The Top 10 Silicon Valley Business Memes That Must End in 2013

Carl Schlachte / December 20th, 2013

It’s that time of year when everyone likes to compile a “Best Of” list. Having sat through so many meetings here in the center of the universe known as “Silicon Valley”, I’m offering my Top 10 Silicon Valley Business Memes That Must End for 2013. It is my fervent hope we can squash these sometime during 2014.

1. Compute terminology can substitute for normal words…
We do not “reboot” businesses, plans, conversations, or strategies. Difficult fellow human beings are not “no-ops”. Butting in and asking for attention is not a “priority interrupt”. I can keep going and so can you. In the name of decent, normal conversation, I’m asking that we please stop trying to de-humanize human things. Contrary to popular belief, employing this meme does not make us look “technical”. Using the word “meme” however is still cool.

2. Silicon Valley works well because it is a meritocracy…
No it’s not. We all enjoy telling each other this one out here because it makes us feel as if we are making rational business decisions on something other than influence and connection. Silicon Valley depends on networking. It concentrates a lot of skill and talent in a fairly small area and leavens the entire mixture with liberal amounts of cash. We seem to feel that it is a dirty secret that it is not what you know but who you know. That’s not a bad thing or even wrong, it just is.

3. Outrage Expressed on social media is action…
Unbelievably, despite whatever outrage we are feeling about whatever subject expressing it on social media is not going to fix it. Just because it has been expressed in a semi-public forum is not the action-equivalent of doing something. Yes, we linked to an article that proves our point, yes, my hand-picked friends might even be outraged right along with me. That is why they’re my friends after all! No, I didn’t actually “do” anything in this process. In 2014 if we are outraged, let’s actually do something about it in more than 140 characters or “like” buttons.

4. We’re getting a 10x return on our investment!
Come on, we know we’re not! All us bright people out here chasing 10x’s on our initial investment–statistically we know there aren’t that many to be had. In fact the actual number of companies that get this return are vanishingly small. Our limited partners are actually going to be much more impressed with actual returns when an exit occurs rather than excuses about why that hopeful 10x flamed out. If you’re an entrepreneur and you have tried to figure out how to make your pitch look like 10x you know the drill. Please stop. Let’s make 2014 the year we build great businesses with lasting value that further the common good. Let’s have that be enough.

5. Employee Buses
All the haters voting against tax increases to support mass transit, showing up to hate buses for the elite “knowledge worker” to get to work and unclog our highways a little bit, please check your irony meter at the door. Bus drivers parking where you don’t belong: please make those knowledge workers walk a little further. BART administrators and workers: repeated strikes are not only not helping, but there is a real danger of a “pox on both your houses” becoming the way we all feel. Can’t we all just get along? Traffic’s bad enough.

6. SoMoLo
Yes there is some obtuse linkage between Social, Mobile and Local, but not as an investment category. There is no unicorn here. While everyone tries to come up with some kind of grand unification theory around the so-called category, time is wasting for hundreds of little companies with great ideas. Big kudos to the person who dreamed up the name though–it actually makes it look like there’s a grand strategy in there somewhere.

7. We can hide the poor, or at least teach them how to code…
There seems to be a persistent belief that the poor should not be seen or heard and that means they don’t exist. Or that “teaching them to fish” means developing and iPhone app. Please see meme #3 and spare us the Darwinian (Malthusian?) social theories. Why not just do the right thing in 2014 instead? Let’s head over to Glide Memorial and put on an apron; refrain from taking pictures when we’re there, and post absolutely nothing to Twitter about the experience. No one will even know we did it! The poor (whom we will always have with us) will be fed and that’s all that really matters.

8. Food is rational investment thesis…
No it’s not. Call any Bay Area CPA and ask them the silly ways smart people waste good money. Right after they tell you “open a winery” they’ll probably add: “start a restaurant”. Yet we all do after some point and most, if not all of us, lose our shirts in the process. Just because we have come up with some way to tie a smartphone app to our kitchen does not make this venture capital worthy. Let’s make a New Year’s resolution to not make a business plan around food.

9. “Lean” anything must mean it is good for a business…
I love this one for its creativity. It combines humanity’s love of dieting fads with how to run a business. We business people just eat this stuff up (see how easy this is?). Waste looks like fat, and cutting down trims our waste-line (get it?). Lean-ness leaves us with muscle and bone and we are strong and growing. Sure, sure, we get it, but enough already. In 2014 I’m going to start my own meme called “healthy fat”. You see, startups are really like babies and babies actually need a lot of healthy fat to grow quickly… hey wait! If I turn this into a restaurant and add an iPhone app… instant funding!

10. Personal Branding
I don’t know if this started out here in San Francisco or not, but it sure feels like it did. Humans are not brands, nor should they ever be. It’s bad enough that half the clothing I wear has to show some type of logo, but now I have to make myself into a brand too? This is what we’re teaching our next generation of entrepreneurs? Be your own brand? Really? How about we focus on making ourselves into better people and leave the branding to companies and cattle in 2014?

Carl Schlachte

Carl is a serial entrepreneur, having been Chairman and CEO of multiple public and private companies. He is currently CEO of Ventiva, a private thermal management company, as well as Chairman of Immersion (Nasdaq: IMMR ) and a director at Peregrine Semiconductor (Nasdaq: PSMI). You can follow Carl on Twitter at carlsuqupro.
  • klahanas

    Fantastic article!

  • jfutral

    Absolutely love your writing. Thanks for sharing.

    Joe

  • LOL. In 1978, as a new DEC salesrep, I gave a presentation at MIT. The students would raise their hands and say “interrupt” when asking questions. I thought it was hysterical.

    • steve_wildstrom

      Except for the hyper kid who jumped up and down shouting “non-maskable interrupt.”

      • Carl Schlachte

        Classic. I had someone say that to me recently as well!

        • Bill Smith

          I’ve been known to say “NMI” when I’m trying to get to the restroom and someone stops me on the way.

          BTW, Mr. Schlachte, I am incredibly enamored of your writing so far. If you’ve written elsewhere, whether for the tech audience or not, I am very interested in hearing about it. I count no less than six powerhouse columnists at tech.pinions, of which you are my newest discovery, yet an incredible delight. I have a hunch that this site is going to be my favorite of 2014…now if I can just get Mr. Wildstrom to write more often… 😉

    • A DEC salesrep. Wow. So you’re a billionaire now, right?

  • Bill Smith

    Excellent in so many ways!

    “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie.” — 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11

    To put it secularly…

    “You can’t handle the truth!” — Nathan Jessup/A Few Good Men (played by Jack Nicholson)

    As a management consultant here in the Valley, I’ve made a small fortune just by telling my clients the truth that’s right in front of them, often the same truths their employees, customers and trade magazines have been telling them all along. All people (not just those in the Valley) cling to perspectives that have no basis in reality.

    We have so many “memes” in our area because we isolate ourselves. We don’t speak to the ministers and social workers who deal with the poor and indigent. We don’t associate with “non-tech” people because we have nothing to talk about and, since they aren’t on Twitter, they can’t follow.

    We use “compute terminology” because it’s a lingo that declares us to be the cognoscenti; the majority of the tech community doesn’t know English well enough to express complex thoughts, and are undereducated in grammar, spelling, social graces and literature. In the Valley, we speak “immigrant English” (a subset of English that contains what newly landed immigrants know), plus what fits into our shared knowledge domain. “Reboot” doesn’t belong in normal conversation, but when I say it, anybody who has used a computer, which includes nearly everyone in the Valley workforce, immediately understands what I mean.

    The “Google Bus” phenomenon is similar to arguments I’ve had with tree huggers over “paper vs plastic”. Valley folk tend to complain about issues where, for the most part, they are the chief beneficiaries or the chief problem. There’s little concept of “This has to change, and it begins today, with me, not with a rant on Tumblr.”

    These memes won’t die out in 2014. I predict I’ll have a very lucrative year, fixing the most absurd problems; in fact, I expect a 10x return on my investment! 😉

  • James King

    “Silicon Valley depends on networking. It concentrates a lot of skill and
    talent in a fairly small area and leavens the entire mixture with
    liberal amounts of cash. We seem to feel that it is a dirty secret that
    it is not what you know but who you know. That’s not a bad thing or even
    wrong, it just is.” – Carl Schlachte

    Yeah, it’s a bad thing and probably wrong too. Homogeneity is rarely a good thing, especially when it comes to ideas and innovation. IMO, SV should welcome ideas from all points and find unique ways to implement them, rather than relying on an old boy network.

    • Carl Schlachte

      “Old boy networks” have been around since humans figured out a team could kill an antelope better than a single person could. I get your point, but networks, any of them, are about some degree of homogeneity. We need look no farther than our “friend” list on FB to see that. The point is to not cover up the fact that, truthfully, it is who we know that gets us where we are. I do agree that welcoming all ideas works too. Sometimes though it just creates chaos where none is needed. Neither is good or bad in and of themselves. How they are used and talked about makes all the difference.

      • James King

        I think you are conflating “old boy networks” with collective social structures such as tribes, clans, and other extended family units. Collective social structures evolved as a survival mechanism from which all of its members derived a benefit. “Strength in numbers” and so forth. “Old boy networks” aren’t collectives focused on survival but act as gatekeepers to established power structures. They act more as exclusive clubs, setting the criteria and enforcing the selection process for those who wish to become a part of a power structure.

        Your response is a bit ironic considering the focus on “innovation” in SV. It seems as if you are championing a status quo, “this is the way it is, this is the way it has always been.” Homegeneity in social structures often breeds contempt for others and xenophobia. The Ku Klux Klan and Nazi Germany are stark examples but even the recent accounts of well-heeled SV insiders’ tirades against the poor and working class are telling. I see a culture in SV in which decision making is hoarded and only those who fit a certain mold and have a certain skillset are allowed to join the club. That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. Surgeons are part of a “club” an I certainly wouldn’t want to be operated on by someone who wasn’t in it. But the difference is that surgeons come from many backgrounds and upbringings. It is truly meritocratic in the sense that anyone with the aptitude and the desire to become one has a relatively good chance of becoming one provided s/he can get past any other societal disadvantages that may be part of their experience. However, the same type of person succeeds in SV with very few exceptions: white, affluent, male. Questions of racism and sexism are beginning to be asked much more as are questions of the real value of the culture. Are the denizens of SV really “changing the world”? Or is SV becoming just another exclusive and exclusionary power structure, creating its on self-sustaining and self-justifying “bubble” of wealth and privilege?

        I grant that “good” and “bad” is subjective but echo chambers have a way of imploding. The tech world has already experienced a painful contraction once in recent history due to its hubris. I see the same thing happening today and expect the same result. Belief in one’s superiority does not make one superior. I think those in positions of power in SV should start to look beyond their emotional, social and intellectual borders. There doesn’t need to be “chaos,” just more open-mindedness and less arrogance.

        • Bill Smith

          Mr. King, you have given me so much food for thought. Echo chambers do, fortunately, implode. A healthy organization , at its core, works toward diversity. One must determine which attributes are key to the task at hand, and for enabling productivity. All other factors must be as diverse as possible.

          In nature, there are only two ways to describe species of limited diversity: extinct, and “soon to be extinct.” I’m amazed that companies, political parties and such, can’t see that.

  • Alex Gollner

    The advantage of having your own brand is that you can separate your professional interactions from who you really are.

    People who buy into your professional brand don’t need to hear about your position on the ACA or Duck Dynasty, while people that are part of your real relationships can safely ignore all your tech prognostications.

    • Carl Schlachte

      Why in goodness name would I ever want to separate my professional interactions from who I really am? Whole is who we are all trying to be, must be, if we are going to live well. I am about to save you a ton of money in professional therapy should it ever be needed: be yourself always.

    • Bill Smith

      So you’re an advocate for digital schizophrenia? I understand your point, but I would rather know a person, not a persona. I understand that media persona must be “managed” for business reasons (e.g. Oprah, Madonna, Miley Cyrus), but there’s a price to pay when identities are treated as property. Must we prostitute the very essence of ourselves? Consider that those who refer to themselves in the third person typically meet ends that negatively affect society as well as their personal lives (e.g. Nixon, Napoleon, Chairman Mao, Herman Cain and Bob Dole littered their speech with illeism). There’s a certain detachment of responsibility that comes with separating what your “brand” does from “you.” It suggests conceit and mental illness.

      • klahanas

        “Must we prostitute the very essence of ourselves?”
        No we shouldn’t. I think that’s the point. Integrity pervades all our actions, not just some of them.

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