As Facebook leaps off the precipice into the stock market, there's been a lot of talk about its business model, or its amazing stock price, or why GM dropped its ads.
But take a moment to step back. Forget the looming competitive threats, stop thinking about its $100 billion market cap. This is a moment to savor the much more important story that Facebook tells us about this region.
For all of its flaws, Silicon Valley still works.
The details of Facebook's creation and growth are unique. But they fit within the broad outlines established in the 1930s when David Packard and Bill Hewlett started their company in a garage in Palo Alto.
The formula by now is familiar. Entrepreneur gets idea. Raises venture capital. Expands company. Goes public. Maybe sells the company. Enriches employees. They start or invest in new companies. Repeat.
What is astonishing is the way this cycle has endured. At the same time, it does so in a way that has allowed Silicon Valley to adapt time and again as technology changes. Semiconductors. PCs. Biotechnology. Software. Networking hardware. The Internet. Social media. Cloud computing. Mobile.
Amusingly enough, the one thing that hasn't adapted is the name. "I'm struck increasingly that we still call it Silicon Valley," said AnnaLee Saxenian, dean of the School of Information at UC Berkeley. "Semiconductors have long not been the leading industry of this region."
In 1994, Saxenian
The book explained that what appeared from the outside to be a chaotic approach to business -- people hopping jobs, intermingling, sharing ideas, collaborating with colleagues from other companies -- was in fact the secret to the valley's success. It was a dynamic to be emulated, not controlled.
Many places have tried some version of this innovation economy. And yet there simply is no other region that consistently mints so many successful new companies and industries from, well, nothing. A decade ago, Google barely existed; now it's the valley's largest Internet company. A decade ago, Facebook didn't exist; now it's changed the world.
While powerful, this economic engine has not solved all problems, and in some ways has worsened ills. The benefits of its successes are not felt widely enough in our communities, and income gaps have created a widening rift between haves and have-nots.
The valley can also become obsessed with money and status. It can attract too many people who see it as a lottery ticket to fortune, rather than as a place to pursue a dream. At times, the system itself can threaten to spin out of control and destroy itself, as it nearly did during the dot-com bubble.
Indeed, Steve Blank, the serial entrepreneur who teaches about entrepreneurship at Stanford University, worries that Facebook is indicative of something darker. He believes the valley is becoming overly obsessed with the quick payoffs promised by social media companies, rather than investing in far more innovative technologies that will have a lasting impact and create more jobs.
"Venture capitalists are wondering why they should invest in anything that will take more than three years to bring to fruition, when they can invest in something like Instagram that goes from zero to $1 billion in less than two years," he said.
"I think it's pushing real innovation outside of our country. And it might actually be the demise of what we should actually do in Silicon Valley."
At the same time, such concerns are not unique. Early in the 1990s, when Saxenian was writing her book about the valley's triumph, many leaders here were worried the region was losing its edge. That prompted local companies and governments to create Joint Venture: Silicon Valley, a nonprofit whose mission is to monitor our competitiveness and the health of our communities.
The valley rebounded then, and has again. But there are no guarantees this will last forever. That's why we shouldn't gloat. No need to spike the football.
But on this day, at this moment, Silicon Valley remains unique. Appreciate the fact that on the day Facebook went public, you were here to witness it and were in some way a part of what makes this place special.