It’s often said that America’s biggest export is its culture. And, for better or worse, this seems to be true. China and India certainly seem to envy aspects of our way of life and of doing business (or we’re just really good at making movies that suggest that we’re all happy and drive SUVs and live above the poverty line, so why wouldn’t you want to be like us?). But in the last couple years, I’ve noticed a microcosm of this phenomena around Silicon Valley — specifically that people elsewhere want to be like us or do things like us or make money like us. But there’s rarely been a case, at least that I’ve seen, where that envy has lead people to want to think like us. And, as far as I’m concerned, you can’t have the our culture unless you start to think about your everyday experiences and interactions like us.
Now, let me quickly point out that 1) I’m a New England boy and didn’t grow up in California (Live Free or Die, baby!) 2) I went to school in the midwest in an old steel town called Pittsburgh 3) I migrated out to San Francisco just over three and half years ago 4) and I’m not about to try to convince you to make over your local township in a rough effigy of Silicon Valley or the Bay Area.
…because the way that we “think” transcends geography; it just so happens that there’s a lot of folks out here who happen think alike. And, the weather doesn’t hurt much either.
So Tara and I traveled to the East coast this past week for two coworking openings. Proof, first of all, that not everything happens in Silicon Valley and second, that this kind of thinking and acting is not something that has to be — or is — unique to this area.
In fact, if you know where to look, you’ll realize that there’s probably a lot more going on right in your backyard than you think or are willing to admit. Ask just about anyone who’s thrown in a BarCamp in the last three years what kind of community they thought might exist after the fact, and I can guarantee you the majority will be shocked at just how many people in their own neighborhoods were into social media or, more importantly, wanted to connect to people like them locally but just didn’t know where or how to go about unearthing them.
And, now that so many of these nascent communities are beginning to emerge — and there’s an awareness — that people don’t have to be alone in their progressive thinking, the question seems to quickly become: “So what happens next? How do we create our own Silicon Valley here?”
Well, I’m here to tell you that the next thought should be, “Oh wait, what we want isn’t to become another Silicon Valley with all their disfunctions and navel-gazing — what we really want is a community that is self-sustaining and a culture of sharing, opportunity and hope…!” Of course, that’s a harder proposition and reality to accept and to create, but if you really want a slice of the Bay, you might as well take the one that’s not just covered with whipped cream.
Where I’ve seen this work, people are collaborating, are open, are sharing, are working together and building something that is defined from within, rather than from without. It’s not about imitating what you think we have out here; it’s about creating and instituting an attitude and mentality that shares the same philosophical underpinnings that allow us to define success for ourselves and then go about achieving it, however we best can. It’s really about coopetition rather than competition; it’s really about helping each other other out than tearing one another down; it’s really about “yes and…” instead of “but but but…!” It’s wanting to give everything away and expecting nothing in return. It’s pushing through and discovering unseen opportunities where others saw only boundaries, risks or costs. It’s about a willingness to fail, but to fail quickly and get it out of the way so that the constant learning that keeps you sharp can get underway. It’s about constantly feeling overwhelmed and yet always doing more. And then a little more. And it’s about how our turn of mind keeps us on top of it all and inventing the future and determining for ourselves what we want from life and not accepting anything less than what we know, deep down, we’re capable of.
And I can tell you that, just as this kind of thinking has taken root in the culture of Silicon Valley and continues to define it, the seeds of this approach are on the wind and have permeated the network. They are finding new homes in your backyards and in your neighborhoods and starting to grow. If you nurture these ideas and provide them fertile ground, they will grow, and they will spread, and they will change the pH balance of the mentality of your friends, your neighbors and your townsfolk.
I have seen this happen, am witnessing it happen more and more everyday, am doing what I can to produce more culture, to consume more culture, and package it up and make it accessible and implementable and practical and worthwhile.
Just as Gary V and his cabal of wine drinkers are changing and opening up the wine world, we are doing the same for the future of work and the future of event organizing. But it’s not something that happens over night, and it’s not something that happens only in one place. If you look back over just the past three years, you’ll see been over 250 BarCamps and derivatives around the world, in communities that had no sense of what they were capable of and that have now come into blossoming hotbeds of activity. If you look back just one year, you’ll see over 110 local efforts to get coworking spaces set up around the world. This isn’t an accident and this isn’t just the work of Silicon Valley types. This is the work of turned on, smart and destiny-shaping independents.
So wherever you are and whatever you think you need to do to become more “like” Silicon Valley… STOP. You’d be wasting your time.
Instead, follow the lead of your friends in Philadelphia, New York City, Albuquerque, Calgary, San Antonio, Christcurch and elsewhere. These are the places that are defining their own culture; mashing up what they see from all over the place, embracing both chaos and diversity and taking a chance that maybe a culture that emerges naturally, and from the desires of the local citizens, will be more powerful, more popular and more sustaining than anything else that might come out of the Valley.