Operating Spirit” (OS) is our “secret sauce” that give us a huge advantage over other regions who think it’s only about institutions and funding.  We believe in giving people second, third, fourth and more chances — serial entrepreneurship — since we know that most startups fail.

When I was a child, Silicon Valley was mostly farmland, with San Jose a small town of 100,000 people. Our parents were farmers, shopkeepers and factory workers.  Computers and chips did not exist; we created things with our hands and shared our results.  Only when NASA launched the Apollo Project and the Pentagon the Vietnam War did the valley boom and attract engineers, which I wrote about in my e-book, “In the Valley of Digital Dreams” (available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble).  When NASA reached the moon in 1969, it laid off nearly all of its engineers so tech unemployment soared to nearly 35%.  It was an economic disaster, but the valley was such a pleasant place to live that engineers stayed put, shared ideas, built stuff in their garages, and joined emerging chip startups like Intel, AMD and National Semiconductor.  In the face of massive layoffs, we remembered to hang together and help each other out.  That was the original spirit of Silicon Valley that I remember so well.

Silicon Valley has gone through numerous booms and busts, each time bigger, faster and more global than the previous one.  Today, we face ethical breakdowns because of an obsession with money like Wall Street.  But the current VR/AR, AI and blockchain boom is no different, just bigger and faster.  Each time, the dedicated valley residents ride out the downturn, cutting their expenses and searching for the Next New Thing, then inventing it with friends.  They don’t want to miss out on the rocket ride when it comes. It usually comes much faster than expected due to our collective efforts, creating thousands of startups and toppling giant corporations.

What is Silicon Valley’s “secret sauce”?   Sharing.

Our sharing culture reveals itself in several ways:

– We love brainstorming and sharing ideas with friends and colleagues anywhere, anytime, at dinners, cafes, parties, weddings, picnics, or family gatherings.

– We love building new stuff together, sharing suggestions and feedback, and seeing whether it will “stick” (gain market traction).  If it fails, we try again until we figure it out.  Failure is only for quitters.

– We build sharing services around office space, cars, rental apartments, anything thing that moves or can be occupied, since the Bay Area is very crowded so sharing is more economically efficient and rational.

– We love sharing contacts, introductions, tips and suggestions to colleagues and newcomers, knowing they will reciprocate with their own new ideas and technologies.

– We share the fruits of our successes as well as lament our losses together.  I’ve co-launched eight tech startups; six failed but one went public last year — Audience Inc. — so I know the highs and lows of the emotional roller coaster very well.  The latest —, a VR startup — is gaining market traction in the Nordics and Silicon Valley.

– We compete fiercely, but we know that winners will pull up all of us since technology is not a zero-sum game, but an exponential growth industry where success attracts investors and leads to more success.

– Most importantly, we share our time, knowledge, enthusiasm, energy and help with others, knowing that good karma comes back manyfold to all of us and that WE is much more powerful than ME.  That’s what makes Silicon Valley so successful and inspiring.  We share to create something bigger and better than our own companies and lives.  We are building a global community.

So when people ask me “How can we create a Silicon Valley?”, I advise them to study our heart and actions, not just our technologies and institutions.  Then they will discover the real Silicon Valley and the reasons behind our successes.  The secret lies in the heart, not just the mind and the pocketbook.

One Reality’s VR demos:

San Jose Metro interview with me:

To buy “In the Valley of Digital Dreams” e-book:


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