By Mike Gold, a retired entrepreneur "living the dream in the Pacific Northwest."
Having lived on the West Coast for 14 years this month, I got to thinking about the mind set of being a “left coaster” versus being a “right coaster.”
And there is a difference in mind set. I’m certain I’m not the first one to write about this. But as I have observed the country through this pandemic, the differences seemed, at least to me, to become much more evident.
First off, when I visited the West Coast in the 1970’s through my work, there was still a fresh and unrestrained feeling to the West Coast experience.
Back then, you could only buy Coors beer (brewed with Rocky Mountain water) and Maria Calender’s pies on the West Coast. And the consummate West Coast experience was driving down the Pacific Coast Highway through all the So. California beach towns. Malibu, Huntington Beach, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, Santa Monica, especially in a convertible with the top down. And one must add the sound of the Beach Boys then you have the ultimate West Coast experience.
I’m telling you it actually creates a different state of mind. Everything is uncharted. There doesn’t seem to be any limit to future possibilities.
On the east coast, with over 400 years of civilization to have “set limits” on one’s expectations, everything is much more “buttoned up.”
It reminds me of the tremendous differences I saw in spending a lot of time in Western Europe. There, at least as it appeared to me through the 70’s and 80’s, one’s future was often determined by what one’s own family was regarding work.
If your family owned a small business, that is where you were expected to go. If you were fortunate enough to go to college, you were expected to get a job and probably stay in that company for your entire working life. The mindset that created Silicon Valley simply did not exist there or elsewhere in the U.S..
Now over the approximately 50 years that high tech companies were being formed left and right (the old joke was that you could change jobs in Silicon Valley and not have to change car pools!), and as this mindset has spread not only across the U.S., but throughout the rest of the world, the idea of entrepreneurship is prevalent everywhere.
Everyone wants to be the next Bill Gates. Internet companies seem to be formed like mushrooms. They simply pop up everywhere. In many ways, that attitude continues to be responsible for the creation of wealth on a scale largely unknown before now.
Growing up on the East Coast, just about everyone I knew (even in engineering school) wasn’t thinking about forming their own company, but rather “What kind of job and at what starting salary could I get?"
I was very lucky in falling in with a bunch of M.I.T. professors who were forming some of the earliest tech companies. This was largely based upon research done at M.I.T.. Back then, many professors did exactly that, walking out the door with new technology and a few graduate students and starting a company.
Today, that technology is closely guarded by an office at M.I.T. who carefully licenses any developments that the research professors want to commercialize.
The founders of HP were in fact out of Stanford, not out of M.I.T.. But the founders of Intel were from M.I.T.. Then of course there is Bill Gates a Harvard dropout. And flash forward to today, and Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook while a freshman at Harvard. Granted Google was founded by a couple of PhD researchers at Stanford.
All of this intellectual capital was part of the “freedom” and “unboundedness” of the West Coast mindset.
Even culturally, we have a great percentage of entertainment centered in and around Southern California. A great documentary, "Laurel Canyon," chronicles the 60’s and 70’s rock and roll development based around this So. California area and the free exchange of music ideas between groups like The Mamas and the Papas, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, and others. The mindset of this what I call “West Coast” thinking was a rich cauldron for this activity.
Then we had the original “Hollywood Studio System” of great companies like MGM, 20th Century Fox, Samuel Goldwyn, Universal, and others which today has begotten the huge original content development by companies including Netflix and Amazon – who both occupy former Hollywood Studio facilities.
In short, this West Coast mindset has driven some of the most significant and rapid development of ideas that the world has ever seen.