Regional Advantage, by Annalee Saxenian

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I’ve had this book on my shelf for a few years now, but didn’t read it until just yesterday, when a VC that I was talking with suggested it — I read it in about 24 hours and am super-glad that I did, because it’s a really tremendous book.

Written in 1994, it’s an analysis of Silicon Valley versus Route 128 in Mass — and the environmental, historical, and cultural factors that have contributed to the high tech industry in each region. At core, the author points out that Route 128 built an environment with a relatively small number of huge, all-in-one companies — DEC is a good example — whereas Silicon Valley built an environment of companies that tended to be less vertically integrated, more prone to communication and sharing, and generally more flexible.

Lots of reasons for this — some rooted in the history of the region — MIT’s ties & access to Defense spending in DC, the generally looser nature of culture in the West, etc — but the result is that you get much more fluidity and information sharing in Silicon Valley than in Boston, which results in a stronger ecosystem that can reinvent itself as business circumstances change.

This book is great for other reasons — gives really good historical background on the rise of both regions, plus great histories of the 70s and 80s — stuff that I always really enjoy reading & thinking about.

The thing that I was most struck by is how many of the things that I take for granted in my working world are unusual & were pioneered here in SV — including an egalitarian working style, openness across companies, and a high degree of chatter among companies that are ostensibly competitive. Since I’ve grown up in this environment, sometimes it’s tough for me to see some of the unusual bits.

Anyway, anyone who’s in this industry or interested in it at all should read this book. You can read it in literally 1 day, and it’s really worth it.

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