WHY PERFECTLY UNPERFECT GEOGRAPHIES BRING OUT FORCES WITHIN
(From a FAST COMPANY article, adapted from The Geography of Genius: Lessons from the World’s Most Creative Places by Eric Weiner. Copyright © 2016 by Eric Weiner. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.).
The early typewriters jammed frequently, so designers arranged the keys in a way that would slow the typist and minimise the risk of jamming. Improved typewriters were no longer prone to jamming, but the QWERTY keyboard had already caught on. Typists got used to it and worked around the constraints it imposed. Typing schools taught it. So it stuck, even though it was not the “best” arrangement, just as the VHS video format bested Betamax, a clearly superior technology. Likewise, the Pilgrims settled in Massachusetts Bay and not Virginia, as they intended, simply because they got lost.
The point is, the “best” technology or idea doesn’t always prevail. Sometimes chance and the law of unintended consequences win out.
But for that to happen, you have to get there first. This explains the Silicon Valley philosophy: better to get an imperfect product to market today than a perfect one tomorrow. As Steve Jobs once observed, when the lightbulb was invented, no one complained it was too dim.
First-starters such as Silicon Valley become magnets, and once magnetised, an irresistible momentum takes hold. Several studies have found that we are more creative when surrounded by creative coworkers, even if we don’t interact directly with these colleagues. We also get a creativity boost from merely watching “schema violations”—someone eating pancakes for dinner, for instance. Something about being in the presence of creativity inspires us to think more creatively ourselves.