I was recently at San Francisco and surroundings areas during a work related visit to Stanford University. Being my first time there I relied on the recommendations from others that knew the Bay Area well to know where to go, what to visit and where to eat.
On arrival, one of or acquaintances was telling us were we would dine during our first night there:
“It’s a very nice restaurant in downtown Palo Alto. It’s easy to find it: you have two avenues there, and some surrounding streets, but it’s a very small area so it won’t be difficult to find it.”
We went, we dined, we chatted, we watched people go by, we saw the restaurants and cafes full of people whose faces portrait the multicultural setting you can witness there. And while seating there enjoying a good meal in good company, it suddenly hit me: this must be the perfect place for serendipitous encounters leading to the exchange of experiences and even the start of new business ventures!
And during the next days I happened to confirm my suspicions as I listened to stories of unlikely encounters and conversations, started around the table while people sipped coffee or enjoyed a quite meal after a long work day, that led to business partnerships.
Stories as those described by Dr. Tina Seelig, Executive Director of Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP) who I had the privilege of meeting while at Stanford, in her latest book InGenius:
“Silicon Valley is robust because of the extensive cross-polination of ideas between individuals and companies. In Silicon Valley the firms are concentrated in a small area, which leads to more informal interactions and easier formal connections”. [emphasis is mine]
Dr. Seelig then tells the story of how Mark Zdeblick, an engineer and entrepreneur, formed a business partnership with someone he met at a local café after their respective children started playing together. And she also shares an episode that she experienced:
“…I am sitting outside at Coupa Café in Palo Alto… This open space invites you to linger, to watch passersby, and to start a conversation with someone sitting at the next table. In fact, a young man just introduced himself to me and handed me his business card.”
Reflecting upon this, I was again reminded of how the design of our spaces – our schools, our offices, our neighbourhoods, our cities and even our digital spaces – stimulate (or deter) interactions and increase (or diminish) the chances of serendipity knocking at the door.
It’s not the first time I’ve reflected on this topic, as this blog post shows, but it always fascinates me realize the importance of purposeful design that fosters interactions and connections.