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A rash of Supermen and Wonder Women danced in the streets of San Francisco last weekend, writes April Dembosky. The SuperHero Street Fair is one of the latest “only in San Francisco” events endearing the city to the mavericks, outcasts and computer geeks who have settled here.
The term “superhero” is bandied about casually in Silicon Valley circles, where programmers fancy themselves rising off the pages of a comic book on more than just one day a year, frequently referring to their talents or those of iconic start-up founders or tech CEOs as “superpowers”.
This is an industry that views buying nappies online and broadcasting your lunch menu on social media as “saving the world” and “making the world a better place”. So perhaps it follows that the people behind such ideas are not just entrepreneurs but superheroes, carrying the weight of the world, and the pressure of their funders, on their shoulders.
“The Silicon Valley culture really requires people to self-promote in a way that’s not typical in other parts of the country,” says psychologist Robin Rosenberg. “Where people have to stand out in the cacophony, hero isn’t enough, you have to be a superhero.”
Even seasoned Valley mentors want to cultivate young entrepreneurs with the idea that they are more than special. Tim Draper, a venture capitalist, has opened his own training centre for start-up founders called “Hero City”, an offshoot of his Draper University of Heroes. “We look at heroes as people who push boundaries and are idealised for their courage,” says Susie Berg, managing director of Hero City.
At a conference in San Francisco last month, Marissa Mayer, chief executive of Yahoo, was asked who was the smarter: Larry Page or Mark Zuckerberg, the founders of Google and Facebook respectively. Equating both men’s vision with the ability to fly or see through brick walls, she commented, “You want to look at it as superpowers. I think Larry’s superpower is challenging the status quo, and Mark’s superpower is [his insight into] people.”
Pressed on her own superpower, she said “empathy” – for the turmoil Yahoo employees have been through recently – suggesting that the ability to churn out PR speak is now right up there with X-ray vision and super speed. Wonder Woman would be disappointed.