Believe it or not, blogging about this is a // TODO item since 2006.
I had lunch with Tony Blair today. (And yes, I have been waiting all afternoon to type that.)
[The Prime Minister] wanted advice on advancing the United Kingdom's position in Europe for research and development. Nearly everyone in the room referenced Stanford and Berkeley's role in making the Valley attractive - as a source of graduates, to be sure, but more as a revolving door for research, partnership, education, dialog.
So if you want to attract companies like Sun to your economy, focus on investing in education, in your students, and in your leaders. Focus on educating your policy makers as to why you're committed to education - not to build prestigious institutions, but to invest in progress, academic as well as economic. Focus on the value of broad based talent as a competitive weapon, don't be distracted by cost reducing labor.
All good and dandy; but we actually want to build the next Sun or Oracle or IBM. Calling sharks in by bleeding, like Schwartz assumes that’s what countries around the world want, may not be a good idea after all. A mere source of labor is not what we want to become.
And this made me think for a while, like, 6 years. I've connected a lot of things.
All these funds, incentives and tax exceptions provided by the Turkish government and EU, innovation centers, "technology parks" and campuses within universities; bits and pieces of good ideas that form a nurturing environment are there, but it's not working. It's not a stupid question to ask why.
We need to understand that failing is the default for start-ups, as Paul Graham stated in his article, appropriately titled "Why startup hubs work?", which I will shamelessly quote here:
The problem is not that most towns kill startups. It's that death is the default for startups, and most towns don't save them. Instead of thinking of most places as being sprayed with startupicide, it's more accurate to think of startups as all being poisoned, and a few places being sprayed with the antidote.
Startups in other places are just doing what startups naturally do: fail. The real question is, what's saving startups in places like Silicon Valley?
In most places, if you start a startup, people treat you as if you're unemployed. People in the Valley aren't automatically impressed with you just because you're starting a company, but they pay attention. Anyone who's been here any amount of time knows not to default to skepticism, no matter how inexperienced you seem or how unpromising your idea sounds at first, because they've all seen inexperienced founders with unpromising sounding ideas who a few years later were billionaires.
The antidote is people. It's not the physical infrastructure of Silicon Valley that makes it work, or the weather, or anything like that. Those helped get it started, but now that the reaction is self-sustaining what drives it is the people.
It's not working, because Turkey, a mega town indeed, is not sprayed with the antidote. We treat people as if they're unemployed when they start a startup. We pity them. We feel an urge to start a fight with their ideas and methods.
We do these bad things, because the Turkish system of education finally succeeded in creating uniform mediocrity, and anything beyond that scares us. From early years of education, kids are seldom encouraged to work together and collaborate to achieve a common goal. We're given separate tasks to carry on, and we race against each other to finish faster and earlier.
This competitive environment and the mindset that comes along with it creates a dangerous selfish personality. We don't want to help each other. In fact, we depend on everyone else to fail, so we can succeed with least effort, or at least have a feeling of justice and equality.
Very first of all, we have to substitute competition with collaboration. Doing that with a population driven by the scarcity of everything is the main challenge. We have to come and work together for anything, just to learn how to collaborate with each other.
It should be obvious that the only way we stimulate not only growth but progress in our civilization is that we have to invest in better education of generations to come, patiently. Planning better education for future alone is a very hard task, and still it's not enough. We have to begin preparing a friendly environment and shift towards a nurturing and collaborating culture; so it will be okay to try and fail, and perhaps occasionally succeed.