Last week, President Obama announced a surprise decision to allow oil and gas drilling off the East Coast of the United States. The world was at once outraged andconfused. What many analysts overlooked is that Obama also said in his speech, “For the sake of the planet and our energy independence, we need to begin the transition to cleaner fuels now.” There was much for both sides to analyze and to debate.
I sat down with CNN’s senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobinbefore his Foothill College Celebrity Forum appearance, to try to make sense of Obama’s announcement. Toobin is best-selling author of The Nine(On the secret world of the Supreme Court Justices), and two of the most high profile political controversies: Too Close to Call (the Bush-Gore Presidential Recount) and A Vast Conspiracy (the Clinton-Lewinsky Affair), so I figured he’d provide some good insights into Obama’s latest political strategy. See also Huffington Post coverage
On the Obama Offshore Oil Drilling Announcement
“It’s a bit peculiar frankly…it seems on one level that he’s negotiating with himself…conceding something to the pro-development forces before the negotiations have really begun in earnest…but there may be some larger political game at work…that this shows how accommodating he is… ”
On the Republican Reaction
“Gestures of good faith to Republicans have generally been met over the last year and a half with non responsive actions.”
There are countless Silicon Valley wannabes all over the world, from Silicon Wadi in Israel to Silicon Glen in Scotland, but none rival Silicon Valley’s track record. Why is Silicon Valley the premier center of innovation? What is the secret of Silicon Valley’s success?
I joined Morton Grosser, a Silicon Valley venture investor, consultant and inventor in his Menlo Park workshop to discuss the history of Silicon Valley and the key ingredients that allow innovation to flourish here. As a former director of eight high-tech companies and strategy advisor to such stalwarts as Hewlett-Packard, Apple, Kleiner Perkins and many Fortune 100 companies, Grosser (or Mort, as he prefers) provides a unique perspective on what makes Silicon Valley successful.
Why did Silicon Valley grow here?
“Silicon Valley has an extraordinary meritocracy culture…it’s an accident of time and place.”
What is the Vital Ingredient?
“We’ve had a unique surplus of the four things that are necessary for an entrepreneurial culture…a great university or universities, smart young entrepreneurs, a source of capital, but most leave out the most important part:
What you really need is a culture of meritocracy. You need horizontality.”
“He noticed that science and engineering seminars were taught by 23-year-old graduate students, because those are the people making the progress…this was anomalous for the industrial world… Terman noticed this 70 years ago and he wrote about it in “Steeples of Excellence.” He said, if you could move this principle out of academia into industry you would have an enormous advantage over many other companies.”
How to build innovation – the Silicon Valley Way
“It’s not just the capital…it’s the intellectual environment, the ambiance, the acceptance, it isn’t merely mentoring it’s accepting…To build a culture that is unique; in which industrial companies would have the same structure, where young people have a voice, where new and creative ideas … flourish.”
“You don’t have to teach children creativity, you just have to get out of their way.”
Want to learn more?
The book “Regional Advantage” by Berkeley’s Dean of the School of Information, AnnaLee Saxenian, compares Route 128 (the Boston innovation hub) with Route 280 (Silicon Valley) and explores the reasons, as Mort puts it, “Why Silicon Valley succeeded and Route 128 did not… It comes down to the difference between horizontality and verticality.” In summary: Boston developed a system dominated by independent, self-sufficient corporations, whereas Silicon Valley developed a decentralized but cooperative industrial system.
2. Advice to Governor Schwarzenegger on Gubernatorial candidates, Meg Whitman’s and Steve Poizner’s stance on AB 32 … that it’s killing jobs and should be repealed.
“Governor Schwarzenegger should pick up the phone to Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner and tell them to back off their inane commentary on AB 32. That it’s killing jobs….that’s just prima facie false.”
“Message to Governor Schwarzenegger: fantastic job that he’s done on behalf of solar …but as a leader of the Republican Party, I’d encourage him to work out a little bit on the Republican candidates… explain to them that our state and Silicon Valley has become a leader in clean tech because of the State’s strong support for (alternative) energy. It would be disastrous if it was suspended in any way.”
3. Will the Whitman/ Poizner stance on AB 32 backfire?
“That policy (proposal) is going to galvanize every person and every company involved in clean tech to vote for (Gubernatorial candidate) Jerry Brown.”
I sat down with Pulitzer Prize winner, Tom Friedman, just before he delivered a lecture to an expectant Foothill CollegeCelebrity Forumaudience at the Flint Center in Silicon Valley. We discussed his bestselling book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded and why he thinks the U.S. government MUST jump-start the green economy. According to Tom, creating the right ecosystem is key: funding research, setting price signals and creating incentives to encourage green innovation. Tom admitted to some China envy in that regard. (see below or check out the transcript) He also has some thoughtful words on the Van Jones resignation and dealing with loud critics. Are you listening Van Jones?
In this video excerpt, Tom explains his China envy and why he said “Am I a bad guy for wanting to be China for a day?”
I asked him, in light of Van Jones’s resignation (and the climate of such criticism), does he consider himself a bad guy?
Tom has some strong words for his critics….people like Glenn Beck et al: “If you’re criticizing me, God Bless you…I’m not above criticism. My focus is on my ideas with my audience…You may be writing about me, but don’t think for a second I’m going to waste a column on you!”
Like most ambitious entrepreneurs in Silicon ValleyBloom EnergyCEO KR Sridharwants to change the world. Now where have we heard that line before? It’s the ubiquitous rally cry for thousands of Google/ Facebook/eBay wannabes around the world. But what makes KR Sridhar different?
How about $400 Million in venture capital from the likes of Kleiner Perkins’ John Doerr; a 100-strong team of PhD. rocket scientists (like himself) and top engineers from multiple disciplines who’ve been working secretly for eight years; and a client list that includes Google, eBay, Staples and FedEx. Add to that, enthusiastic backing from Arnold Schwarzenegger, splashy coverage from CBS’s 60 Minutes, and Time Magazine which last December dubbed him one of eight “Tech pioneers who will change your life.”
Yet, it does sound too good to be true. Not surprisingly, the naysayers are aplenty. A skeptical article in the Economist said there were many reasons for questioning the company’s “hype”, including the difficulty of shrinking the fuel cell components, and competition from the likes of GE. In a typically British fashion, it mocked Bloom Energy’s ambitions, referring to “flower power” and “fuel’s gold” in the article.
But if we look back a few years; before KR Sridhar emerged from stealth to become the Steve Jobs of Green Energy – more substantive information emerges. He was quoted in Tom Friedman’sNew York Times column as saying,“We are thrivers. Thrivers are constantly looking for new opportunities to seize and lead and be number one. That is what America is about.” In an exclusive interview at the Bloom Energy headquarters, I asked him to explain this comment, his motivations and why he believes his company really can change the world.Distributed power that is reliable, and affordable are key parts of his strategy.
“This is a mission about changing the world because energy is a passport to a better living. For the rest of the world that does not have access to power, access to electricity, to give them that is empowering them to a better life. So if the solution works and you make it affordable and you can distribute it all over the world then definitely you have changed the world. So … if that’s your goal and you achieve that goal, clearly given the size of the energy market, it’s in trillions not in billions and given how many people you can impact with this kind of stuff, this has to be a prominent company. So, I would say being the number one corporation is an offshoot of achieving your larger mission.” KR Sridhar, CEO Bloom Energy
To check out more exclusive Fresh Dialogues interviews with Tom Friedman, Vinod Khosla, Paul Krugman, and many other leaders click here or use the Search Box to the right.