Is Silicon Valley really “out of ideas”?
It is according to Peter Thiel, one of the co-founders of PayPal and today one of the most influential and outspoken venture capitalists in the Bay Area.
“Perhaps there aren’t as many big breakthroughs left in consumer internet … The big ideas have been tried,” Thiel said during an appearance at the New York Times DealBook conference in New York this week.
“If you have breakthrough innovation, if you’re able to do something that’s incredibly new, that’s often something a small, or startup company, is better at,” Thiel told Andrew Ross Sorkin in an on-stage interview, according to Axios. Thiel said Silicon Valley has fallen victim to groupthink, citing its politically insular atmosphere for his moving away to Los Angeles. “There’s a sense that the network effects that made Silicon Valley good have gone haywire,” he said, according to CNBC. “It’s not the wisdom of crowds, it’s the madness of crowds.”
Is he right?
In some ways, sure. Gone are the days when Silicon Valley was a place of rapid and mind-blowing innovation, back when economy-defining products like the microchip, the personal computer and the internet were coming out of Bay Area labs.
Today’s innovation is more about software and services. It’s still big and groundbreaking, but it isn’t exactly as unique anymore.
And that’s where Thiel’s comment hits home for me.
It’s not so much that Silicon Valley is slowing down as the center of U.S. innovation, but that good ideas are coming out of many other areas now as well.
In Silicon Valley, there’s a lot of copycats.
Uber for sport boats.
Airbnb for office space.
Google for stock footage.
And on and on.
There’s something to that. The powerful network effect that exists in Silicon Valley is both a blessing and a curse. It brings together immensely smart people and helps them do amazing things. But it also creates an echo chamber where the best ideas get drowned out by the loudest, most popular ideas.
Case in point: The electric scooter wave we’re seeing everywhere this year. There’s no innovation there; it’s just a clever extension of rental programs for a pre-existing product.
Clever, but not innovative.
Elsewhere that isn’t the case. In St. Louis we’re working to build the kind of network effect that Silicon Valley has always enjoyed, but it’s happening alongside some amazing innovations.
There is no echo chamber here. We have smart entrepreneurs doing big things in healthcare, agriculture, energy and more, without the “noise factor” that comes with life in the busy, crowded Bay Area tech scene.
And, in that sense, Thiel is right on.