Vexation and Entrepreneurship

A few days ago I came across an intriguing theory about how Silicon Valley first developed.

I was watching part 3 of Jim Al-Khalili’s BBC science programme “Shock And Awe: The Story Of Electricity” and it got on to how semiconductors and transistors were developed.  William Shockley was a research group leader at the famous Bell Laboratories and was one of three Nobel Prize winners for pioneering the development of transistors.  Shockley then left Bell to set up his own company in rural California, recruiting the brightest graduates he could find.  The problem was that he was excessively controlling and paranoid, which made him a terrible boss.

Bad bosses

The theory is that he was such a monumental pain in the ass to work with, that’s what made his employees leave in droves and set up their own companies – and that was the birth of the Silicon Valley business-fest that continues today.

There’s the old phrase ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’, which I’m sure we’ve all witnessed happening from time to time in work and at home.

So if necessity is the mother of invention, does the Shockley story tell us that vexation is the mother of entrepreneurship?


How many people have been made into entrepreneurs through being annoyed with a boss who just won’t see the potential of a new way of working; being frustrated with the plodding corporate committee-based progression of a new product; being impatient with a finance director who wants all the resources for a 5 year project in place before it starts? (As noted before – entrepreneurship is “the relentless pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled”.)

Wanting to run when others are walking must surely be a driver of entrepreneurial activity, just as it is a springboard for innovation.

The next time you’re annoyed with your workplace…you know which question to ask yourself.

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