In 2007, “The Little Engine that Could” was named one of the top 100 books for teachers of all time. Seven years later, named Utah the Best State for doing Business in all of America. Is there a cause and effect correlation of these 2 things? Not really, but both the Little Engine that Could and the State of Utah have defied all odds and proved that nothing is impossible in this world when you have sufficient belief and determination. When Brigham Young entered the great Salt Lake Valley in the summer of 1847, there was definitely not much here- a treeless, rugged, deserted landscape. Yes, there was a lake in the far distance but that iconic body of water was soon discovered to be so salty that it could not sustain life. And yet the state that had every reason not to succeed has done magnificently.

Brigham Young himself would probably not recognize the place today. What once was a landlocked, freezing cold, salty mess of geography has blossomed into a rose of wondrous proportions.

Not only have the surroundings changed from barren to gorgeous, so has the economic well–being of the state. There is a belief system which is pervasive in the State of Utah where people believe that whatever the mind of man can conceive, it can achieve. The one characteristic triggering Utah’s massive entrepreneurial successes: POSITIVITY.

My own Mother, now in her 92nd year, who was born and bred in Utah, exclaimed to me just the other day: “Life is the greatest.  I KNOW SOMETHING WONDERFUL WILL HAPPEN TO ME TODAY.”

Even my PhD wife, Dr. Linda Bradford, believes she can change the world of language learning using cutting edge, 3D immersive educational technologies. See And why not? Language learning has a huge heritage in Utah via the LDS Church that annually trains over 50,000 people in foreign languages so they can preach and serve all over this planet.

Billions upon billions of dollars in value have been created in this state via the Tech sector over the last few decades. Success breeds success. I first encountered this  phenomenon in Utah over 30 years ago when we sold a Prime Computer to Evans and Sutherland circa 1982. E&S was formed clear back in 1968 by two computer science professors from the University of Utah. They became the first to draw pictures on a computer screen giving birth to the computer graphics industry.

They were followed in succession by Novell – one of the earliest innovators in computer networking which once enjoyed a market value that exceeded that of all major U.S. airlines, combined. WordPerfect next popularized word processing allowing me to type this blog. They were once the third largest computer software company in the world.

Utah’s hotbed of technology is being noticed around the globe – Here is a recent article from the UK.

As I reflect on some of the great Tech companies that have grown out of Utah, I think to myself, why didn’t these emerge in other more well-known centers of Tech in America?

Major kudos to all of these amazing entrepreneurs and what they have achieved in Utah –

First, the invention of Network computing happened– seriously – in Utah? Drew Major? Why didn’t that happen in Silicon Valley?

What about Aaron Skonnard and Pluralsight, with all of their Training Media,you would have thought Los Angeles would have produced this.

Josh James withOmniture and now Domo,those Web centric companies should have been owned by the Washington DC market like AOL.

And what about the remarkable Instructure and Josh Coates with their industry-leading Education learning management system, that should have emerged from Boston.

Mark Newman and HireVue have produced the world’s coolest digital interviewing solution for HR and beyond – this one should have come out of Chicago ,a hotbed of Human Resources companies.

Ryan and Jared Smith at Qualtricswith their Survey software, shouldn’t that have come out of Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh?

Todd Pedersen formed Vivint, the great home security company – that should have come out of Florida, home of ADT.

Dave Elkington and Ken Krogue with Inside Sales – Why not Austin, Texas with companies like Dell and Advanced Micro Devices which need major sales forces?

Greg Butterfield and Jan Newman with Altiris, the management software, allowing organizations to manage I.T. assets- sounds like something that should have come out of Redmond and Microsoft.

David Flynn and Rick White revolutionized the performance of Corporate data centers with amazing solid state memory devices that should have been the purview of Denver, Colorado.

HealthEquity and Steve Neeleman- that should have arisen in Minnesota – home of the Mayo Clinic.

And finally, what about Paul Allen and Tim Sullivan who built the genealogical juggernaut – – well that is one that should have come out of Utah with the LDS church’s focus on family roots  . . .and it did.

Other big successes have included IM Flash- mega billion-dollar chip manufacturer led by Keyvan Esfarjani, with Patrick Bryne and Jonathan Johnson leading the charge, and School Improvement Network with CEO Chet Linton.

The story of the little engine has been told and retold many times. The underlying theme is the same , a stranded train is unable to find an engine willing to tug it over a steep mountain slope to its destination. Only the little, blue engine is willing to try and, while repeating the mantra “I think I can, I think I can,” overcomes a seemingly impossible task.

Folks – The citizenry of the State of Utah have repeated this mantra a million times over the last half century.  As a result, Utah is the little State that believed it could and did.

Here is a little factoid for you: The State has a + 4% Unemployment rate for engineers meaning that if you had every single solitary engineer in the state of Utah in active employment, you would still need 4% more to fill every job available in the state.

It was once said that a discovery is an accident meeting a prepared mind. Because of the core belief systems embeded in the men and women of Utah, their minds are fertile ground for these outstanding successes. Not only do you need fertile minds, but also the determination to work every day to change the world or your industry.

Let me close my blog with the words of the current President of the Mormon Church, Thomas S. Monson:

On occasion we need to make a second effort – and a third effort, and a fourth effort, and as many degrees of effort as may be required to accomplish what we strive to achieve.


– David Bradford

Posted in Posted in Lessons Learned, Networking, What I Learned From  |  23 Comments


  1. You’re absolutely right. For every no, just remember it only takes one yes! Always believe in yourself and in ” positivity:)'”! If it wasn’t for the determination of the little engine , the little children would have never received their gifts or a special message on the other side of the mountain. Just as it takes blind faith and courage to keep asking for ideas, and organizing any startup .. I think of the possibilities that exist when I a get the chance to go over the mountain. They far outweigh the risks or egotistical humility of hearing negative comments.
    I just stay determined thinking , ” If you build it, they will come ” another favorite movie with many faith building messages as well.

  2. This is what I needed to keep going….it came just about the right time. Thanks David for this post. You have no idea what it means to me.

  3. Great post David. I could not agree more that our “culture” is one of tenacious optimism. I appreciate you putting it in writing so I can share the thoughts with my team. Best to you, Brad

  4. Couldn’t agree more, David. And there are many more companies coming right on the heels of the firms you named, including I believe, our new firm: MULTIVOICE. 😉

    Poppa Politis

  5. Wow, there’s some real nostalgia! Having rubbed shoulders with a lot of the folks you mentioned, I have memories of working at Novell, then WordPerfect, and some of the others you mentioned. It makes me wonder who the next set of innovators will be?

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