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December 08, 2006

« Why some cities make it and others don't | Main | Conservatives and populists »

Paul Graham's recent essays on "How to be Silicon Valley" and "Why Startups Condense" have been widely circulated and much discussed.  Today I paid a visit to Paul's site and found this essay which I must have missed,"The Power of the Marginal," which provides great insight on the role of "outsiders" in innovation.

Some of Silicon Valley's most famous companies began in garages: Hewlett-Packard in 1938, Apple in 1976, Google in 1998.  ... By conventional standards, Jobs and Wozniak were marginal people too.  Obviously they were smart, but they can't have looked good on paper.  They were at the time a pair of college dropouts with about three years of school between them, and hippies to boot. Their previous business experience consisted of making "blue boxes" to hack into the phone system, a business with the rare distinction of being both illegal and unprofitable.

Now a startup operating out of a garage in Silicon Valley would feel part of an exalted tradition, like the poet in his garret, or the painter who can't afford to heat his studio and thus has to wear a beret indoors.  But in 1976 it didn't seem so cool.  ... One of the first things Jobs did when they got some money was to rent office space.  He wanted Apple to seem like a real company. ... I've talked to a lot of startup founders, and it's always this way.  They've built something that's going to change the world, and they're worried about some nit like not having proper business cards.

That's the paradox I want to explore: great new things often come from the margins, and yet the people who discover them are looked down on by everyone, including themselves. ...Why do great ideas come from the margins?  What kind of ideas?  And is there anything we can do to encourage the process?

Read the rest of this fascinating essay here.


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» La innovación es marginal from Juan Freire
La vanguardia surge en los márgenes del sistema, la innovación sucede casi siempre en condiciones extrañas, en la marginalidad cultural, económica e incluso física y geográfica. Por eso es imposible planificarla, es tan difícil reconocerla como tal cua... [Read More]


Michael Bindner

The real innovation comes from the marginal because corporate culture neither welcomes nor nurtures it (neither does academic culture, which is more focused on publication than innovation in the real world).

I have some experience with this, as I am advocating a socio-economic system which is truly new - and the world is not exactly beating down my door.

I will look back over the last few months to confirm, but I wonder - have you commented on it in this space?

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