Are People in Silicon Valley Just Smarter?

This week, Philip Rosedale (the CEO of High Fidelity, and the creator of Second Life) and I held a VR fireside chat in High Fidelity with people from around the world.

It was incredible!! (I’ll report on it next week.)

Philip is wicked-smart, and someone who has taught me a lot.

One of the most insightful conversations I’ve ever had with him was around the following 3 questions:

1. Why is Silicon Valley better at innovating than most of the world?
2. Why are the number of successful startups so high there?
3. Where is the next Mecca of tech-startup success going to emerge?

Good questions, right?  

Let’s dive into the answers.

It Started in a Coffee Shop

In the 18th century, coffeehouses had an enormous impact on Enlightenment culture.

As Steven Johnson says in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, “It’s no accident that the Age of Reason accompanies the rise of caffeinated beverages.” The coffeehouse became the hub for information sharing.

Suddenly commoners could interact with the royals, meet, mingle and share ideas.
In his book London Coffee Houses, Bryant Lillywhite explains it this way:

“The London coffee-houses provided a gathering place where, for a penny admission charge, any man who was reasonably dressed could smoke his long, clay pipe, sip a dish of coffee, read the newsletters of the day, or enter into conversation with other patrons. At the period when journalism was in its infancy and the postal system was unorganized and irregular, the coffeehouse provided a centre of communication for news and information … Naturally, this dissemination of news led to the dissemination of ideas, and the coffee-house served as a forum for their discussion.”

Beyond the Coffee Shop

Today, researchers have recognized that the coffee-shop phenomenon is actually just a mirror of what occurs when people move from sparse rural areas to jam-packed cities.

As people begin living atop one another, so too do their ideas. And, as Matt Ridley aptly describes, innovation happens when these crowded ideas “have sex.”

Geoffrey West, a physicist from Santa Fe Institute, found that when a city’s population doubles, there is a 15 percent increase in income, wealth and innovation. (He measured innovation by counting the number of new patents.)

Why Silicon Valley is Getting it Right

Rosedale spent some quality time investigating why the Bay Area in particular has become such a hub for technology and innovation.

As he explains, “I think the magic of Silicon Valley is not in fostering risk-taking, but instead in making it safe to work on risky things. There are two things happening in Silicon Valley that are qualitatively different anywhere else.”

Those things are:
1. The sheer density of tech “founders per capita” is 10 times greater than the norm for other cities (see figure below).
2. There is a far greater level of information sharing between entrepreneurs.

Rosedale goes on, “You can’t walk down the street without (almost literally) running into someone else who is starting a tech company. While tech ventures are individually risky, a sufficiently large number of them close to each other makes the experience of working in startups safe for any one individual.”

“I like to visualize this as a series of lily pads in a pond, occasionally submerging as their funding runs out,” he explains. “If you are a frog, and there are enough other lily pads nearby, you’ll do just fine.”

“Beyond simply having a lot of people near you to work with, I believe that the openness and willingness to share inherent to Silicon Valley is a big driver in this effect.”

Beyond the Next Coffee House

For entrepreneurial technology innovation to occur, you need two things: a densely packed population of tech-savvy entrepreneurs and a culture of freely sharing and building on ideas.

Rosedale, who is working on the key technologies to intimately and powerfully connect people using virtual worlds, points out, “If we create a virtual world, we can expect a sudden disruption as the biggest ‘city’ of the tech future goes 100 percent online.”

Just as the coffeehouse is a pale comparison to today’s high-density city, so too will today’s city be a pale comparison to the coming high fidelity, virtual online innovation communities.

Imagine a near-term future where any entrepreneur, anywhere on the planet, independent of the language they speak (think instant translation), can grab their VR headset (e.g. Oculus, Hololens, Magic Leap) and immerse themselves into an extremely high resolution and low latency VR world filled with like-minded creative, insightful and experienced entrepreneurs.

But this hyperconnected world is not happening in isolation to other changes.

As I’ve noted in previous blogs, the number of people connected to the Internet is exploding, going from 1.8 billion in 2010 to 3.8 billion today, and all 8 billion humans by 2022.

The opportunities for collaborative thinking are growing exponentially, and since progress is cumulative, the resulting innovations are going to grow exponentially as well.

Ultimately, these virtual worlds will create massive, global virtual coffeehouses for entrepreneurs to meet, to innovate, to create businesses and solve problems.

It’s for this reason (among many others) that I believe we are living during the most exciting time ever.

The tools we are developing will bring about an age of abundance, and we will be able to meet the needs of every man, woman and child on Earth.

Join Me

(1) A360 Executive Mastermind: This is the sort of conversation Peter explores at his Executive Mastermind group called Abundance 360. The program is highly selective, for 360 abundance and exponentially minded CEOs (running $10M to $10B companies). If you’d like to be considered, apply here.

Share this with your friends, especially if they are interested in any of the areas outlined above.

(2) Abundance-Digital Online Community: Peter has also created a Digital/Online community of bold, abundance-minded entrepreneurs called Abundance-Digital.

Abundance-Digital is Peter’s ‘onramp’ for exponential entrepreneurs – those who want to get involved and play at a higher level. Click here to learn more.

JOIN 120,000+ ABUNDANCE-MINDED THINKERS