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[VIDEO] Creativity and Bay Area Innovation, Part V: The Spirit of Cooperation Fueling Innovation

…it’s no accident that high tech arose in the Bay Area and not in the more established intellectual hotspots of the East Coast. Whereas East Coast companies such as IBM and Xerox were both secretive and insular, not wanting the secrets behind their advances to be leaked out to competing companies, the cooperative environments of the Bay Area gave allowed early tech pioneers to troubleshoot together and learn from one another…

Cooperation and creativity

Like creativity, cooperation is a defining trait of being human. As a natural expression of being human, the spirit of cooperation in the Bay Area has driven much of the innovation we see today.

As is well known, the United States is a country populated primarily by people who have left their native homelands. And at the western edge of Western civilization and the eastern edge of Eastern civilization, the Bay Area, and the West Coast in general was one of the last places to settled.

Even before the waves of migrations from Europe and other parts of the world, nomadic peoples also came in from distant lands, following herds of animals to fuel the newly emergent human brain, a brain that unlike any other animal consumes a full quarter of all our caloric energy.

Before the European migrations, the Bay Area was home to a diverse gathering of indigenous tribes, who populated various parts of the Bay and traveled on its waters on boats woven together from the native reeds. In the 18th Century, the Spanish began setting up missions along the West Coast, and claimed the Bay Area as part of the Spanish crown. When Mexico gained its independence from Spain, the Bay Area was briefly part of Mexico until 1846 when it officially became a part of the United States.

Coast to coast cooperation

It has often been said that whereas the East Coast of the United States has the money, the West Coast has the creativity. When people leave their homelands, two things happens 1) they often bring the best of their traditions with them while 2) leaving the worst of those traditions behind. After all, if you were only allowed a certain amount of luggage to bring on a leaky wooden boat to cross a great ocean, would you not bring only the things that served you?

As the newly formed United States government and the financial institutions were set up on the East Coast, the wild new country began to be stabilized, but also entrenched (such is the hidden cost of stability).

The West, however, especially the Bay Area during the Gold Rush of 1849 became the physical and psychological hub of possibility. The boom of the Bay Area was filled with lawless fervor and gave rise to such dreadful practices as the “Shanghai,” the premeditated act of getting a man drunk, then loading him onto a boat when he passed out to work as a ship slave.

Still, without the constraints of the East Coast aristocracy in place, and with all sorts of cultures–Italians, Russians, Chinese, Native Americans, East Coast Americans, Mexicans, and Irish–cohabitating in the same place, the Bay Area became a creative particle accelerator of sorts, individuals rubbing shoulders in the streets, sometimes amicably, sometimes violently, but overtime learning from one another in the spaces defined by the cultural gaps, spaces that would give rise to such innovations as blue jeans, Freedom of Speech movement, Beat Poetry, the hot tub, the wetsuit, and California Cuisine.

Cooperation and the rise of Silicon Valley

Most recently, the spirit of cooperation has given rise to the boom of the high tech sector in and around Silicon Valley. And it’s no accident that high tech arose in the Bay Area and not in the more established intellectual hotspots of the East Coast. Whereas East Coast companies such as IBM and Xerox were both secretive and insular, not wanting the secrets behind their advances to be leaked out to competing companies, the cooperative environments of the Bay Area allowed early pioneers in the tech industry to troubleshoot together and learn from one another.

As reported by Jonah Lehrer in his insightful book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, casual and cooperative exchanges among technophiles at such gatherings as the Hombrew Computer Club in Menlo Park allowed inspired microcomputer enthusiasts working at various companies to exchange ideas and troubleshoot each other’s projects. Free from the constraints imposed by the more established East Coast firms, such exchanges mushroomed into the booming and influential high tech industry visible today.

What type of creator are YOU? Take the Creativity Quiz and find out!

About the “Creativity and Bay Area Innovation” series

The Bay Area is hands down the single most creative and innovative region in the United States, receiving a whopping 32 percent of all the venture capital invested in the United States.

The Bay Area is hands down the single most creative and innovative region in the United States.

Home to such major players as Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Oracle, and numerous others, the Bay Area receives a whopping 32 percent of all the venture capital invested in the United States, according to the Bay Area Regional Center. It also has the second highest concentration of Fortune 500 companies next to New York.

All the money aside, the Bay Area has either begun or fostered the growth of such influential cultural movements as The Counter Culture Movement, Free Speech, Gay Rights, California Cuisine and the Local Foods Movement, the Internet, municipal recycling programs, Beat poetry and literature, psychedelic experimentation, and music festivals, such as Burning Man.

In this series, I will explore various ways of understanding the proliferation of creativity and innovation of the Bay Area, including Feng Shui, geology, culture, urban design, and history, hoping to shed a bit of light on a place I love so very much, hoping to honor some of the ways it has shaped my own creativity throughout my adult life.

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