Driving Innovation in Silicon Valley

I was in Silicon Valley the other day showing my daughter around. She’s graduating from college next month and is thinking of moving there to seek her fame and fortune, or at least an entry level job in a startup.

What struck me was the optimism of the place. Facebook just bought Instagram for $1 billion, and the restaurants were full of casually dressed young people discussing which of the many startups might be on track for a similar breakthrough.

We had lunch in Palo Alto with a friend of the family who graduated from Stanford three years ago. She started out responding to user questions. But soon the tiny social game startup was sold to Disney for $763 million. She’s quickly working her way up the ladder as the company keeps hiring. We called on the CEO of a software company in Pleasanton whose social media tools boost workplace collaboration through crowdsourcing ideas. If these obscure niches sound insignificant, think again: Forrester estimates such applications will grow 61% per year to become a $6.4 billion market by 2016.

Next, we toured around Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino and noticed the building boom at the world’s most valuable company. They can’t find space for all the new hires, and the new headquarters won’t be completed till 2014.

Millennials like my daughter, born between 1977 and 1997, will make up half the global workforce by 2014. In talking with some of them here in the USA, what I gather is that they have had it with all the negativity and nostalgia and small thinking spawned by the Great Recession. They are not buying into America’s inevitable decline. They want to make their mark; they want to follow their Mark, as in Zuckerberg, and create products and services that people want to use.

The national election that belches negative attacks and counter-attacks creates yawns in this generation. They aren’t waiting on Washington to solve their problems or to find them work. Instead, some of them are deciding that if it’s going to be it’s up to me. And they are embracing the entrepreneurial mindset and looking for opportunities.

Whether I’m buzzing around Silicon Valley or walking the trade show floor of a giant exposition called FabTech at McCormick Place in Chicago (where I was the keynote speaker), I’m hearing similar bullishness.  When I ask “how’s business?” what I hear is “it’s great — we can’t find trained welders or (at a fleet executive conference in Florida) qualified drivers to fill open positions.

While the media constantly reminds us of dangers of unforeseen circumstances, America’s innovators are out busily creating favorable circumstances. American companies are lean and profitable. The stock market is up 12 percent this year. In contrast to Europe’s double dip recession due to too much austerity, America’s stimulus spending may not have been such a waste after all.

As growth stalls in Brazil and China, the competitive position of the U.S. grows suddenly stronger.

America is the largest, richest and most secure market in the world, foreigners are investing here. And despite our many problems, people still want to move here.

A Gallup poll last month showed that 640 million adults in the world would like to leave their home countries permanently. The country the most people hope to migrate to? The United States of America.