[Viewpoint] Rebels required to scout new horizons

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[Viewpoint] Rebels required to scout new horizons

If you are holding fistfuls of barley in both hands, you cannot carry a bag of rice. In other words, if you want a bigger prize, you must be prepared to give up smaller gains. But men are greedy by nature, and it is hard to be satisfied with simple dishes when your mind is filled with images of more exotic delicacies.

After all, it is a basic human desire to succeed in life. But success usually follows diligence and hard work; we all know this inconvenient truth. Comedian Choi Hyo-jong might give the following advice in the popular “The Mantis Kindergarten” segment of KBS’s “Gag Concert”: “It is not difficult to become rich. All you need to do is work 365 days a year without resting for a single moment.”

Stanford University students epitomize this hard-working ethic. Recently, Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Kwon Oh-hyun told me about his experience at Stanford, where he earned his PhD after graduating from Seoul National University.

“Stanford students live by three mottos: study, work and get rich,” he said.

As such, it makes sense that Silicon Valley sprang up not far from Stanford. One of the school’s professors, Fredrick Terman, the son of Lewis Terman, who invented the Stanford-Binet IQ test, encouraged a number of hugely successful start-ups including Hewlett-Packard and Yahoo. However, it is still surprising that the banal academic traditions of Stanford gave birth to the cutting-edge technology tycoons of Silicon Valley.

But just how much does Silicon Valley owe its success to the belief systems espoused by Stanford and its leading faculty members?

In fact, it is the eight men who left Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory to form Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957 - often referred to as the “Traitorous Eight” - who are considered the founding fathers of Silicon Valley, as they best represent its spirit of derring-do, even though they created their company some 20 years after HP was founded in 1938, when the valley unofficially began to take shape.

Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory was founded by Nobel Prize-winning scientist William Shockley, who invented the transistor radio, which is considered to have opened the door of the modern digital era. Shockley was known for his eccentric character and, less flatteringly, for often insulting his employees.

The eight aforementioned workers did not agree with Shockley’s authoritative style and left the company to become prominent businessmen in their own right. Robert Noyce cofounded Intel with Andy Grove while Gordon Moore, another of the company’s co-founders, became famous for “Moore’s Law,” which posits that the number of transistors which can be placed on an integrated circuit roughly doubles every two years. In fact, Fairchild gave birth to more than 60 ventures, of which Intel was only one.

Meanwhile, Jean Hoerni developed the planar process, which made integrated circuits possible, and Eugene Kleiner made his name as a venture capitalist.

The eight men may have acted treacherously due to their feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction with their boss, but they nonetheless made a bold gamble. Similarly, most leading international companies today were born from this kind of pioneering spirit.

On a similar note, Moon Kyu-hak, CEO of Softbank Korea, put forth an interesting question last month when he asked what IBM, Motorola, Lafuma, Canon, Lego, 20th Century Fox, Porsche and Texas Instruments all have in common. I was reluctant to guess the answer, given that the list comprises of IT companies, an auto maker, a film production company and a toy maker. Fortunately, Moon’s question was rhetorical: “They were all founded during the Great Depression,” he said.

In other words, at a time when most people were suffering, the foundation of the IT industry was being built, new toys for children were created, the movie industry was reinvented, semiconductors were developed and cars were designed.

Now we have entered the auspicious Year of the Dragon, a mythical creature that symbolizes power. In Chinese mythology, dragons come in five colors (matching the five basic elements), and the black dragon, which coincides with this year, is known to be the most rebellious of all of them. As such, 2012 is the perfect year to “betray” those who insist on observing tradition and following staid rules and trends. Now is the time for those who have been studying hard and preparing earnestly to rise to the occasion. A traitorous mind could prove the driving force behind a successful new beginning.

by Chung Sun-gu

* The author is the industry news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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