Steve Blank had a great article today on how Silicon Valley changed the very culture of business, wherein engineers and scientists led the business. One of Steve’s main points is how, like in research labs there is no penalty for making mistakes, similarly in the market, these entrepreneurial firms used the same culture to experiment (in Steve’s language “pivot” while “searching for a customer”), until eventually finding sustainable business models.
Steve maintains that this is one of Silicon Valley’s biggest contributions to business, the trial and error, experimentation-oriented engineer/scientist running the business in the same way, not just the pure science research. Back in the early days, as he points out, there were no MBAs in the industry to “get in the way.”
I think Steve is right about the contributions this culture change made (and I am most intrigued by his allusion to something special happening this Friday), but I believe the reverse is true as well. I have an MBA, in addition to my engineering degree, and I value both. I consider both invaluable investments, and I consider myself an engineer at heart. But I am also aware that the MBA has shifted. MBAs nowadays, at least some of them (plug for my school Duke), have learned the value of entrepreneurship and innovation, trial and error, and the difference between expanding GE and starting Google from scratch (a classic case of searching for a model for a long time, double entendre intended).
Back in the 60s and 70s, MBAs would have been detrimental to the Valley’s entrepreneurship and squashed the culture. Nowadays, assuming you get the right people (which is as true for engineers as it is for MBAs), they truly can add value, but largely thinks to the influence the entrepreneurial world has had on the old world of business.