This is the draft and unedited foreword to Barry Katz’s book, Make It New.
At a recent MIT event, I had the opportunity to listen to a variety of stories as told by Professor Nicholas Negroponte on how the MIT Media Lab came to be. He shared many great ones – ranging from his chance dinner encounter with Buckminster Fuller on a cruise ship, to how he came to know William J. Mitchell just when he had arrived in the US, to his chauffeur-driven adventures with his mentor, MIT President Jerome Wiesner, in launching the Media Lab in the early 80s.
But frankly it was difficult for me to concentrate too closely on what Nicholas was saying, as he had arranged to shorten his presentation so that I might share a few words on the stage with him about my adventures in Silicon Valley. I’ve never ceased to be a little nervous around my mentors –and especially when asked to present with them. Then in one of Nicholas’ stories he shared a name that had recently become familiar to me: “Bob Noyce.”
So I started to pay full attention, as it sounded similar to a name I had recently learned about in my efforts to understand the history of Silicon Valley better: Robert Noyce.
You see, for most of my professional life, I only knew the world of technology through the MIT lens. I am a product of MIT’s undergraduate and graduate education programs in electrical engineering and computer science. Silicon Valley was way, way, far away for me. The closest I came to ending up in Silicon Valley was in my sophomore year when I landed the #2 spot for a summer co-op position at Rolm (I had to Google that name as I realized that I don’t hear it anymore). But I ended up at Texas Instruments instead, and went to Dallas every summer thereafter to co-op. My next stop in life was to leave the US and go to Japan to study design, and I came back to MIT after that.
I’d get to Silicon Valley to visit a few of the Media Lab’s sponsors there, but I spent most of my time active in the design communities in Europe, Asia, or New York. Now at the age of “almost 50,” I feel a profound regret that I didn’t spend more of my time in California – so in a way, I am trying to make up as much of it as possible by focusing the majority of my energies there.
Design isn’t getting big in Silicon Valley right now. It’s always been big, but its role had never been revealed or well understood.
I’ve been taught that if you don’t know something, you go and learn it. I’ve read countless web pages, viewed countless hours of documentary videos, and met countless numbers of people within the Silicon Valley ecosystem. But I know now that if I had read Barry Katz’s book, Ecosystems of Innovation, I could have saved myself a ton of time getting tothe realization I have right now. That realization being: Design isn’t getting big in Silicon Valley right now. It’s always been big, but its role had never been revealed or well understood.
Reading Barry’s book renewed my love for Hewlett-Packard, which folks today might identify as a PC or printer company – but back in the day, we MIT nerds knew it as the company that made the best oscilloscopes and calculators. The HP calculators were absolutely worshipped in the 80s – not just for their functionality, but for their design. Back then, I didn’t know the word “design” of course. But hearing Barry recount the story of the HP-35, and imagining how liberating it must have felt to free oneself from carrying around a sliderule, it might have well been the iPhone of the day for the geek community.
This is what every story in Barry’s book comes back to – how each little design-driven innovation by a high-tech company, combined with each birth of a new design agency or consultancy in the Valley, combined with each shift in how a nearby academic institution, like San Jose State (and not just Stanford), contributed one or two key graduates to the ecosystem of innovation there. As in the proverbial “sum is greater than its parts,” it’s clear that with each new encounter with an anthropologist, or game designer, or a financier, or a bold young Brit named Bill Moggridge chancing to open an office far away from his home country just because of an inkling that this “computer thing” might get really big, the larger picture of the essentiality of each individual person played out over multiple decades is what has endured and mattered.
The design ecosystem in Silicon Valley, that has been fostered by a true melting pot of creative disciplines in concert with amazing technologists, are what all led to the possibility that Steve Jobs might have been able to give us more than one instance of his “one more thing” on stage.
The design ecosystem in Silicon Valley, that has been fostered by a true melting pot of creative disciplines in concert with amazing technologists, are what all led to the possibility that Steve Jobs might have been able to give us more than one instance of his “one more thing” on stage. And not just to the cheers of a computer-loving scientists and professors, but to hobbyist geeks, to college students, to graphic designers and architects, to businesses of all size, and to grandmoms and granddads and all kinds of people all over the world. The diversity of the ecosystem of Silicon Valley becomes evident through studying its evolution as firsthand journeys by Barry, and a simple visual scan of all the folks he has interviewed, some of them no longer with us now, to create this history lays testament to the real importance of this work.
Circling back to Robert Noyce, I came across his name in studying the genesis of the venture capital firm where I am currently a partner: Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. It sits on the mythical “Sand Hill Road” which Barry refers to in one of his chapters, and it is the venture capital firm to which the younger Larry and Sergey turned to when launching their search engine company now known as Google. In studying the history of KPCB, I came upon the story of the founding of Fairchild Semiconductor and the “Traitorous Eight” — with Eugene Kleiner among one of those eight. I learned by studying that history, that the leader of the pack, in “Ocean’s Eleven” George Clooney-style, was a charismatic and brilliant technologist named Robert Noyce, who later went on to co-found Intel.
“Bob Noyce would come by MIT once a in a while, and unceremoniously hand me a crinkled brown lunch bag filled with memory chips. Much like your uncle might hand you a bag of candy.”
Nicholas was sharing his earliest memories of building special graphics technology in the predecessor to the Media Lab, and how they were always starved of memory because it was so expensive and simply unattainable. Luckily, Nicholas had a special “angel” from the semiconductor industry who was a friend of MIT who would drop by from time to time, “Bob Noyce would come by MIT once a in a while, and unceremoniously hand me a crinkled brown lunch bag filled with memory chips. Much like your uncle might hand you a bag of candy.” And it was in that moment, that I felt that sort of “zap!” of electricity that you feel inside you when multiple worlds collide and connect. I immediately felt my MIT worlds and Silicon Valley connect at the core. Me to Nicholas. Nicholas to Robert Noyce. Robert Noyce to Eugene Kleiner. And Eugene Kleiner, via KPCB, back to me in Silicon Valley.
And it was during that same “zap!” moment that I finally understood Barry’s excitement from many months prior when I first arrived to be resident in Silicon Valley. Barry had arranged for us to dine at the Stanford Faculty Club to celebrate the fact that I had just joined KPCB as a “Design Partner” – the significance of which was totally lost on me. We spent most of our time sharing stories about our beloved friend in common, the late Bill Moggridge, but Barry would often turn the conversation back to the fact that I had joined a very special venture capital firm in Silicon Valley. I hadn’t the slightest idea about the reason for his excitement and I hadn’t met Barry until that evening, but now his wide-eyed excitement from that moment all makes sense. Barry foresaw a time when design leaders would be invited into all aspects of the Silicon Valley ecosystem of innovation. He knew that the venture capital space was the last domain in which that hadn’t occurred, and he was having his own “zap!” moment that evening.
If you have been resident in Silicon Valley during its many heydays, then you will love the many stories that Barry tells in this book and feel more than a few “zaps”; if you were like me, where you were always more than an arms length away from it, you might find your own “zap” moment as you see worlds connect inside you as well — directly connected to people you may recall, or companies you’ve touched, or even companies you may be currently partnering with.
It’s obvious that design is playing a role in how technology is consumed today, and yet it’s much less obvious to see that it’s always played a role in tech. This book has the capability to change all that. Barry’s work here has the ability to extend the “Ecosystem of Innovation” well beyond the borders of Mountain View, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Santa Clara, San Jose, San Francisco – I wish you the same enjoyment that I feel fortunate to have received by studying this rare work of scholarship and friendship.
John Maeda, Design Partner
Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
Menlo Park, California
This is the draft and unedited foreword to Barry Katz’s book, Make It New.