August 4th, 2006 by Hugh

Britain’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has returned from his trip around California. When he wasn’t hobnobbing with the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, he found time to lunch with a group of Silicon Valley leaders, including Steve Jobs of Apple and Jonathan Schwartz of Sun Microsystems. The latter gives and account of the lunch on his blog.

Naturally Mr. Blair was interested in what makes Silicon Valley so successful. One of the answers he received was “education”. He was also told that wage costs do not matter so much, so long as the talent can turn projects around fast.

Coincidently, The Economist Magazine has a different version of why America’s high tech firms succeed (Venturesome Consumption quoting a paper by Amar Bhide). According to this theory, investing in scientific education can be over-done. The “Venturesome Consumption” theory praises consumers, rather than inventors, of technology.

“The most important part of innovation may be the willingness of consumers, whether individuals or firms, to try new products and services.”

I have to say that on my first visit to Exbiblio, I was very struck how the office had adopted all the technological help it could get its hands on, from a wireless network, to AIM instant messaging, a wiki, and internal blogs. Using tools like these seems like second nature, at least in this American company. The same tools are freely available in the UK, but few companies are quite so quick to adopt them.

So Mr. Blair take heed: it might be better to leave great inventions to others, and to let consumers get on with enjoying their gizmos.

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