Berkeley looks like a great place to study. The town seems to revolve around the university and students. Everybody at the university looks happy, relaxed, busy, studious. They are there to learn, not to party. The bars are pretty quiet on your average Friday night (save for a few visiting executive MBA students). And if you go to any cafeteria in the middle of the day (except for lunch time of course), you will see students sitting there quietly, looking busy and as though they are studying. One person per table, the noise level is almost like in a library.
But then there is the contrast that you see around the city of Berkeley. Students entirely unconcerned with their appearance walk around almost unaware of the homeless people present at each street corner. Some of these homeless people go around on their own, with all of their worldly possessions, rummaging through bins. Some of them seem to be on drugs. Then you see quite a bit of young homeless-looking people congregating on the streets. They sit on sleeping bags, with their faithful pets and smartphones and laptops. I don’t know what their story is, but it seems as though for them, completely different in outlook and disposition from the lonely, living on the street is a lifestyle choice.
Most people are extremely friendly. Every time I’ve been on BART, someone would speak to me. Asking where I was from, how come I was in the area and even getting me to help them use Instagram (yes, in Silicon Valley!).
Colourful encounters are endless. I heard a story of someone getting into a political discussion with a taxi driver who wasn’t Obama’s biggest fan:
‘He’s not even born in America, you know.’ - the taxi driver said.
‘No? Well, where was he born?’, the sensible question ensued.
Still, this area is really the place to be when you think of innovation, start ups, tech and so on. As Amy Errett, one of the best speakers we heard in Berkeley said, there are a thousand solutions without a problem here. There are plenty of ideas, but without a purpose.
This is something that brings back an important point. Einstein is frequently quoted to have said: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solutions”. Dave Trott is known to have rejected briefs if they weren’t clear enough. This is something which is relevant in other industries as well. Unless you figure out correctly and precisely what the problem is, you will not be able to find the best solution for it.
There are numerous start ups drifting around San Francisco, hoping to be the next Facebook/Twitter/Instagram. They are spending all of their time developing a solution, without knowing what the problem is. They have failed to write their own brief well and just like us sometimes - when they get on the wrong train, all the stops are wrong.