Carnegie Mellon University

Ground zero for worldwide change through technology

Few regions on the planet harness the economic and social benefits of technological innovation as impressively as the Silicon Valley, 1,500 square miles of Northern California’s Santa Clara Valley.  There a population of some 2.4 million people sustains one of the most productive centers of wealth creation the world has ever known.  

The creativity flourishing with technological change in the Silicon Valley represents a phenomenon that is changing the world through innovation and entrepreneurship.  For scholars of science and technology as well as students learning the scientific and technical disciplines, the creative forces emanating from the Silicon Valley to many other regions of the world present the future unfolding.  The forces in play in Northern California exemplify the importance for knowledge workers of an intellectual framework to understand change and innovation as they reshape the future.

The Silicon Valley and its many highly successful enterprises, companies such as Intel, Apple, Google, HP and Sun Microsystems, represent the starting point for building structures for change, innovation and enterprise in the 21st century.  A region that much of the rest of the world seeks to emulate, the Silicon Valley is the largest major export region in the United States and the focal point for the greatest concentration of venture capital investment in the history of the world.

Presenting many vivid examples of these transforming processes, the geographic region opens a window – and focuses attention – on many global characteristics of technological innovation, which other regions seek to cultivate. 

Inventiveness of a region 

Foremost among them is the inventiveness of citizens who create the modern Silicon Valley culture – and account in a recent year for 377 patent registrations for every 100,000 residents.  This key measure of invention and technological innovation has tripled in the region since the mid-1990s.  Indeed, the Silicon Valley is the most inventive place in the United States – if not the world – as the region incorporates six of the 10 top cities in the United States for patent registrations – 5,421 in six Silicon Valley cities – and accounts for 11 percent of all patents granted in the United States in 2005.  

Focus on new ideas, methods and business models 

Another feature of the work force built around a culture of technological change, innovation and entrepreneurship is the high concentration of workers focused on the creation of new ideas, methods, products and services, and business models that produce economic value and prosperity.  Twenty-three percent of the technological work force in the Silicon Valley concentrates its efforts on change and innovation.  Indeed, this factor of high-value employment in the clusters of information technology and biomedical enterprise occurs at a rate that is 3 to 4 times greater than in any other technology-focused region of the United States and some 12 times greater than for the United States as a whole.  

Creative networks of knowledge-driven industries 

The region that fostered Google, Yahoo and many other companies focused on internet search engines and network enterprises also sits at the global center of a creative network of knowledge-driven industries.  The power of these networks, now spread to every nation on earth, accelerates the evolution of the world’s economy toward greater technological integration.  These networks drive knowledge out to the world and they pull it back into the Silicon Valley and the U.S. economy. 

Internationally diverse workforce 

As a reflection of this globalization of the enterprise of knowledge, some 55 percent of scientists and engineers in the Silicon Valley workforce are individuals who were born in countries other than the United States.  At the same time, this well-educated region, where 40 percent of the population holds at least a Bachelor’s Degree, also reflects the considerable diversity of a population where multi-lingualism continues to grow – as shown among the nearly 50 percent of households that speak at least two languages. 

Cultural laboratory for technological change 

Indeed, the intellectual capacity of its international workforce enables the Silicon Valley to continue to grow and produce regional, national and international benefits.  As a laboratory for technological change and innovation, the culture of the Silicon Valley is recasting ideas about economic development and international competition while fueling the ambitions of other regions whose business and political leaders draw upon its lessons to compete for a share of the world’s technology markets.
These are some factors in the creativity of not only the Silicon Valley but also other technologically focused regions that seek to emulate its success.  The pulses of change that drive Silicon Valley life are the result of processes of change, innovation and enterprise that today's students of science and technology will need to interpret and manage as they pursue careers in the world that these forces are shaping.