TITLE: Serendipitous Connections AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: October 13, 2010 10:20 PM DESC: ----- BODY: I'm in St. Louis now for Strange Loop, looking at the program and planning my schedule for the next two days. The abundant options nearly paralyze me... There are so many things I don't know, and so many chances to learn. But there are a limited number of time slots in any day, so the chances overlap. I had planned to check in at the conference and then eat at The Pasta House, a local pasta chain that my family discovered when we were here in March. (I am carbo loading for the second half of my travels this week.) But after I got the motel, I was tired from the drive and did not relish getting into my car again to battle the traffic again. So I walked down the block to Bartolino's Osteria, a more upscale Italian restaurant. I was not disappointed; the petto di pollo modiga was exquisite. I'll hit the Pasta House tomorrow. When I visit big cities, I immediately confront the fact that I am, or have become, a small-town guy. Evening traffic in St. Louis overwhelms my senses and saps my energy. I enjoy conferences and vacations in big cities, but when they end I am happy to return home. That said, I understand some of the advantages to be found in large cities. Over the last few weeks, many people have posted this YouTube video of Steven Johnson introducing his book, "Where Good Ideas Come From". Megan McArdle's review of the book points out one of the advantages that rises out of all that traffic: lots of people mean lots of interactions:
... the adjacent possible explains why cities foster much more innovation than small towns: Cities abound with serendipitous connections. Industries, he says, may tend to cluster for the same reason. A lone company in the middle of nowhere has only the mental resources of its employees to fall back on. When there are hundreds of companies around, with workers more likely to change jobs, ideas can cross-fertilize.
This is one of the most powerful motivations for companies and state and local governments in Iowa to work together to grow a more robust IT industry. Much of the focus has been on Des Moines, the state capitol and easily the largest metro area in the state, and on the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City corridor, which connects our second largest metro area with our biggest research university. Those areas are both home to our biggest IT companies and also home to a lot of people. The best IT companies and divisions in those regions are already quite strong, but they will be made stronger by more competition, because that competition will bring more, and more diverse, people into the mix. These people will have more, and more diverse, ideas, and the larger system will create more opportunities for these ideas to bounce off one another. Occasionally, they'll conjoin to make something special. The challenge of the adjacent possible makes me even more impressed by start-ups in my small town. People like Wade Arnold at T8 Webware are working hard to build creative programming and design shops in a city without many people. They rely on creating their own connections, at places like Strange Loop all across the country. In many ways, Wade has to think of his company as an incubator for ideas and a cultivator of people. Whereas companies in Des Moines can seek a middle ground -- large enough to support the adjacent possible but small enough to be comfortable -- companies like T8 must create the adjacent possible in any way they can. -----