The Bay Area is the single most creative and innovative region in the United States, if not the world.
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 a recent report by the Bay Area Regional Center, It also has the second highest concentration of Fortune 500 companies next to New York.
All the money and innovation 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 the other-worldliness of Burning Man.
The question is why? What are some of the factors inherent the Bay Area’s place in the world foster such outpouring of creativity and innovation?
If we look at the Bay Area not so much as a place, but as a living being, three governing factors come to mind.
Body: The Grinding Geology
In the grand scheme of things, human beings only came on the scene a short period of time ago. And yet here’s been an incredible outpouring of non human-driven creativity that’s transformed our universe from the singularity of the Big Bang to the luminous display of such things as redwood trees, the Golden Gate, and the California Poppy.
I call this force, the Ground of Creativity, which, as best I can describe it, is driven by three components: dynamism, interdependence, and mystery. In a region prone to earthquakes, the earthquakes themselves the results of forces playing themselves out on a global scale, there is a felt sense of the Ground of Creativity at work.
Geologically, the Bay Area lies just to the east, but well inside the frayed boundary separating two tectonic behemoths. To the west, the Pacific plate forms a sizable chunk of the Earth’s crust, underlying the bulk of its largest ocean. To the east, the North American Plate stretches from western California to Iceland and the Mid Atlantic rift—some 6000 miles away.
Between the prongs of the San Andres fault to the west and the Hayward and Calaveras faults to the east, the music of the earth rings out as barely audible whispers, animated melodies, and the occasional raging cataclysmic cacophony.
Since creativity and destruction are two sides of the same coin (in order to create anything, something must be destroyed, morphed, or transformed), those who get to feel the occasional shrugs of the earth, as Bay Area inhabitants bear witness, also gain valued, experiential insight into the dynamic, interdependent, creative universe in which we inhabit, which aligns Bay Area inhabitants with the self existing creativity of the universe that is always already at hand.
Mind: The Great Cultural Mashup
Consider a coral reef sitting along the shoreline. In such places, the land and the sea are in a endless conversation on the subjects of movement and stability, moist and dry, light and darkness, animate and inanimate, a conversation that produces a rich and teeming diversity of life.
It’s no different with human creativity in places of cultural diversity: When different cultural mindsets rub shoulders with one another, new creative ideas naturally come to the surface.
If you trace your finger along globe, starting with present day Iraq and the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and go to either side, the Bay Area sits with 15 degrees of the opposite side of the world from the earliest expressions of civilization.
As a result, it also sits at the westernmost edge of Western culture and the easternmost edge of Eastern culture, setting up, an “edge condition” that fosters creativity and innovation.
Although the San Francisco Bay Area is technically part of the Western world, it is really something different altogether: a cultural coral reef of sorts where the importance of the individual (Western thought) meet the importance of the group (Eastern thought), where Chinese geomancy and the I Ching meets American capitalism, where the spiritual insights of Steve Jobs as a young man visiting Asia meet the collaborative environment of the early Silicon Valley, where the Zen and Tibetan Buddhism meet the mind streams of beat poets Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg and author Jack Kerouac, all of which fosters the Bay Area’s particular style and grand outpouring of creativity and innovation.
In essence, the collision of two very different worldviews, and many, many others, fosters Bay Area creativity and Innovation through cross-pollination.
Spirit: The Feng Shui Factor
Here’s my absolute favorite way of understanding the Bay Area’s vast creative outpouring, as told to me by one of the Bay Area’s most luminous and beloved teachers on feng shui, Ming Liu, who sadly passed away just over a year ago.
In the same way that we can’t see the wind but we can see its effects as it blows over the surface of a body of water, feng shui describes the play of energies, sometimes visible, sometimes not, on our experience of the world around us. Like the moon reflecting the sun’s brilliance in the dead of night, when it comes to feng shui, we often can’t see the source of energy directly but we can see its effects on other objects. According to Ming Lui, while no feng shui is inherently good or bad, the Bay Area has particularly unusual Feng Shui.
The cold, low, shape-shifting Pacific Ocean to the west is polarized against the hot, dry, highly cultivated land of the Central Valley east of the Bay Area. Between these two very different air masses, a dynamic tension is set up, one that is mitigated and sculpted by the both the Coastal Ranges and East Bay Hills, but also allowed to mix and swirl just east of the hallowed opening of the Golden Gate.
In other words, the yin of the ocean (feminine energy) is allowed to dance and play with the yang of the hot dry land (masculine energy) producing the “energy” that fuels creativity and innovation in the region.
Walking about the Bay Area, especially around San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond and Parts of Marin, one notices that the air itself has a very different quality. It is marine air inundating the land, producing the warmer temperature in the winter, the colder temperatures in the summer, the signature fog in summer, and, at night, what a friend of mine used to call “the infinity haze,” a shimmering aura visible around street lights.
What results is the felt sense of being right smack in the middle of the unending courtship between a beautiful, emotive, life-giving woman and a powerful, steadfast, purposeful man.
And when it comes to creativity and innovation, that’s a wild, wonderful, and extremely fortuitous place to be!
Austin Hill Shaw is the founder of Creativity Matters and author of The Shoreline of Wonder: On Being Creative. He works with individuals who want to unlock their full creative potential and organizations that want to build cultures of innovation. www.austinhillshaw.com