Does Diversity Hold the Key to Prosperity?

Consider this: Part of what helped drive innovation during the dot-com boom in the U.S. was Silicon Valley’s diversity, its confluence of people with various backgrounds and nationalities creating entreprenrurial networks.  I’ve read Ethnic Indians and Chinese started over 2700 companies in Silicon Valley during the boom.  One-third of Valley engineers were foreign-born, and many of its luminaries were too: Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang is Taiwanese; Google’s Sergey Brin comes from Moscow; Sabeer Bhatia, who started Hotmail, is a former Indian army officer.

Another mother of innovation was the Valley’s campus-style environment.  All those beanbag chairs and flextime schedules and pets in the office weren’t just perks, or so the theory goes.  The idea is that given personal freedom, resources, and organizational motivation, smart people will create new things.  Anything that gets more folks talking to and working with each other improves creativity.

While the games and lounge chairs clearly send the message that folks aren’t expected to be constantly working, software developers being contrarian in their thinking go and do the opposite – which is to work all the time.  I was talking to someone recently at CodeMash from Google, who said when he arrives for his typical 12-hour workday, others are just leaving – the office works around the clock.

It will probably be sometime before it be can discerned that Google’s approach can stand the test of time, but early indications, atleast realized by them internally, is they’re doing something right.  That said, I’ve yet to hear of others, outside of Silicon Valley have as much success as Google, recognizing it takes more than just a plush environment to spur innovation – but I look forward to the day we, here in Detroit, can become home to a few.


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