I’m generally not that patriotic. I was born in Northern Ireland in 1970, both of my parents the children of mixed English/Irish background, on one side Catholic on the other Protestant. Before I was three years old Mum and Dad moved back to the South East of England – they’d been in Belfast for a few years as my Dad completed his degree at Queen’s as a mature student.
If pushed, for legal matters, I’ll state British as my nationality. I probably best identify as Londoner – the city in which I’ve lived (or lived nearby) pretty much constantly for the past 42 years. For international football purposes I’ll follow either of the Irish teams (which in itself makes me a bit odd).
On Friday I had a rare moment of British patriotic pride.
I was lucky enough to be invited along (by the wonderful @MattDesmier) to the Chew The Fat event at which legendary tech Evangelist Guy Kawasaki was speaking. Having laboured under the same title for a couple of years, I was interested to hear what he had to say. As it turned out, there was an almost throwaway comment that riled me.
Kawasaki was talking about how he loved the food and service at Wagamama restaurant’s in the UK, and described how the chain was the only business idea here that he thought could scale. Nothing but a bit of a lame joke.
We’re a reserved bunch, us Brits. Self deprecating. And it’s part of our charm, I guess. But if such a comment had been thrown away at a gathering in, say, New York or San Francisco, would the audience have politely laughed it off?
Because the thing is that we tend to spend our lives in the UK technology sector in awe of the US. In deference to the power of the Valley. And yet…
And that is just to name a few.
Thing is it’s that trait of self-deprecation (and possibly a lack of understanding of technology history) that makes us willing to chortle along with the jokes of Silicon Valley at our expense. It’s not only that we can create the ideas, but they do scale. But we maybe don’t spend quite as much time and effort claiming credit for the stuff we have done.
And sure, American companies can scale stuff. They have the natural local market. However most of them from, my experience, struggle to understand ways in which they can scale globally without pissing a lot of people off in the process – witness the “International” subdivision model that groups the whole of the rest of the world into one “Not American” label that is so common in US corporate structures.
This isn’t about sitting on laurels. It’s about belief.
Belief is crucial to being able to do something. If you think you’re inferior, if you think you’ll fail, then you are more than likely to fulfill that prophecy. If we are going to continue to succeed as a technological nation, we should stop thinking that we are nascent as a tech economy, and get more into thinking about how technology is core within the DNA of the UK. Great Britain has been scaling technology at a global level since at least the mid-1700s.