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Silicon Valley’s Trouble with Innovation

Will growing calls for more innovation be answered?

In our interview with PayPal co-founder Max Levchin (see “Q&A: Max Levchin”) we heard the entrepreneur say how Silicon Valley has been overrun by an influx of underambitious startups. The ease of raising money these days, he said, means many entrepreneurs’ big ideas are easily confused with a product feature.

As it turns out, some others agree. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Nicholas Carr wonders “what’s behind innovation’s turn toward the trifling?” The author, once executive editor of the Harvard Business Review, rejects the notion that a sagging education system, taxation, or an unhealthy focus on short term gains is to blame. Carr thinks the focus on small-potatoes advances is a reflection of “vanity”—we only care about inventions like Instagram that help us express ourselves.

Could the problem be that company founders aren’t the missionary types they once were? Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, writing in the New York Times, critiques entrepreneurs who seem intent on finding an early, lucrative exit for their businesses. “Some people seem to think that getting acquired should be the highest aspiration for an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. I disagree vehemently,” says Khosla, who argues that the tech giants we often take for granted today (Microsoft, Apple, and Google) are all products of similar entrepreneurial fever. Its symptoms? “Irreverence, foolish confidence, and naivety combined with persistence, open mindedness, and a continual ability to learn.”

Here’s to hoping this growing call for more innovation will be answered by Silicon Valley.

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