The part of this week’s readings that hit home for me are from “The Rainforest,” about the value created by human relationships. Hwang and Horowitt believe human relationships are necessary to create innovation and new businesses, yet the key players are often not connected to the people they need. Further, people from different backgrounds, perspectives, or cultures will have a harder time connecting and trusting each other, which makes it harder to get business done. Knowing the right people (which often requires getting introduced to the right people) makes all the difference.
The authors seem to place a low value on geographic clusters for businesses and innovation, which I’m not sure I agree with. After all, for humans, face-to-face interaction is key for getting to know each other and building trust, and that’s generally helped by geographic proximity. While it’s true that it’s easier to connect now with Skype and travel is cheaper, those options still can’t completely replace the value of frequent face-to-face meetings. Furthermore, if geography was completely unimportant, then we wouldn’t be talking about “Silicon Valley” because it wouldn’t exist, or at least not as a tech hub. There would simply be random individuals scattered throughout the globe, connected to key business partners through Skype, after being introduced by forward-thinking venture capitalists. Place still matters because frequent face-to-face relationships still matter.
Nevertheless, the authors’ point about the value of human relationships is huge. I can’t help but think about human relations in other issues, such as land use, transportation, and all of politics. Lack of relationships between people with different viewpoints is a huge stumbling block on so many issues. For example, if neighborhood activists, environmentalists, for-profit developers, public officials, and planners spent more time together, got to know each other as people, and developed some trust, would this not help in problem solving over land use and housing issues?
Human relationships and community connection are needed for so many reasons – not only for solving conflicts or building new businesses, but for creating joy and delight, and for learning and growing. Humans are social creatures. Yet we don’t seem to have enough relationships and connection. I had coffee with a new friend last week who moved to Seattle a couple of years ago, and he expressed how challenging it is to make friends in Seattle. Where he’s from, if you have a ten-minute conversation with someone, you’ll certainly be invited over to their house for dinner. In Seattle, that might never happen. Can this culture in Seattle be changed?
I generally enjoy meeting new people and bringing people together. This is not usually for the purpose of creating a business or resolving a conflict. But I like helping people expand their acquaintances and find things they have in common with others. Perhaps I should find ways to do more of this, if it seems to be valuable for other people. Is matchmaking still a field?