The next “Silicon Valley” -- Dream, Reality or Magical Thinking?

7CTOs is based in San Diego, but we aspire for national reach and inspiration, so we don’t want to focus too much on our specific SoCal region of the country. That said, there was an interesting and thoughtful article in Sunday’s San Diego Union-Tribune that is relevant not just for America’s (self-proclaimed) Finest City, but all American cities.

That relevancy is this: For at least the past 15 years and probably more, stretching back to before the first dot.bomb and 9/11, people have been claiming that their city is going to be “the next Silicon Valley”....yet nobody ever achieves it. Charleston was going to be “Silicon Harbor.Baltimore was going to be “Silicon (or Digital) Bay.Washington, D.C. was going to become “the Digital District.”

None of those things have actually happened, any more than it’s likely San Diego (or any other town) is going to become “the next Silicon Valley.” It’s a marketing strategy, and an unimaginative and transparent (though not in a good way) one at that. The unspoken underlying message suggests a lack of faith in the inherent value of the very city that’s ostensibly being promoted, because it seeks to define itself through the prism of somewhere else.

No place is going to be “The Next Silicon Valley” because Silicon Valley already exists. It’s got a slew of big, successful companies and VC billionaires scrimmaging amongst themselves to be the biggest peacock of the walk, none of them -- or very, very few -- are going to move to San Diego or anywhere else to become whales in a pool (because, thanks to Sea World, we’ve seen how that works out).

What deserves consideration is how deeply entrenched a type of “magical thinking” has entered the mentality of city planners and a region’s marketing strategists, where by wishing for something hard enough, we can will it into truth. This works great in Hollywood (“If you build it, they will come!”), not so great in the real world (“We will be welcomed as liberators!”)

More likely, however, what’s going on is a far more self-aware “fake it until you make it,” perspective, where everybody kinda knows they’re being full of it, but hoping enough people can be fooled until reality catches up to the well-meaning deception.

We’re not particularly a fan of either option. 7CTOs believes that by encouraging and nurturing distinction, diversity and quality (and not necessarily in that order), a region will develop its own personality, and organically draw talent through the genuine reality of the situation, not a manufactured “consensus reality” -- because, over time, the latter never holds up.

So we welcome the dubious article in Sunday’s Union-Tribune, and suggest everyone keep it in perspective for any region in the country that aspires to be “the next Silicon Valley.” You won’t be, so don’t even try. Aspire to be something unique, to be yourself, and maybe you’ll end up creating something even better.