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Image copyright Suzanne Tucker
All good things must come to an end, including Motown and many a once-noble region or hamlet. So I have history on my side when I lob the following grenade: Silicon Valley will take its turn someday, falling from the heights it has attained.
I make this assertion because if we look closely, we can already see what will cause the decline of Silicon Valley. In fact, the valley’s residents are consciously planting the seeds of the valley’s own demise. What’s more, I believe many of them will celebrate when the valley is no longer on top.
My cheery assessment depends on this sleight of words: Decline is relative, and the decline that Silicon Valley faces will be less like watching Hewlett-Packard slip into irrelevance and more like proudly standing to one side as the rest of the world — eventually even the less-developed world — catches up to it. Thus, the “decline” I claim the valley seeks and will eventually succumb to is a most desirable decline, indeed.
Digital disruption — a force that Silicon Valley gestated and nursed from its earliest days — is now global. Digital devices, the networks that connect them, and the software tools that prod human beings to hanker for more of all these things will soon be everywhere. The long-term effect of rising digital disruption will be to redistribute the benefits of the future across the planet even as it continues to improve the already futuristic valley that started it all. What does Silicon Valley have today that other places will eventually enjoy as well? Access to three things the valley currently has in spades:
People fond of wine and cheese will argue that there’s more to valley life than just these three things. That’s certainly true, but when you have more knowledge, tools and capital, some of the other things the valley prizes become common elsewhere as well. A culture of achievement, for example. As only people who have lived in a subculture that keeps them down know, the valley is a unique place where even surfers think they can be the next startup billionaires, leading to the creation of a company like GoPro.
It’s presumptuous of me to suggest that all valley residents will be so happy to be dethroned, even if the decline is only relative to the rise of the rest of the world. Venture capitalists, lawyers and politicians will feel the relative decline the most because their services have long been offered under the presumption that the value they provide is scarce, an assumption that’s now patently false. Other valley residents will be pleased, at least if Jeff Hammerbacher, Chief Scientist at Cloudera, is any indication. As he told me in an interview for my new book, “Digital Disruption,” “I don’t subscribe to the ‘great man’ theory of the world. I’d much rather create fertile soil for other innovators to plant their seeds in than just water my own tree. “
He actually talks like that. And that’s what makes him and many others like him the planters of the same seeds that will sow the relative decline of Silicon Valley by lifting everybody else up to join it. Even — perhaps especially — Detroit, home of over 250 Kickstarter projects.
James McQuivey is the author of “Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation.” He is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research and the leading analyst tracking the development of digital disruption.