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Vinny said on December 6th, 2012 at 10:11 am :
You have traveled the world and made friends in all the places you have touched. There’s no doubt in my mind that you will continue to make great things. Remember that all of the friends you have made will always support you in your decisions to take over the world!
Goodbye, Silicon Valley.
In about a weeks time I will be taking a one-way flight from San Francisco to Tokyo. From there on I will be taking up a post at Google Zürich in Switzerland as an Associate Product Manager, beginning in June.
I leave behind many memories of my time in the United States including my four years at Swarthmore College, my job at VelQuest and my trip across the United States driving solo, as well as my 2 1/4 years spent at Stanford University with wonderful opportunities to intern at IDEO and Google Tokyo along the way. Most importantly I will be leaving behind the many innovators, design thinkers, behavior designers and colleagues who have inspired me, pushed me to think beyond my comfort zone, and compelled me to take my ideas from scratchpad to startup.
My international background as well as my upbringing moving from place place has made me somewhat of a chameleon in that I find myself being most inspired when I am surrounded by people who are also passionate and excited about the things they do. There’s really no better place to be passionate and excited and perhaps a little naïve than in the Silicon Valley because it is the very place where people can have very outlandish ideas — world changing ideas, game changing ideas — and try to solve them without fear that someone will judge them for having a crazy idea.
Over the past couple months I have had many opportunities to evaluate my reasons for staying and my reasons for leaving the Silicon Valley. In a sense I have become somewhat disillusioned with the fact that a lot of the innovation and entrepreneurship that appears to be happening in Silicon Valley caters very well to the Silicon Valley crowd (i.e. people who are generally more tech-savvy than most, who probably at least have a smartphone and a laptop). More than once I’ve expressed disappointment at the fact that Kickstarter and Indiegogo seem to be very wonderful platforms for innovation but that they also are very much a collection of solutions to first world problems. When I shared my concern with a colleague and friend she responded by saying that we as designers and innovators are really best suited to solving these kinds of problems because we are the ones that are suffering through them. So the need for an smartphone-based door lock system is very much motivated by someone’s desire and need for system. The amount of funding that has appeared from their crowdfunding efforts highlights the fact that many people also feel that they share that same need, and yearn for that very cleverly designed solution. On the other hand, we aren’t well suited to solving problems for which we have no experience, background or expertise.
The problem I’ve been having is that I have not been able to understand that need — I have not been compelled enough to buy into these Kickstarter campaigns — nor have I considered those problems to be ones for which I felt a solution was particularly needed. And the increasing number of these proposed solutions — on YCombinator, on Kickstarter — have me worried that my own needs are not aligned with those around me.
If I don’t see these particular products as solutions to a need that I have then I can hardly imagine myself being at the forefront of innovation, designing for needs other people have not yet discovered. It’s not particularly enticing to be an incremental innovator, piggy-backing off of the groundbreaking work of others, either.
This is the main reason I am moving away from the Silicon Valley, at least for a short while. In a sense I want to be immersed in an environment where I discover needs that are unmet in my immediate surroundings and I am able and equipped then to provide potential solutions using the kinds of skills I have learned in the heart of Silicon Valley. Along the way I know that I will have to battle the idea that I’m always going to be a foreigner in a strange land. I will worry about being seen with disdain and suspicion because I might not understand the real needs, because I remain a newcomer wherever I go. I would very much hate to be the philanthropist entrepreneur who decides to go to a third world country and promote a particular technology, idea or solution that on the surface appears to be a wonderful idea but in practice fails miserably because it does not answer to a specific unmet need and does not solve that with a contextually relevant solution.
I don’t expect to find myself very far from the vibrant heart of technology that is the Silicon Valley. But I can’t ignore the beacons of innovation, the startup scenes popping up in Rio de Janeiro, Berlin, Lagos and elsewhere around the world. Undoubtedly, many of the innovators there have learned aspects of their process from the Silicon Valley startup scene. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if there are some things even Silicon Valley could learn from them.
Back in 2005, I designed a theme called “Returned to Sender” where each post was accompanied by a stamp. I’ve decided to revive the theme a bit, and so my inaugural 2012 edition is of the Hungarian Post’s stamp of the Graf Zepellin in Japan, during its inaugural round-the-world trip in 1931.