Silicon Valley is a touchstone of innovation. Dreamers, investors, even government leaders flock there, hoping to capture the insights or methods that have made the magic happen in the unparalleled tech and business hub.
But it’s one thing to collect the seeds of Valley magic and another to make them take root. Many have tried, focusing talent and investment in worthy directions such as startup labs, incubators and tech hubs -- alas, to little avail.
Then there's New York, with its startups, exits and venture investment all on the rise -- on its own terms. What can we learn from its example? Having watched and worked with some of the Valley’s most impactful startups over the years, I see a few patterns. How can they help your innovation hub accelerate its rise?
1. Harness the location's legacy. What’s your home-field advantage, the expertise or industry that’s built your city so far? Leverage it. The momentum of “native” expertise can be a great catalyst for accelerating tech innovation. Looking at what’s worked so far is a great way to envision what happens next.
New York does this well. Referencing media, retail, finance and entertainment, it points “industry town” know-how at the future of those industries. Nashville is elevating music, healthcare and hospitality. Many Hawaiian startups look at tourism and recreation. Cincinnati is poised to become a center for retail and manufacturing innovation.
Start with local talent and proven successes. It’s fertile ground for growing the next great thing.
2. Open your doors. Silicon Valley has long benefitted by attracting diverse global talent. Other areas may have to work harder to compete. New York is stepping up, building new incubation centers and focusing traditional investors on new ways of thinking about venture finance.
Attracting diverse thinkers and doers from other areas helps foster a culture of innovation. “Thinking different” about the contributors you bring together is also great practice. In the uncharted turf of tech innovation, passion and vision can trump proven experience.
Research is proving that a mix of skill sets, experience, background and gender tends to increase creativity and impact. Challenge traditional assumptions about teambuilding and you’re more likely to see innovative results.
3. Connect at the edges. To me, innovation is the electricity that sparks when edges of expertise intersect. Maybe that’s why coming to Silicon Valley can be so game-changing for visitors: getting closer to tech, they spark new thoughts about what’s possible in their area of expertise.
Think about the edges you’re already pushing in your region’s business. Then look to the leading innovations in tech -- the ideas and practices shaping the future. What’s possible where these edges meet? What intersections can you apply to your business?
4. Collect the dots. Everyone talks about connecting the dots. But the more experience you collect, the more likely you are to see the hidden picture.
This fuels ideas and “aha!” moments. Don’t worry if you’re in a quieter environment. A nearly unending array of online learning and inspiration is only keystrokes away. Gather curious people around you.
Host a meetup about innovation and see who shows up. Learn about Hackathons and BarCamps and CoderDojos. Talk to someone who has a different perspective and learn from them. This is a proven way to stimulate new insights and “ahas!” no matter where you are.
5. Innovate, don’t imitate. Silicon Valley was, and remains, an original. By the time Packard and Hewlett started tuning oscillators in their Palo Alto garage, the Valley already led radio, radar, television and other electronic innovation. It took decades to get where it is. There’s no way to look at it today and transplant that to a new setting. There’s no reason to, either.
New York's path honored the history and momentum it’d already built. I often tell innovators to pretend Silicon Valley never happened and to simply think deeply about how to make their business better. Maybe tech will fuel it. Maybe not.
If you’re looking to increase innovation in your area, your initial thought may be “How can we be more like Silicon Valley?” Dig deeper. All the Valley has done is show the world that it keeps moving, and it has brought the people and experience together to keep refueling. Any area can do that if it looks to its legacy, bring the right people together, open up to new experiences, and push to the edges of change.
Sure, the Valley has given the world a shining example of what’s possible. But it doesn’t hold an exclusive pass to that vision, as New York and other areas continue to show. There’s enough opportunity to go around. Learning from Silicon Valley -- and from New York, as its own innovation gains momentum -- may be the way to spark how you get there.