Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Portland's High Tech Community And The Space To Think

Posted by Tom Foremski - January 24, 2008

In Silicon Valley we spend too much time in our "echo chamber" and we don't notice other tech communities.

Yet other tech communities have qualities that foster innovation and create successful companies. I've met several entrepreneurs from Portland. More recently, I met Hideshi Hamaguchi and his business partner Toru Takasuka, founders of one of the most interesting companies I've seen in a long time. Both of them are among Japan's leading class of entrepreneurs.

Their company Lunarr, has a produced a unique collaborative tool that combines a wiki with email with culture. I recommend that you check it out and I have some invites for the alpha if you contact me (tom at siliconvalleywatcher.com.)

[Please see: Lunarr: A Once in a Blue Moon Company with a Unique Collaborative App]

I'm looking forward to their visit in early February for an update on Lunarr's alpha.

A place with space to think...

When I met with them four months ago, I asked why did they choose Portland as the home base for Lunarr, why not Silicon Valley? After all, there are many companies moving to Silicon Valley every day/week to become part of the great conversation that goes on here.

They said that Portland allowed them to think.

That's a great answer because here in SIlicon Valley it is often difficult to think. Our Internet based communications technologies allow us to have simulataneous conversations with many people.

When I publish an article, I inform my Facebook, Twitter, SiliconValleyWatcher and ZDNet communities. And I get to engage in many conversations....

I've noticed is that because we are in so many conversations all the time it can be difficult to do original thinking. It is difficult to avoid being influenced by the many influencers we have here.

Yet my job is to come up with original thinking, unique story angles, and ideas you might only find here. My job is to provide you with content you can't get anywhere else. And that's tough. I don't want to add to the white-noise of the bloggo/mediasphere.

To try and achieve those goals I have to deliberately withdraw from conversations. I won't check my email for hours, sometimes days. I switch off TV and radio, and I limit how much I read online and offline.

My best ideas come to me when I am alone and quiet, when I'm walking down the street, when I'm not in conversation with anyone. That's when I can notice my inner voice and that's when tons of great ideas come bubbling up.

I've realized that our brain works on complicated tasks and problems quite happily in the background. When it is done processing, it looks for a lull in our day, an opportunity to throw the result into our consciousness.

And that's why I carry my super slim moleskin notebook with me at all times, to write them down, to catch those ideas.

The trick to having great ideas is...

My favorite quote comes from Linus Pauling, the US two-time Nobel prize winner, for Chemistry and Peace (he refused to work on the Manhattan Project unlike other self-proclaimed pacifists: Einstein, Fermi, and Oppenheimer.) He is considered one of the world's 20 top scientists with an incredible body of work produced during his 93 years.

How did he do it, how did he come up with so many great ideas? He said that the trick to having great ideas is to have lots of ideas.

It's true. A lot of the ideas that I write down, I throw away later, but there are enough left behind that make it through to the next stage. (But you have to write them down otherwise they disappear as quickly as the most vivid morning dream.)

As I researched Linus Pauling for this article, it turns out that he is from Portland(!) (He clearly had time to think :-)

Portland on fire...

Hideshi told me that there is a great new site launched in Portland just this year, that helps introduce the entrepreneurial community to each other. The site is called "Portland On Fire - A daily discovery of PDX people."

Interestingly, there is another serendipitous Linus Pauling conection: Hideshi has a degree in Physical Chemistry, (I have a degree in Chemistry too, and so does Om Malik.)

Here is an extract from Hideshi's profile on Portland on Fire:

What do you like most about Portland?

- Rain, Shower, Mist, which covers Portland one third of the year.
- Human Chemistry, which covers Portland half of the year. (in daytime)
- Serendipity, which covers Portland all of the year.

I like something that covers the all thing constantly without anyone’s permission.

Serendipity requires three essential elements:

(1) Prepared minds, (2) the bucket for those minds w/ the appropriate size, and (3) some catalyst to start the reaction.

Portland has them all.

I am sure more and more interesting things will happen here. But we have to be careful so that we should not lose any single element.

Could you describe your secret process to come up with unique concept / strategies for variety of businesses?

Step 1: Get information - as minimal as possible
Step 2: Draw and play with lots of diagrams
Step 3: Touch, think, talk, and thank.
Step 4: Take a walk
Step 5: Shake head, squash hair, hit the wall
Step 6: Take a shower
Step 7: Enjoy the moment of “what if…!?” and “a-ha!”

What is your creative process?

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