Saturday, February 21, 2009

The New Argonauts

The following are extracts of a book by this title written by AnnaLee Saxenian, Dean of the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley.

"Argonaut: foreign-born, technically skilled entrepreneurs who travel back and forth between Silicon Valley and their home countries."

"Communities of US-educated migrant engineers now routinely transfer up-to-date information and know-how to help their home economies participate in the IT revolution. Capitalizing on their experience and the support of professional networks, these new Argonauts can quickly identify promising new market opportunities, raise capital, build management teams, and establish partnerships with specialist producers located far away."

"Ethnic professional associations and networks extend these advantages by enabling new as well as established ventures to quickly identify and build partnerships with distant suppliers and costumers."

"The new Argonauts are a small subset of highly educated professionals whose potential contributions to economic development are disproportionately significant. They are not typically drawn from the traditional economic or political elites of their home countries. Instead, they are often the top engineering students from middle-class households whose access to education in the United States has exposed them to a very different technological and institutional environment."

"Economic historians have documented the contributions of personnel recruitment to knowledge transfer and have demonstrated that the experience, relationships, and tacit knowledge that reside in individuals and their communities play a central role in long-distance transfers of technology and economic institutions. But tacit knowledge alone is no sufficient. Transforming production to a new location requires deep knowledge of the local context-the subtle as well as the more apparent differences in social, cultural and institutional settings. And long-distance collaboration rarely succeeds without the shared language and social context that facilitate communication. Because there are few substitutes for native experience, cross-regional entrepreneurs accelerate the adaptation of technology and institutions to local circumstances that are inevitably different from those in the United States."

"Silicon Valley's growth since the 1970s has been based on entrepreneurship, a deepening division of labor, and open information exchange."

"The Silicon Valley Venture Capital industry thus institutionalized the informal sharing of information, experience, contacts, know-how and advice -along with capital- with new enterprises, and serves as one of many mechanisms for collective learning in the region."

"The paradox of the Silicon Valley economy is that a key source of value, the know-how of individual workers, diffuses rapidly between local firms because of the region's open, high-velocity labor markets [...] THe Silicon Valley experience suggests that it is the diffusion of a wide range of know-how of individual employees, not their employers' trade secrets, that accelerates the pace of innovation and growth; it does so without undermining the incentive to innovate."

"Entrepreneurship is risky by definition. Even in the best circumstances, a majority of start-ups fail or grow very slowly. Entrepreneurs actively reshape the local environment as they grow their firms by supporting one another and by working to influence policy. Success reinforces success in these regions, as spinoffs from successful companies define new markets and technological pathways while also providing training grounds and role models for subsequent entrepreneurs."

"The new Argonauts are building technological and entrepreneurial capabilities in distant regions [...] They engage policy-makers on policies to improve the local environment for entrepreneurship; they emphatically reject the familial, opaque and frequently corrupt business practices that dominate in many developing economies. In short, they transfer institutional know-how as well as technology, capital and contacts to their home countries."

"Governments and multinationals alone could not have achieved the combination of local capability building and blobal integration that characterizes modern technology regions. The ARgonauts have provided the essential mix of focal knowledge and global connections required to initiate and motivate the experimentation and co-development that are transforming producers in once-peripheral locations into technology leaders."

"The new Argonauts retain an advantage in these long-distance collaborations because their shared language, culture and professional and educational experiences help them avoid the miscommunication, cultural misunderstandings and conflicting expectations that frequently plague long-distance work."

"Silicon Valley producers no longer view locating in or sourcing from India or China as an efficient way to reduce costs; instead they frequently argue that the reason to do work in those locations is to gain access to local talent."

"The new Argonauts will remain vital to the global economy as they pave the way for the development of new centers of technology entrepreneurship and new technology markets. They are most likely to favor regions that educate their youth, forgive failure and reward success, resist the impulse to protect yesterday's markets and jobs at the expense of tomorrow's, and welcome the openness, diversity and initiative that have built Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley likewise has much to gain from participating in a widening network of more and more capable partners, both local and long-distance, that can provide new skills, insights and resources to solving human problems."