Monday, November 02, 2009

Silicon Valley Versus Boston’s Route 128

Great piece on Silicon Valley versus Boston's Route 128. I'm particularly interested in how the openness of Silicon Valley spurred growth as the corporate-siloed Route 128 lagged behind. Consider your own professional learning network (PLN) and your interactions with colleagues. How easily do you and your colleagues share information? Does your network - formal or informal - foster openness and innovation or are you trapped in a silo?

The Valley of My Dreams: Why Silicon Valley Left Boston’s Route 128 In The Dust:
In the 1980’s the Silicon Valley and Route 128 looked very similar—a mix of large and small tech firms, world class universities, venture capital, and military funding. If you were betting on one you’d have been wise to bet on Route 128 because of its longer industrial history and proximity to a large number of high quality educational institutions (Harvard, Yale, Brown, MIT, Tufts, Amherst) and proximity to Bell Labs and other large corporate research centers. You remember Bell Labs, right? It’s where the transistor was invented. Now, aside from big biotech breakthroughs, Boston is a distant second nationally to Silicon Valley in technology entrepreneurship. So, what happened to Boston?

A young professor at UC-Berkeley, AnnaLee Saxenian, wrote a book in 1994 which answers this question. At a time when Boston still thought it was the powerhouse of the tech industry, Saxenian declared Boston the loser in the tech race and explained why it would only fall further behind. This book was titled Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128. It kicked off a firestorm of criticism from the Boston elite. Saxenian also alienated friends at her alma mater, MIT.

She noted that Silicon Valley had an amazing dynamism about it. There were extensive professional networks, job hopping was the norm, information was exchanged openly, and the culture encouraged risk taking. The Silicon Valley ecosystem supported entrepreneurial experimentation and collective learning. In other words, Silicon Valley was a very open network—a giant social networking site working in analog before the concept of such a thing even existed.
[emphasis added - MQ]

This organizational mechanism was in sharp contrast to that of Route 128. Dominated by large, vertically integrated, and secretive minicomputer producers such as DEC, Wang, Prime, and Data General. Technology, skill, and know-how were trapped within the boundaries of the large corporations.

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