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“Everyone aimed at security: no one accepted responsibility. What was plainly lacking, long before the barbarian invasions had done their work, long before economic dislocations became serious, was an inner go. Rome’s life was now an imitation of life: a mere holding on. Security was the watchword — as if life knew any other stability than through constant change, or any form of security except through a constant willingness to take risks.”

— from Lewis Mumford’s book, “The Condition of Man,” via Thomas Friedman’s Op-Ed

In his Op-Ed this week, Thomas Friedman extolls the virtues of Silicon Valley – a living embodiment of the principles that made America great during its first hundred years by constrasting the entrepreneurial spirit with Roman desire for security that foreshadowed the fall of the empire. Silicon Valley’s lifeblood is upheaval; its kryptonite, security.

The initiative driving innovation in the valley is the very same that built the Industrial Revolution and powered the US past the Great Depression. Even some the vernacular in use today stems from periods in our history when we faced the greatest odds: 

“Roosevelt believed that no man should ask for help. Instead, he should pull himself up by his own bootstraps.” Following the advice of one of our most fiercely independent presidents, thousands of startups bootstrap their businesses to success.

Importantly, Silicon Valley also embraces Eastern philosophy perhaps due to influences from Asian immigrants who built much of the infrastructure in California. For example, Tibetan monks spend months building mandalas, sand sculptures, simply to let the wind blow them away. In the same vein, entrepreneurs build and rebuild companies using failure and success as badges of honor both the same. 

Perhaps the combination of these ideals, the hallmarks of entrepreneural culture in the valley are best captured by Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If.”

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master; 

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim; 

If you can meet with triumph and disaster 

And treat those two imposters just the same; 

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken 

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, 

Or watch the things you gave your life to broken, 

And stoop and build ’em up with worn out tools;

This fervor for upheaval, change and progress is delicate and rare. We should be proud of our entrepreneurs and continue to stoke the fires of innovation in Silicon Valley. After all, they are the growth engines of this great country.

 

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