One of the great things about Silicon Valley — and America really — it that taking risks is institutionalized. It’s what we do best, and at times seems part of our DNA.
Perhaps the company that symbolizes risk taking is Apple Computer, which this year turns 30 (!). Cofounder Steve Wozniak — or “Woz” as he is often known, recently spoke with San Jose Mercury News and you should really read his interview.
“I didn’t want to start this company,” he is quoted as saying. “My goal wasn’t to make a ton of money. It was to build good computers. I only started the company when I realized I could be an engineer forever.”
In what must rank as one of the most bizarre moments in computer technology history, H-P twice rejected Woz’s attempts to give them his PC ideas. The company first reviewed and then turned down Woz’s PC board design for the Apple 1. Later, while working on the Apple II although still employed at Hewlett-Packard, H-P launched its own PC program — and rejected Woz’s request to join it. “I wanted to work on a computer at my company and they turned me down. When you think about it, every time they turned me down, it was fortunate for the world and it was fortunate for myself.”
You could argue that H-P’s decision suggests my thesis about risk taking is wrong. But remember that even that company was founded by a couple of engineers in their garage.