Silicon Valley is the world’s iconic ecosystem of innovation, the “Florence” of our time. Yet the lessons that most people draw from it are often wrong. It is not simply the result of mashing talented people, great ideas, and lots of money together, as many assume. Those are just the starting ingredients. Many places around the world also have smart, creative, rich people. What is special about the Valley is the mixing of those ingredients, and that requires arecipe, which is the unusual culture. That recipe, however, has remained elusive to most outside observers.
To really understand Silicon Valley, we must attempt to “see” what is invisible. Why? Because the stuff we can’t see—the pattern of behavior among its players—is just as important, if not more important, than the stuff we can see. The Valley is not like a plantation assembled through the precise, controlled farming of cropland. It’s more like a “rainforest” ecosystem that thrives because its many elements mix together to create new and unexpected flora and fauna. The system thrives when the elements are rapidly combining and recombining, just as they do in a natural biological system. And the unwritten code of behavior—like a set of invisible laws—is what makes that mixing possible.
We might call them the “The Seven Commandments” or “The Unwritten Constitution” of Silicon Valley. In our book, The Rainforest, we call them the Rules of the Rainforest. They are the invisible drivers of what happens every day in the Valley. And they are the lucky result of America’s history, where the westward expansion across the frontier served as an “incubator of cooperation” among diverse strangers and gave rise to an unwritten set of principles that we have been fortunate to inherit. We can reduce these principles to simple sayings, but one could write a whole dissertation about how each one of them functions in real life.