By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
June 24 marked the 13th annual SDForum Visionary Awards, a celebration of the innovators and chutzpah that make Silicon Valley unique. Although the four visionaries come from diverse backgrounds, Silicon Valley was the common theme for the evening. The visionaries gave a revealing glimpse into the Silicon Valley State of Mind. What exactly is Silicon Valley? What’s its role in the world?
This week, we look at Reid Hoffman’s viewpoint. He’s co-founder of LinkedIn and a renowned innovator in Silicon Valley. He had some strong words to say about the power of entrepreneurship and its ability to jumpstart the economy.
Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn introduced Reid Hoffman as someone with a brilliant strategic mind and ability to invent the future. As well as being Executive Chairman of LinkedIn, Hoffman is also a partner with venture capitalists, Graylock Partners. Pointing to his colleague’s multidisciplinary background (Hoffman studied symbolic systems and philosophy at Stanford and Oxford respectively), Weiner concluded that education provided the building blocks to create an outstanding public thinker and social networking pioneer. Weiner reminded the audience that Hoffman understood the ability of technology to inform and connect people, inspiring him to launch Socialnet (a precursor to LinkedIn) before Facebook and MySpace existed.
Hoffman walked to the podium with some reluctance, saying that listening to the introduction made him “want to run and hide”; yet he started his speech off by grounding us in time and place.
“It’s an enormous privilege to be at this center fulcrum of how we change the world, that we call Silicon Valley,” he said, and posed the powerful question, “What more should we do with that?”
Talking like a true Silicon Valley techie, he suggested not two “answers,” but two “vectors” to his question. And, the visionary he is, Hoffman thinks BIG. First, he recommended leveraging entrepreneurship as a powerful way to get the world economy back on track. Drawing from author, Tom Friedman’s thesis, Hoffman said,
“We live in a world that is increasingly flat and increasingly accelerating. When you have challenges like economic turbulence and uncertainty… entrepreneurship is a really good pattern…we need to make it more available globally.”
Provoking wry laughter from the crowd, he pointed out that there is no entrepreneurs’ lobby in Washington DC, and implied there should be one to encourage entrepreneurship as part of the stimulus package, both here in the U.S. and around the world.
His second “vector” or call to action was: how can we take business models to the non-profit sector? Drawing from his work at Kiva.org and Endeavor.org, he suggested hybrid models of self-sustaining nonprofits that can help spread entrepreneurship and create high impact change.
“I love to play at the heart of what we do best in Silicon Valley,” said Hoffman. “To take risks, develop technologies and use financing and inspire entrepreneurship to create a lever by which we move the world.”
Former Financial Times journalist, and popular Silicon Valley Watcher, Tom Foremski used the occasion to launch and distribute his new book, “In My Humble Opinion.” He tells me it isn’t all that humble, but you can see for yourself. Check it out here.
For more interviews with Friedman, Krugman, Ballard…check out Fresh Dialogues archives
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