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Sunday, February 11, 2007

"Geography is Destiny"

Increasing returns and first-mover advantages are hard to beat:

When It Comes to Innovation, Geography Is Destiny, by G. Pascal Zachary, NY Times: ...[T]he inescapable lesson of the iPod, Google, eBay, Netflix and Silicon Valley in general is that where you live often trumps who you are.

Just ask Sim Wong Hoo. About seven years ago, I met Mr. Sim in Singapore... He talked about the rising creativity of Singaporeans and with a flourish, as if to dramatically make his point, he pulled out a prototype of a hand-held music player that he insisted would replace Sony’s famous Walkman.

Mr. Sim’s device was breathtaking, possessing all the elements of what we now know as the MP3 player. Yet today, a Silicon Valley icon, Apple, dominates the market for MP3 players with the iPod...

Google’s astonishing rise and Apple’s reinvention are reminders that, when it comes to great ideas, location is crucial. “Face-to-face is still very important for exchange of ideas, and nowhere is this exchange more valuable than in Silicon Valley,” says Paul M. Romer, ... of ... Stanford who is known for studying the economics of ideas.

In short, “geography matters,” Professor Romer said. Give birth to an information-technology idea in Silicon Valley and the chances of success seem vastly higher than when it is done in another ZIP code.

No wonder venture capitalists, who finance bright ideas, remain obsessed with finding the next big thing in the 50-mile corridor between San Jose and San Francisco. About one-quarter of all venture investment in the United States goes to Silicon Valley...

Many times in the past, pundits have declared an end to Silicon Valley’s hegemony, and even today there are prognosticators who see growing threats from innovation centers in India and China. Certainly, great technology ideas can come from anywhere, but they keep coming from Silicon Valley because of two related factors: increasing returns and first-mover advantage. ...

On a gut level, we all can understand how these two factors work. Who wouldn’t want to play for a perennial contender? For the same reason that Andy Pettitte signs with the Yankees, the best and the brightest technologists from around the world make their way to northern California. ...

Newcomers plug into an existing network of seasoned pros that “isn’t matched anywhere else in the world,” says AnnaLee Saxenian, dean of the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley... “That allows people to recombine technical ideas much more quickly here than anywhere else,”...

“In terms of creativity, the Valley remains as far ahead of the rest of the world as ever,” she said. “People in the Valley generate new ideas and test them much more quickly than anywhere else. They aren’t a super race; it’s their environment.”

Silicon Valley is not invincible. The logic of increasing returns and the first-mover advantage can be overdrawn. Other clusters in the United States and around the world will commercialize great ideas, and the Valley will endure down cycles again, as it has in the past. ...

Rivals, notably in India and China, see Silicon Valley’s pre-eminent position as a prize that they will inevitably take. Yet they face an elusive foe. Every time Silicon Valley recovers from failure, it seems to grow more durable, almost in the same way a person becomes “immune” to a disease after a brush with it.

Fifty years ago, chips were the engine of Silicon Valley. In the late 1970s came the personal computer and data-storage drives, then software, and more recently the dynamic vortex of the Web, new media and online commerce. (EBay, Netflix and, of course, Google and Yahoo are among the names that come to mind.) These serial renewals are a marvel. ...

    Posted by on Sunday, February 11, 2007 at 12:15 AM in Economics, Technology | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (19)


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