At the turn of the 20th century, Charles Holland Duell – the commissioner of the US Patent and Trademark Office – allegedly uttered, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”
While comical, Duell’s inference was also ominous and disconcerting as it hinted to a potential sense of contentment about the state of innovation and progress in the United States at the time.
Let’s now jump forward more than a century to a recent letter posted on Facebook by Yammer CEO David Sacks. Fresh off his company’s $1.2 billion acquisition by Microsoft, Sacks questions the viability of emerging technology companies:
I think silicon valley as we know it may be coming to an end. In order to create a successful new company, you have to find an idea that (1) has escaped the attention of the major Internet companies, which are better run than ever before; (2) is capable of being launched and proven out for ~$5M, the typical seed plus series A investment; and (3) is protectable from the onslaught of those big companies once they figure out what you’re onto. How many ideas like that are left?
Sacks’ contention that the start-up culture of Silicon Valley is in decline elicited a flurry of passionate rebuffs from entrepreneurs, investors and technology thought leaders alike. Venture capitalist and tech-guru Marc Andreessen described human creativity as “limitless.”
Yet, the views of such a proven technologist and entrepreneur like Sacks should not be discounted. He’s not looking to make headlines. And Sacks knows of what he speaks!
It’s clear to me that the future viability of this country is absolutely dependent upon the innovation of entrepreneurs, business leaders and workers at every level of every organization.
We need to cherish innovation. Teach it all levels of school. Financially encourage and invest in it. Demand it in every industry and let those that fall behind suffer the consequences.
As we enter an intense election period, I suspect we’ll see both Obama and Romney make a jobs plea while mugging for cameras in front of some dated manufacturing plants. Shouldn’t we accept the fact that certain industries have forever located offshore?
Our society needs to do everything possible to make sure Sacks’ comments turn out to be as dead wrong as what Duell said back in 1899.