Soft Power

What’s Silicon Valley Got That We Haven’t?


By Harriet Rubin March 24, 2009

I’m in Palo Alto today conferring with the 2036 President of the US. Actually, I’m speaking to sixty seniors at an elite girls school, daughters of venture capitalists and high-tech CEOs. The topic: soft power. I can fully believe that a future president is in this room.

Why not? Fortune favors the West Coast. The pioneering spirit, the increase in population, the lack of hierarchy: for many reasons, power is shifting west. New York, like most eastern shining cities, is over. Wall Street still runs everything. It used to be that you could have an original idea in New York and it meant money and power. No more. Now people play it safe. They want more of what they already have. Rarely is the spirit of innovation honored.

The West is increasingly the innovation center. There is the world’s first Tesla dealership has opened two doors down from where I’m staying. Teslas are the new electric vehicles, not produced by Detroit, costing $100K. There is a five-year waiting list. The Teslas are beautiful. The showroom has real gravitas. It says, look at me, I’m the future, your great hope for America. The people who venture in to test drive them are alive with ideas and possibilities.

My big takeaway: Wouldn’t this place be great for Teslas or for some other new thrilling industry? By comparison with Palo Alto, Portland seems dazed and confused. In Portland, smart people are debating soccer. In Silicon Valley, the debate is about the next better thing.

What does Hillary Clinton say? Never waste a good crisis. Our City Hall has big thinkers but they’re mute. This is not healthy. Here the girls all think that if they’re not presidents, they can change the world by having great small businesses, important missions. Portland is definitely NOT on their itineraries.

Where is the future in our town?

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