If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Utah may be one of the most flattering places on earth. There seems to be an incessant urge to compare the quality of education, business, life, and everything between to successful places outside of Utah. It's as though in order for us to think Salt Lake City and the state of Utah are relevant, we have to make sure people know we are comparable to places that aren't Utah. It seems like Utahns spend more time trying to look like the gold standard than trying to become the gold standard. I know that underdogs make heroes, but when comes the time for the underdogs to graduate?
Why are so many Utahns so surprised at the prospect of success? For example, I can't count how many times I have heard BYU talk about how its students were competing with Ivy League students in some random competition. When rankings come out about the University of Utah or BYU's programs, it's hard not to hear everyone and their dog talk about how we compare with the other schools we are associated with. If you were to create BYU's slogan based on the stigma of its business school, it would probably read: "BYU -- We compete with the Ivy League." Do you think Stanford or Ivy League schools see those rankings and say, "Look how awesome our school is: we ranked just below BYU!" Probably not. They are more likely to be embarrassed when that happens.
Another example of this type of comparative excellence is in Utah's recently acquired nickname, "Silicon Slopes." As the tech and venture hub of the world, California's Silicon Valley has become synonymous with "innovation," "startups," and "venture capital." Being called "The Next Silicon Valley" is a huge compliment to the Greater Salt Lake Valley Area. But the unabating tendency to call ourselves by that name may devalue the growth, innovation, and economic success of Utah.
Why not just be one of the "fastest growing economies in the United States"? Why not just be "the No. 1 Place to do Business"? Why even associate and compare our success to the competition? Why not establish our dominance by our economic output rather than our association with similar areas, universities, companies, etc.?
Utah's talent pool and economic opportunity are offering great incentives to launch startup companies. About this startup growth trend, Lassonde Institute director, Troy D'Ambrosio, said, "We're in a virtuous cycle right now; we have momentum, and it's just going to continue to grow." Companies like Cocpit-labs are determined to help facilitate that. Despite this recent deserved attention, it's my opinion that Utah should differentiate ourselves from superpowers like Silicon Valley.
When Utahns use nicknames such as "Silicon Slopes" or "The Harvard of the Mountain West," we are striving for success by association rather than success by domination. Our goal should be to beat Silicon Valley and the Ivy League, not imitate them. The goal should be out-competing, not merely competing. Would we rather have people saying their area is "the next Salt Lake Valley"? Or are we too content with being "the next whatever" ourselves? Rather than being "the next (insert place Utah feels inferior to)," let's just be Utah and kick some (insert fake swear word).
Photo credit: Alexis Glauser Clement