The psychology of Silicon Valley

by Azeem Azhar

What does the psychology of people behind big tech tell us about fixing the industry’s problems?

The excerpt below is taken from social psychologist Katy Cook’s essay written for my Exponential View newsletter. 

As a space, Silicon Valley is nondescript. Even walking down the Sand Hill Road, a stretch of several blocks that is home to some of the biggest venture firms in the Bay Area and the world, is in no way ostensibly interesting. What makes the Valley what it is are its many intangibles: its people, ideas, and unique ways of thinking about the world, which have converged to produce the most profitable, fastest-growing, and influential industry in the history of humankind. 

Tech journalist Leslie Hook explained the Valley as not a place at all, but an abstraction of the tech industry itself. LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman famously observed, ‘Silicon Valley is a mindset, not a location,’ In other words, Silicon Valley stands for a way of thinking: it is defined by its psychology.

Where problems emerge, however, is at the misalignment of the perceived identity and the actual identity of the industry: a distortion that holds the industry back from acknowledging its flaws and moving forward to fix itself. 

The distortion of this real vs. imagined identity is particularly acute when we look at three facets of Silicon Valley:

  1. The clash of values on which it was founded,
  2. Its history as a place of opportunity and a comfort bubble that ensued,
  3. The prominent images and attitudes that are valued in the technology community.

Katy writes about how the countercultural narrative clashed with the corporate greed, the affluence bubble, and biased hiring to create the psychology behind some of the largest technology companies—an insight that gives us clues for fixing the crisis of Big Tech. Read her full essay here.