Tech’s Unhealthy Cult of Entrepreneurialism

January 3, 2017, 2:38 PM UTC
Morning view of silicon valley
View of silicon valley after sunrise and water in distance.
Frank Chen — Getty Images

Mindful that the new year is a time of hope and optimism, I encourage you to take a moment as you begin 2017 to read an important expression of skepticism and caution. Fortune’s Erin Griffith has published a brave and discerning reported essay in the new issue of the magazine titled “The ugly, unethical underside of Silicon Valley.” In it she describes a “fake-it-‘til-you-make-it” culture gone too far, an industry whose celebration of rule breakers and its weak relationship with the truth breeds more fraudulent behavior than is generally well understood.

I initially was skeptical of Griffith’s skepticism. Every industry has its bad actors; that’s what keeps the court system busy. With her acidic prose and unforgiving analysis, Griffith admirably debunks this “bad apple” theory. Instead, she argues, too much of Silicon Valley is defined by the actions of a secretive group of entrepreneurs who are emboldened to make wild assertions of future success by investors who have every reason to look the other way.

Griffith isn’t arguing that all of Silicon Valley is rotten. Instead, she intelligently asserts that we shouldn’t kid ourselves that tech’s change-the-world, do-no-evil, self-congratulatory ethos somehow exempts it from the malevolence that lurks elsewhere in the commercial world.

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I’m coming up next year on two decades covering Silicon Valley. And I’ve born witness to some truly incredible people and companies. Yet what resonated for me about Griffith’s groundbreaking article is what I’ve come to recognize as an unhealthy cult of entrepreneurialism. Starting companies absolutely is a productive and noble endeavor. The economy wouldn’t function without it. Yet that doesn’t make every startup or every entrepreneur a good idea or a noble person. Nor does it mean people who choose a different path—including serving in say, the horror, government or academia—somehow inferior.

The technology industry will do amazing things and achieve thrilling heights in 2017. (In fact, the fun begins this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.) Investors, journalists, regulators, employees, competitors, and partners all need to make sure it gets there ethically and honorably.

Happy New Year to all.


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