For the next 10 to 20 years, Silicon Valley is going to be the center of the U.S. economy, according to venture capitalist and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.  

Thiel spoke Monday in San Francisco at TechCrunch Disrupt, an annual event that drew about 3,500 people.  

"I think there is a way in which Silicon Valley is going to become an important place for people to think about culturally in this country," Thiel said.

His word choice was intentional. Much of his commentary seemed to say: pay attention to what's coming out of the Valley. But more importantly, take note of what's going on inside. Products aren't the only things that can be exported; culture can be, too.

And it's a complicated culture, Thiel indicated as he spoke. Silicon Valley is home to an evolving environment full of contradictions and fine lines. 

"I'm always critical of Silicon Valley. We're too smug. We hype things up too much," Thiel said. "I do think we're better than the rest of the country. But we shouldn't believe it too much."

The Valley is currently attracting the brightest and most talented people in the nation, according to Thiel.

"Somehow in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis, it sort of sorted out to be Silicon Valley, hands down, is the place you want to go. And it's going to be defining the future in of this country for decades to come, for better or for worse."

Possibly perceiving just how influential the company would become years down the line, Google's founders tried early on to cement its culture when it penned its corporate motto, "Don't be evil."

This was important. Because as Thiel pointed out, the bright and talented certainly have wherewithal to be evil. (Four out of the six PayPal founders had experimentally built bombs as kids.) 

"It was one of these sort of strange late-night conversations where people talk about, 'Well what did you do in high school?' 'I built a bomb,'" Thiel recounted. And it got him thinking.

"How many extreme traits [do] these founders have?" he wondered. "There's something very extreme about the people who tend to found businesses. It's a crazy thing in some ways to start a company."

So once you start, it's important to make sure that your own virtues are perpetuated, Thiel advised. "It's a very fine balance people need to strike between building bombs and building a business."

Published on: Sep 8, 2014