Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have seen a steady stream – or, let’s be real – an exodus of people from places like Silicon Valley or New York City. Many employees have left tech bubbles behind for places with a lower cost of living and more of the family close by. Maintaining your same income and having lower outgoings and increased quality of life? What could possibly be negative about that?!
What creates a tech center?
A tech center is created from the perfect storm of the right people at the right time. Cue the Medici effect. In the 14th century, the wealthy banking family, the Medici, injected wealth into Florence. This environment ended up being the catalyst to support a variety of innovators and artists and eventually came to fuel The Renaissance.
The Medici effect is born out of disruptive innovation in terms of an array of people with different backgrounds and experiences interacting. Silicon Valley is a comparative example. The peach orchards of yesteryear gave way to the rise of the semiconductors factories and created the birthing ground for many of today’s biggest companies that have revolutionized our digital transformation.
With the exodus of workers leaving places like the Bay Area thanks to remote work, are we creating the opportunity for the next Silicon Valley? Can people simply pick up and move and expect the same results? How important is location in determining creativity and can we create the Medici effect digitally?
Sure, people together drive innovation forward
Remote working does not necessarily have to equal being a remote person – alone and in solitude. We need to dig deeper into collaboration in a digital world. And the truth is, we are still figuring it out. Right now, we need to respect the digital learning curve as well as the need for social interaction in real life. But the thing is, real-life interactions can happen over in-person lunch just as much as digitally, we are still just working to find our stride between how to leverage the two.
Historically, we know and have experienced how being in the same location helps creativity. What is to say we can’t recreate those same circumstances digitally going forward? Maybe the future Venice is in fact equivalent to what happens in a Slack channel? The assumption that in-person is more creative and better puts a lot of pressure on those interactions. Meanwhile, many people need a bit of both to thrive, time to actually quietly think things through the land on the best ideas. Leaving the tech centers and the prescribed way of life, being able to be in nature or with people you love has, for many people, created more creativity than being shut in a conference room with a lot of other like-minded people.
Moving away doesn’t need to mean solitude in work and life. For some, this may be the case. For others, this means a whole new digital world being constantly open and a more diverse set of life experiences to influence change and innovation.
The reality is, we all create differently
And remote work isn’t the only answer. Working in the office isn’t the only answer. We need the balance. We need options but we cannot corral talent based on physical locations. The days of this are over. We explore, create, and problem-solve together since kindergarten and spend another 13-ish formative years continuing to do this. After that, some continue a few more years even. We enter the workplace as adults to continue this pattern. But not all personalities thrive equally in a school-like setting.
We create the most creative or innovative ideas together. That could be in person, but what we’re learning is how to make time and space to curate and cultivate these brainstorm-like environments digitally. With the decrease in meeting in person and employees seeking greener grass outside of the cities, we’ve shifted to being digital but that also means we’ve brought work home with us. The workday is always on, just a notification away at any time of day on our smartphones and, the reality is, we work more. We’re constantly connected. But are we making time to collaborate?
Along with cultivating creative digital space and time, we need to figure out how to maintain engagement and the critique process. Overcoming resistance makes our ideas better. Without resistance, the end result will be very similar to where we started. We miss out on the creative journey provided by having to deal with other people’s feedback and push our own ideas further.
The Great Brain Drain means new creativity – we are just tapping into how to get there
Slack recently published a result of a mass survey to users about their feelings towards remote work. More than two-thirds of executive-level respondents said they want to work in the office full time or most of the time. Whereas, only 17% of all other ranking employees feel the same.
It also shed light on the exclusivity in careers in those creative or innovative fields. We already knew the cost of living in those so-called tech hubs is inflated, too high for those just entering the workforce. The office environment in areas like this excludes underrepresented groups. Employees of color shared an increased sense of belonging working remotely and a stronger preference for flexible work than white coworkers. What does this say about these tech inclusivity initiatives?
Creativity is waiting around the corner
By allowing a more diverse workforce to participate in ideas and industries, we are creating a virtual environment for the Medici effect to flourish again. We are allowing new concepts, not even ideas, to gain footing. And I believe that the most positive disruptive innovation is still ahead of us.
We are back in kindergarten, learning how to create and problem solve in new environments. Figuring out a new way of balancing remote life and office life. It’s not bad, it’s just new. The exodus really means a more transparent and accessible life for all layers of a company – from CEO to intern – and a chance for us to create space for creativity in new ways with new people.
Cover image source: cottonbro