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09/10/2020

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Miriam

Serendipity offers the right opportunity, besides there's another saying that 'opportunity are only reserved for those prepared'.

Jan

I think that Steve LeVine is making a thoughtful point in his article. I have never considered serendipity as a major factor of success. Furthermore, I have never thought that companies make innovations in order to make luck go their way. There is no doubt that one needs to help their own luck, but I was surprised that some companies help it to such a degree. I do believe that LeVine’s point is accurate when it comes to the growth of Silicon Valley. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, it has reached a plateau, and the development has slowed down. His concerns are legitimate, but I think that Silicon Valley will come back even stronger after the lockdown. COVID-19 definitely took away so much from companies, both money and time, but I believe that it was too little time to make permanent changes in those structures that are leading the Big Tech world. The article itself is a good read and absolutely opens the reader's mind to the problem the world is facing right now.

David Cooper

Levine argues that “serendipity,” fueled by in-person “chance encounters,” drives the success of Big Tech companies headquartered in Silicon Valley. What evidence does he give to support this claim? How do Big Tech companies design their work environments to cultivate serendipity? According to LeVine, what three factors threaten Silicon Valley’s reliance on serendipity produced by physical proximity? Which “threats” does he focus on in his argument? Which ones might need further explanation or evidence?

In Steve Levine’s How Remote Work Could Destroy Silicon Valley, the author responds to the “reality and role of serendipity” that tech professionals have long credited with the onset of multiple billion-dollar companies and a trove of innovations. He evidences this perspective with the substantial pre-covid expenditures on designer campuses by Big Tech companies; the purpose of which were to increase those chance encounters so associated with serendipity of Silicon Valley.

It is this serendipity that’s said to have enabled a startup in Facebook to be connected via Sean Parker (of Napster fame) to Peter Thiel, its first major investor. Levine admits that “serendipity” largely occurs in networks of white/cis/men, while women and minority entrepreneurs must leverage more formal encounters. Those entrepreneurs account for less than 6% of venture capital funding!

It would seem to me that what tech professionals romantically call serendipity is actually white, male privilege; and what Levine calls chance encounters are not actually chance at all. Consider that one of the examples he refers to, the meeting of Peter Thiel (venture capitalist) and Max Levchin (of Paypal lore), could hardly be said to be chance. They met at one of Thiel’s lectures at Standord University. And while, Levin describes Levchin as “there mostly to bask in the air conditioning and escape the sweltering summer heat,” the lecture was at Stanford University! Levchin was not even a student there, he was in town fishing for a new enterprise.

From what I can tell, these Silicon Valley’s innovations stem from a culture, more so than providence or smoothies… Not unlike social media sites themselves, people want to be where others are doing what they want to do. It’s not a mystery! Remember Myspace before the advent of Facebook? Do you remember Myspace at all?! While remote work certainly makes collaboration more difficult, don’t expect Big Tech to admit so. Regardless of its potential impact on innovation in Silicon Valley, transitioning into remote work directly benefits Big Tech’s bottom line. This is the bottom line.

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