Video Of The Week: Cities, Networks, and Growth Curves

Kirk sent me this TED Talk yesterday. It is the Physicist Geoffrey West talking about cities, networks, and growth curves. Regular readers of this blog will recognize a bunch of themes that I am obsessed with in this talk. So check it out and let me know what you think in the comments.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. jason wright

    i’m only three minutes in, but his assumptions that we all want “this, this, and this…” are only his assumptions. i’d love to live in a city where the personal ownership and use of the car is banned.

  2. Tyrone Rubin

    My favorite which is actually from last week actually but is a must watchScott Harrison, Founder & CEO, Charity:Water Shares his Story at Le Web.Love how Scott is in a space that welcomes competition. Plus he is not competing on how many dollars he racks up but how many lives he saves.

  3. JimHirshfield

    “Companies, they all bend over and die like you and me”Hellava point and way to end the talk. Very interesting research. I’m off to double the sales force.

    1. William Gadea

      According to Wikipedia, the world’s oldest company is Kongo Gumi, a Japanese construction company dating back to 578. I don’t really buy that companies are necessarily mortal, but the odds of continuous competent management would obviously decrease with age.

      1. Dan

        Interesting you bring up Kongo Gumi – they were liquidated in 2006. All good things come to an end.

        1. William Gadea

          I thought it was bought out.

          1. Dan

            Depends how you look at it. They fell into financial hardship and ran out of other options (as i understand it). It definitely wasn’t a strategic exit that had been in the works for a millennia.

          2. William Gadea


    2. Avi Deitcher

      Well… you could argue that it would just accelerate the time to death. 🙂

  4. jason wright

    but doesn’t the new network effect (digital) change this old network effect over time? he’s describing the past and extrapolating.

    1. raycote

      What key attributes delineate the new digital network-effects from say?atoms that network-effect into –>molecules that network-effect into –>cells that network-effect into –> human consciousness that network-effect into –>social organization structuresall the above are:- 4D webs of distributive network-effect synchronization- have network-effect synchronization signalling that exhibits some form of integral embodiment within the fabric of the structures they synchronize- network-effect synchronization signalling that overlap across levelsnew digital network-effect synchronization could be argued to represent a phase change:-can be completely abstracted from any direct embodiment within the real physical objects they ultimately synchronize/control/amplifygiving them, like money, the properties of abstract storage, transposition and reuse like separating formatting tags from content-can store abstracted representations of boththe nouns(objects) being synchronizedand the verbs(processes) doing the synchronization as potentially interchangeable data structures bestowing the power to transpose the roles of those abstracted nouns/verbs regarding both their nesting and control-signalling relationships. (nouns just being packaging to hide the complexity of nested verbs)I don’t know what that all amounts to if anything but your right something doesn’t smell consistent about the whole presentation?Sure cities don’t die but over time every component element of the city dies, the buildings die, the roads die, the water/sewer systems die. Over time they are all replaced by new components of similar function. Only the city’s general form endures.The same can be said of different biological species. Humans endure as a life form, as a particular gene swam around a survival-niche, despite our individual deaths the human biological form endures just like the city.Saying cities are immortal may just be a form of myopic time framing. What city has induced as long as the human gene swam. None!Still his main point seems to revolve around a phase shift in scaling factor as we shift from biological-networking to social-networking structures. The use of historical city data seems to be used as a proxy for the social-network-effect without differentiating whether this refers to old school visceral social-network-effects or newer internet digital social-network-effects. Internet digital social-network-effects have not been around long enough to gage their big picture effect on the evolution of cites.The talk raises more question than answers!So I guess we should say it was a job well done.Here is some serious food for though. It presents the whole universe as an integrated network-effect !Athene’s Theory of Everything…

      1. jason wright

        proximity? clustering?a mouse, an elephant, a whale, a human, a village, a city, they all form as clusters of the networks you describe (atoms, cells, et.c.), but a digital network stretches proximity and overcomes boundary limitations. there’s no proximity clustering for you and me to network.

        1. raycote

          Very True !This falls under this generic aspect of digital network-effects-can be completely abstracted from any direct embodiment within the real physical objects they ultimately synchronize/control/amplify

  5. kidmercury

    i didn’t find anything particularly insightful about his talk, in spite of the fact that it went on for over 17 are my general thoughts on the subject:1. there are peaks to the growth of cities and networks. he talks a bit about this, although i didn’t find any clear, actionable points. as entrepreneurs, this is something i think we should be aware of. i think nyc is beyond its growth limit; too many people, too dense. i think the same can be said of all the big social networks except google and amazon, who don’t really aspire to be social networks/cities in the first place.2. this video does provide me with the opportunity to repeat something i’ve been saying for several years, and i derive great joy from repeating myself incessantly. the nation-state system is ending and we are approaching something more akin to a world where the primary means of governance is one in which city-states and/or online networks form federations. i believe this will ultimately involve internet companies getting deep into the work of actually building new cities, so that the proper technology and social graph systems can be implemented right into the infrastructure. this will likely be complementary to a political revolution as the nation-state continues to breaks down. i believe these types of companies are the kind of companies that can truly displace google and amazon. however, i think they will be led more by social scientists than by computer scientists. i think the genesis of these companies will be highly profitable social networks, who then have the capital, business model, user base, and momentum to finance the creation of cities. google’s foray into google fiber and self-driving cars, as well as amazon’s entrance into building retail stores and focusing on same day delivery, are very early signs of this in action, in my opinion.

    1. raycote

      i believe this will ultimately involve internet companies getting deep into the work of actually building new cities, so that the proper technology and social graph systems can be implemented right into the infrastructure. this will likely be complementary to a political revolution as the nation-state continues to breaks downWhether we visualize the feedback loop as:”internet companies getting deep into the work of actually building new cities”ORinternet companies through the social-networking-effect actually alter the way we build new citiesIt could be visualized as an instantiation of a “Strange Loop” in this case where the abstracted social-networking-platform layer of the reality stack actually reaches down into its own physical substrate, the physical infrastructure layer of the reality stack and alters its own substrate platform.Sort of an analogue to genetic engineering at the cellular level where cognitive abstraction that rides in on cellular network structures reaches down to alter its own cellular substrate platform layer ?

  6. takingpitches

    A big part of the superlinear scaling of cities is the facilitation of serendipity. Cities are serendipity engines.I find that living in the city constantly broadens my circles by facilitating serendipitous encounters like meeting someone at a happy hour, meetup, or a friend’s party where I might click with someone’s worldview or ideas. Many casual collisions might lead to something creative.Serendipity engines are also a big part of some of the internet like the discussions on AVC!

    1. William Gadea

      The phrase “serendipity engine” reminds me of how they designed the Pixar building… so that people would have to bump into each other, maybe sharing thoughts and ideas as they did so. That’s probably an interesting way to think about a creative enterprise: that much of the real work is getting done in the cracks of the day, so perhaps you should be facilitating the cracks.

      1. jason wright

        the design of a prison being the extreme opposite, not a creative enterprise, and will not reform ideas and behaviors.

      2. takingpitches

        your last sentence is great. so often the work is done in the cracks.that said, fiddling with workplace design can go too far and become a farce…my wife works for a large financial services company and they have rolled out a flexible workplace where no one is assigned a desk and every week must reserve one. There is little regard in reserving a workplace to where they have sat before or where their colleagues sit.From the level of the soldiers it seems like it’s been a disaster, but the leaders of the organization trumpet it externally as a sign of innovation and something that attracts the young, smart worker.

        1. William Gadea

          Agree on that.

      3. Drew Meyers

        love the term “serendipity engine” – serendipity is at the heart of what i’ve been working on for the past six months. It happens sometimes now, and it’s awesome when it does – but it should happen a hell of a lot more if geography was transparent to the right people.

    2. raycote

      A Serendipity engine ? Isn’t that just the intersection between a network topography and interaction probability.

  7. takingpitches

    This is a Geoffrey West quote that I like from a NYT profile of him (by an author who has admitted fabricating quotes of subjects since then, but let’s put that aside). The context of the quote is describing what makes a city more resilient than a corporation:“Think about how powerless a mayor is. They can’t tell people where to live or what to do or who to talk to. Cities can’t be managed, and that’s what keeps them so vibrant. They’re just these insane masses of people, bumping into each other and maybe sharing an idea or two. It’s the freedom of the city that keeps it alive.”

    1. fredwilson

      i like this eben moglen quote:There is a reason that cities have always been engines of economic growth. It isn’t because bankers live there. Bankers live there because cities are engines of economic growth. The reason cities have been engines of economic growth since Sumer, is that young people move to them, to make new ways of being. Taking advantage of the fact that the city is where you escape the surveillance of the village, and the social control of the farm. “How you gonna keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paris?” was a fair question in 1919 and it had a lot do with the way the 20th century worked in the United States. The city is the historical system for the production of anonymity and the ability to experiment autonomously in ways of living.http://www.softwarefreedom….

      1. jason wright

        cities are baby factories

        1. Avi Deitcher

          Hmm… I am curious to know what the birth rates are in cities vs rural/suburb, controlling for income.

          1. LE

            “what the birth rates are in cities”Totally depends on what part of the “city”. In some parts, I’ve heard from reliable sources, girls in high school consider it a badge of honor of sorts to get pregnant in their early teens.

          2. Avi Deitcher

            Anecdotally, I hear is that it is lower-income, so controlling for income should account for that. One the other hand, I also hear that this has a feedback effect (like all social environments), so it is more prevalent, even per capita, in cities.This stuff is a statistician’s dream (and I am definitely not one).

      2. awaldstein

        This anonymity factor is key.Live upper west and go downtown to play. Live in the burbs and come to the village to discover yourself. Live in the midwest and come become something new.Cities let you suspend disbelief and try on life. And create a new one.

        1. fredwilson


        2. David Semeria

          Lives like jackets: try one on and see how it feels.Good stuff Arnaldo!

        3. Richard

          That’s a great point.

        4. JLM

          .Very deep answer but one that is almost exclusively available in the US because of our basic freedoms..You can invent and re-invent yourself.Is this a great country or what?.

          1. awaldstein

            Couldn’t agree more.It’s nothing but opportunity.

          2. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            JLM – Often I like your input – but can’t agree entirely here.We are discussing universal modalities – by which a city is a city wherever it is. But If you want to exemplify variety the US is the last place to start.From an outside perspective the US lifestyle looks as homogenous and uninteresting as is possible. (This is a side effect of the efficiency of homogeneity that scales).To illustrate – I walk into a particular US town – I can buy from Walmart, Starbucks, Barnes & Nobel, Dairy Queen, Tex Mex etc etc etc. But knowing which stores are available doesn’t even tell me which state I am in.By contrast in Europe & much of Asia travel 90 minutes in any direction by train and I am immersed in a different cultures, langages, culinary norms, religions, education systems, perhaps driving on the “wrong side of the road” with non-standard traffic signs and phone numbers etc. different tipping policies and social norms etc. This glorious diversity is hopelessly inefficient – just look at the EU for governance waste – but it really is glorious diversity.Arnold talks about re-invention between upper west and downtown. These differences are superficial – Chinatown is not really China (look at the receipt and you’ll still see the same sales tax, laws are the same, same FDA , same coloured taxicabs etc.I do think the US re-invented itself post independence, dustbowl, WW2, post Vietnam and to a lesser extent Cold War but the rate of re-invention has fallen dramatically -Downloading a new app is merely complying with fashion it is not re-invention. or swapping the wallpaper or a new skin on an app is not a choice, it is a selection.

          3. JLM

            .Not talking about the same thing.I am talking about an individual. An individual can re-invent themselves quite handily.For the last 3 months, I have been a public company CEO, a beach bum, a real estate investor, a mountain hiker and tom’w skiing for a couple of weeks. Next month I will be back to starting up 2-3 businesses.I can be a chameleon personally.You don’t know the US if you think that 90 minutes by vehicle is not a world of difference, friend.90 minutes by air and you are under Napoeonic law.Some day I will take you out to a ranch which is only a short distance away and you will be transformed back to the 1800s with a 1400s Spanish mission thrown in to boot. Kick a creek bank and find arrow heads.Merry Christmas!.

          4. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            Very valid – yes I was looking from the “city as organism perspective” rather than the individual.>>90 minutes by air and you are under Napoeonic law. Fair play to you – he did get about a bit, but then so did the Danes, Angles, Sachsen, Romans, Moors, Greeks… and a few of our European friends went “on tour” more recently.>> Some day I will take you out to a ranchJLM – will hold you to that 🙂 and I am utterly convinced I would love it. Its the cities that do less for me.But I love New England, The Cape, spent time in Wisconsin (different but fun – even spoke some German there) and there are many places I want to get to know better on the West Coast too.Never saw the south – Yet ! but have a few friends I want to visit:)Oh – And very best to you and yours too !

          5. Richard

            Its even deeper than that as each of these areas provide you with its own energies. The walk into soho to see an artists perception of an arrow head or a walk through a muddy bank in the adirondacks and finding an original arrow head, this is the real efficient frontier.

          6. Richard

            well said

          7. awaldstein

            Clarification… and disagreement.Implying ethnicity as downtown was nowhere in my comments.The LES or East Village is not ethnicity defined. Chinatown is not implied not pertinent to this discussion.I simply don’t agree that because we are predominantly a one language country, lifestyle and culture is the same from Manhattan to Boise Idaho to West Hollywood is simply not true.We aren’t defined by Walmart or chain restaurants. I’m certain that we aren’t in NYC and I would wager that people in small towns in different states would rile at this thought as well.Sorry to be so brusque but I see a different country, a different population, a complete revitalization of consciousness about the environment, about tolerance and about a daringness to try new ways to create work and culture.I’m an optimist. And a realist. My foibles I guess.

          8. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            Arnold – certainly you aren’t individually defined by Walmart or chain restaurants or by a mono-culture ! (and I respect the disagreement/challenge), but homogeneity exists by way of these as an inevitable product of mass consumerism. The 3d printer and maker movement etc are surely a response to this, What I am getting at is that an ability to re-invent oneself is not uniquely American and it is certainly is stimulated by hardship and diversity. Necessity = Mother of invention etc.So after extended periods of relative comfort in the US some of the effervescence does fade. However following sudden experiences America is as its best as it re-adjusts rapidly even if painfully. Think Pearl Harbor.The signs of the giant awakening on environment may be a great example ( I hope). Complacent leadership lost the plot and hurt a lot of people (auto industry) – and it had been seen coming a long long time – but with the pain and friction of employment comes necessity and preparedness to take risk. In this area the US excels.BUT – and here you may agree – people will go a long way outside the US to find truly unique artisinal experiences, whether it is wine, art or any other diversion. In this area the US has still (I perceive) less variety than the rest of the world – As it might (it is still relatively new as a culture – younger than some of those olive trees or vineyards you love) and so much of real variation can be seen as shadows of cultural heritage from the “old world”So appreciation of reinvention is flawed if it is merely a remix on the same ingredients. Sometimes it seems that way – and sometimes not.Anonymity is not necessary to re-invent – unless there is something to hide. In fact to me the most remarkable thing is when you do see a leopard that can change its spots.Finally if I really wanted to exemplify re-invention right now I would keep my eye on what is happening in South America (IT), Southern Africa (Mobile and some signs of economic stability). In India (massive cultural shifts) and more generally in local niches with local problems rather than across homogeneous markets (where industrialization first ruled – yes it started with Steam and powered looms in the weaving industry in the North of England and the drab signs are still there as footnotes in the margin of history).

          9. awaldstein

            Great comment. Thanks.Yes, I tend to think of the world from my vantage point of location and interests certainly. Big urban US coastal centers and Europe are my sandbox although expanding eastward rapidly.I agree the world has changed dramatically of course. Believe that the markets and cultures have flattened somewhat. Believe that communications breeds commiseration and understanding and sameness to some degree.I do however think that just because it’s less of a struggle to communicate with, let’s say, pockets of culture in Etna, Sicily, than it was, its not making it all white bread as much as making it all consumable cross different palates, if you will.Great interchange. Most appreciated.

          10. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            Cool – and brilliant use of the word – “Commiseration” – I have never thought of using it that way.To make a culture widely consumable is an interesting concept. Great as an objective, but can you see the tiger without visiting the jungle? I think (at least ideally) cultures belong alive in nature and not in zoos.This is probably why I drink Guinness in Ireland but would not touch the stuff in England. Having noted that, we are spoiled – cultures I have not had time to know intimately I can still enjoy (if not fully appreciate).I love Mexican and Korean food – I have eaten Korean in Taegu in a home but have never yet been to Mexico.So my question – Have I had the whole enchilada ?

          11. awaldstein

            The search for the authentic is a life’s goal I think.I would never want to visit Arbois (France) or Ribeira Sacra (Galicia) or the Canary Islands if I had not first fallen in love with Poulsard, Mencia, and Listan Negro here in the US.I’ll take the globalizaton of the unique and geo specific as the best way to let the world work together to understand it.I don’t like zoos. I think they are essential to letting people create empathy and understanding and take on protecting the environment.

          12. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            Great Summary !

          13. Dave Pinsen

            Europe versus the US doesn’t seem like a fair comparison when it comes to homogenization, because the US has been a common market for so much longer. That enables a retail business that’s successful in one region to easily expand across the country. And they’ve been doing that for as long as modern communications and transportation have made that possible.In contrast, Europe had significant barriers to that sort expansion/retail homogenization until relatively recently: the Schengen visa-free travel area wasn’t established until 1995; the Euro common currency didn’t start circulating in coins and banknotes until 2002. If the EU holds together, it will homogenize plenty in time.

          14. Dave Pinsen

            Same FDA in the UWS and the Village, same EFSA in Paris and Berlin: has been heading in the same direction, since it was scared by the second of two unprecedentedly bloody wars – the downside of all of those wonderfully different nations living cheek by jowel. Whether that trajectory will survive the current fiscal crisis remains to be seen.

          15. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            Ok Dave well spotted 😉 – must admit cultural diversity and peaceful relationships are not always pulling on the same rope. But I think its great to keep an ideal in mind even when pragmatism makes the outlook abysmal.

        5. ShanaC

          which is super important if you want to be innovative. it allows you to junk ideas of how the world to be fairly quickly, since there are other opportunities to try on. Switching costs in general are low

          1. awaldstein

            The interesting factor though today is that there is no anonymity any longer.I act like I”m always in public cause we usually are.I feel as innovative as ever but approach it in a very different fashion than I did back when.

          2. AndrewsProject

            Great point re: the removal of anonymity.This personal re-invention discussion is very interesting in the light of Facebook and G+ enforcing real identity. It is very hard to re-invent yourself when you are constantly grounded by the person you were, the people you knew (and the photo’s that were taken) a couple of years back. Sure you can try on a ‘new jacket’ but it is becoming increasingly harder to remove the old jacket you wore a while back.

          3. ShanaC

            The lack of anonymity might be the great killer of the internet, unless people don’t feel like realizing they aren’t “on stage” all the time

          4. awaldstein

            i’m at peace with this.To me community is the answer, even in a niche sense.I can’t do anything anonymously. Just not feasible as I invest with my participation more than my dollars so I’m always visible.But having a community connection to my peers, my followers does allow me to try…succeed and fail..hopefully with some grace.At least that’s what I aspire towards as I just won’t accept anything that keeps my from continually trying something new.

      3. Richard

        I agree, but there are other factors at play. Compare detroit and dc over the last 20 years.

      4. Dale Allyn

        This is very much demonstrated in Thailand today (and has been for the past 30 years or more) as young people move to Bangkok for work, from “up country”. (The politics and gossip in the villages can be overwhelming.) They send money home and help their families, but they also learn many new skills and often dramatically change their priorities. Sadly, some cultural “blessings” are lost in the process as you see effects from outside influences (like MTV), but overall the Moglen quote is abundantly true there.

        1. ShanaC

          there are issues with this. Thailand is now a center of the sex trade as other aspects of the economy have failed to keep up. Also plastic surgery trade.

          1. JLM

            ,Very small part of the Thai nation and culture. Like suggesting that 42nd St porn is typical of America. Nonetheless, a revolting aspect.Thailand is a gorgeous country and the beaches are unbelievable.One of my classmates is a 4-star and head of the Thai CIA.He and a couple of other Thai Army officers I know (VMI men) lead one of the coups which plays trump at class reunions.Very few folks have overthrown the government of a sovereign nation and lived to tell the tale..

          2. Dale Allyn

            Thanks for making this point (re. a small part of the country involved in certain activities), Jeff. I was swamped today and slow to reply to the comment. I’m glad you made this important clarification.

          3. ShanaC

            there is porn on 42nd st?And that is very cool. Must make for interesting conversation.

          4. Dale Allyn

            Shana, I wasn’t saying that the movement was necessarily positive, only that it is observable. I have great respect for many Thai cultures which are still observed and practiced in many of the less urban parts of the country.As for the sex trade and other unfortunate issues: it is far less prevalent vis-a-vis the entire population than CNN and 20-20 would have you believe. It’s despicable and supported mostly by foreigners and it saddens me, but it is a tiny part of a wonderful country.In fact, most Thais are far more conservative (speaking sexually) than what I would consider the average American practice. I know Thai girls who dated for two years before holding their boyfriend’s hand while waking in the park. Dating is normally done in groups for quite a long period, i.e. a guy is interested in a girl so they put a group together and go out as six to ten friends. Examples go on and on. By comparison, one could say that in the U.S. we’re all sluts (exaggerating, of course). The point being that the vast majority of Thais are nothing like the seedy trades we read of or see in the press.

          5. LE

            ” it is far less prevalent vis-a-vis the entire population than CNN and 20-20″A common oversight (either intentional or just laziness) in almost all of those news reports is almost always a failure to define the scope and extent of the problem. Or to simply state percentages “is 20% over what it was 5 years ago” or “growing at an alarming rate” or to quote meaningless facts and figures to support the pov of the story. (To be sure!), there are usually “to be sure phrases” that give you the impression that they are being fair and balance sprinkled into the discussion.Unfortunately a totally fair and balanced news magazine story is about as interesting as a Michael Moore film would be if it wasn’t so one sided.

          6. Dale Allyn

            Yes, LE. I see it as exploitation of the “titillation factor”.It’s popular to dish lawyers, Realtors, insurance sales people, etc., but real “journalists” are rare nowadays; and those without an agenda-fueled bias are the unicorn of our day, sadly. What now passes for journalism and reportage is atrocious.

          7. LE

            True. Part of the problem of course is lack of money. All those profits that they used to take for granted are no longer there to pay for quality. So they cut back. And viola, like with any cut in quality, most people barely notice and life goes on. (I’m not a sports fan but I notice that football keeps getting richer every year because of the money vacuum.)There are always two sides to progress and it goes to show that there are perhaps cases economically where people being assured profits and being able to do the right thing can actually be good.

          8. Dale Allyn

            “…people being assured profits and being able to do the right thing can actually be good.”An important part of “progress architecture”.

          9. ShanaC

            Th press seems to have very much shaped my views….

      5. takingpitches

        this is an excellent quote, Fred. I love the notion of the attraction for young people, and escaping the prior constraints on your life to experiment.I would say however, in the case of New York, we had reached the point during the last decade and a half where bankers were coming here because other bankers were here not because of everything else going on. That seems to be re-balancing itself.

        1. fredwilson


      6. ShanaC

        This is stil true to this day, about young people escaping. We all see the writing on the wall vis a vis jobs. Unless you are in a city, there isn’t much going on.

        1. LE

          “Unless you are in a city, there isn’t much going on.”What is your definition of “going on”?

        1. raycote

          Great stuff thanks !

        2. fredwilson

          Awesome. Thanks

      7. kirklove

        I like, “You got dusted, get over it.”Shorter. More succinct. Plus, I’m a big fan of the guy who said it.

        1. fredwilson

          :)Speaking of dads, I like how big boi remembers his dad in my song of the day on

          1. kirklove

            I like that, too, though def not “into” that album as much as you and Luke-H.Same with Frank Ocean. I just don’t get why that album is popular. I listened a few times thinking I’m missing something. To me I’m not. Just not my style.

          2. fredwilson

            too R&B for you?

          3. kirklove

            Not that exactly, because I like “modern” R&B like The Weekend or Raphael Saadiq. Can’t put my finger on it, just doesn’t do it for me at all. Understand millions love it, so it clearly is resonating and I give it props for that.

      8. Dave Pinsen

        This reminds me of Richard Florida’s theory that eclectic, diverse, creative populations drive economic growth in cities. But this blogger disagrees, saying it’s the engineers and sales guys who primarily drive the economic growth, which then attracts all the rest:

        1. fredwilson

          Two sides of the same coin. You need both

    2. William Gadea

      Maybe there’s such a thing as a city-company hybrid… I think of eBay.

      1. takingpitches

        interesting — there is a lot of space for networks to be platforms that facilitate serendipity instead of just meeting those we already know (facebook) or transactional behavior (linkedin).The raw material for creating those encounters is now there in social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and linkedin which have details about our interests, experiences, the ideas we find compelling. What if you had access to this data in real-time to figure out who you should be connecting with in real-life geographies? (Foursquare)

        1. Drew Meyers

          I’m working on exactly that..

      2. ShanaC

        how would laws be made though?

        1. William Gadea

          I wasn’t thinking of carrying the metaphor to governance issues, but I suppose it’s possible. One of my hero-companies, Vanguard, is owned by its shareholder-customers.It would actually be good to make corporate governance a bit more like electoral politics. When I get the shareholder voting instructions for the stocks I own I feel a little bit like I’m voting for a soviet slate for the Politburo.

          1. ShanaC

            then we could end up with congress in board rooms….

  8. aminTorres

    I read an interesting statistic once before, I forget were, that said something like:If you divide all 7 billion people on earth into families of 4 people. (4 being the global average size for families, roughly and you gave each of those families a pice of land of 66′ x 66′ you could fit the entire world’s population in the state of texas, and have the rest of the planet vacant.At the same time, as countries become more developed, statistically, the average size of families is reduced dramatically. That is also true for families who do move to cities from generation to generation. For example my mother grew up in the country side, she has 12 brothers and sisters, none of those 12 kids who all live in cities now have a family bigger than 3 kids. Same is true for my father’s size, A family of 9 kids, none of which now has a family bigger than 2 kids.This is a fascinating talk indeed, just wonder what it all means, it seems like we are growing in numbers and that number while increasing seems to slow. We are therefore occupying more land while at the same time trying to stick to conglomerates. We are causing all kinds of problems along the way yet we get smarter and more creative…

    1. JLM

      .Well all the folks in California moving to Texas have started the migration.We have had 1MM Californians come to Texas in the last 6 years.And, we welcome them..

  9. Matthew Baker

    What I find interesting is that the laws of nature, as described, seem to indicate that this is unavoidable. But it’s not hopeless because now we’re aware of it. Is the initial exponential growth curve the result of need being fulfilled and the flattening of the curve the market becoming saturated, or the result of less than sustainable practices? Number of people in certain roles in organizations as a function of size has been talked about for a long time, but seeing that it is the same across organizations at points along the growth curve is interesting. Increases in productivity seem to dictate how long you can stay on the hockey stick without flattening out, which makes empirical sense. Do more with less for longer and you can sustain growth, but only within the balance of the laws of nature.

  10. Carl Rahn Griffith

    Interesting. I will check it out later. A subject very close to my heart, also – as it should be to all of us; but, that’s half the problem: apathy – and just accepting the norm even when it could be (and should be) done so much better.I just wish more people subscribed to Jane Jacobs’ philosophies. Do enough people even know of her work? I blogged about this topic a while back…http://carl-rahn-griffith.t

    1. takingpitches

      Carl, thanks for sharing your post. A lot in this line resonates:”Cool is great, and city living can be great – if you have the money – but, when areas become prohibitively expensive to live in and the population becomes primarily an assortment of media types, bankers, lawyers, dentists, bureaucrats and general business folk, well, that is not a thriving community. It’s as much a sanitised zone as an industrial estate or a shopping mall.”

  11. Abdallah Al-Hakim

    will defintely check it out. I think we are living in a time where the city-state is becoming the dominant force in economic terms. In other words, I like to think of cities and how they connect together rather than countries. Example – (Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tel Aviv) OR (Cario, Amman, Beirut). In many cases cities have more similarities to other cities in foreign countries than to those in their own borders.

    1. Carl Rahn Griffith

      Interesting idea to explore more, later.When I think of Israel I think of Tel Aviv and TA alone, even though I have seen much of that great country/people.Similarly, when I think of America I pretty much only think of NYC even though having seen most of it, also.However, when I think of my own country I don’t think of London. It no longer represents ‘my’ country – I am not alone in feeling this over here. I don’t correlate any place to my homeland. Weird. Not good. Suggests an increasingly fractured national identity?Hmmmm, ponder – anyway, I had better run; being hollered at to ‘get bloody offline and get in the bloody car!’ 😉

      1. jason wright

        ‘UK’ is an internal empire, as is ‘US’. Neither do much for the majority.

    2. William Mougayar

      I’d like to see an expressway from Beirut to Jerusalem. Ironically, it was talked about many years ago. It would be 2 hours straight.

      1. Abdallah Al-Hakim

        You can still see the old tracklines in Lebanon where the train between Beirut to Haifa used to be along the coastline. I don’t know if they had one to Jerusalem. I think the Israeli advanced startup and digital ecosystem would do amazing things if it connects with the nascent digital arabia ecosystem. I strongly believe this is the way forward for the Middle East – Connect the entrepreneurs together and grow businesses and I bet you war and bombings will stop!

        1. Avi Deitcher

          I think you are right, but there is a reason for that. Entrepreneurs see opportunity, growth, and future; totalitarian rulers and terrorist organizations focus on death.Essentially, entrepreneurs by their nature are liberal (in the original meaning, as in “liberty”), whether religious, secular or anywhere in between.Who was it who said that true democracies rarely make war on each other?

        2. JLM

          .Capitalism is often the antidote for many ills. This is particularly true when capitalism delivers a “better life” as in the US and coastal China.No form of —ism has delivered as much improvement in the quality of life as capitalism..

          1. Abdallah Al-Hakim

            capitalism and democracy are a good combo!

        3. ShanaC

          Yes, but the cultural gaps going forward are huge. I think it will happen (israelis can’t be afraid forever, and more and more of the rest of the middle east is looking internally for growth) but still.

          1. Abdallah Al-Hakim

            but that is why entrepreneurship can close the gap on culture much more quickly than any other way. Here is an article from the NY times –… – about a new VC fund, Sadara, started by a Palestinian and an Israeli businessmen that is focusing on investing in Palestinian startups. The fund has raised close to $30 million and has good institutional support (eg. Cisco, Google). The last conflict in Gaza, which I am still trying to figure out what it accomplished, doesn’t help these type of programs from going forward and increases the animosity and distrust between the two sides. Still, I remain hopeful……

          2. ShanaC

            probably nothing in terms of Gaza.And I remember hearing that and wondering if this fund will expand. Depends on returns…

      2. Avi Deitcher

        I would love to see it! When I am in Israel (1/2 to 3/4 of the time), I drive from Modiin (right near the airport) to Metulla (right on the Lebanese Border – remember the “Good Fence”?), it is almost highway all the way.

        1. Avi Deitcher

          And the crazy reason I do that drive back and forth on a Thu night is for a good ice hockey game…

        2. ShanaC

          i’ve tremped parts of that!

          1. Avi Deitcher

            If you are in country during a hockey game (and I am too, which is not as often as I like), you can have a lift!

          2. ShanaC

            hey, if I wanted to visit seminary…now I know how to get there. 🙂

      3. ShanaC

        kvish tishim used to do that I think (route 90). It goes to metulla to eilat. And I think technically speaking it used to connect up to beirut.

    3. ShanaC

      i think cities have a lock on new culture and that is why they seem simialr. Old culture is more vaired, but locked away in the country

      1. Abdallah Al-Hakim

        That is good way of describing it.

  12. William Mougayar

    It all sounds good, but I’d like to know what cities are doing this, and see examples. (here’s Toronto’s Waterfront rejuvenation project http://www.waterfrontoronto…Reversing trends is not an easy thing to do. But it must be done.There’s one part I didn’t hear him talk about: the effects on farmland. Cities and urban development are taking over farm land. And that’s bad for our food supply and the availability of local foods. The effects are that we have to go further and further away to get our foods, and that’s bad. The reverse trend is increased localization of our food production, and doing things like roof-top farming is one way to combat that.Btw- I’ve left city living 14 years ago. One day, we decided that we can do without it, as long as we’re close enough to it. And we strive to be a Locavores whenever possible.Don’t fight Nature. And respect for Organisms. In life, business, and society. What is Natural and genuine is golden.

  13. Brandon Burns

    Wow, super awesome. Totally made my morning.Nerd alert: when I was in school, I wrote a paper the used similar principles to predict the end of the world as a function of innovation and time. I quantified innovation by figuring out how “big”of an innovation something is by measuring its effect on productivity — from the wheel to the printing press to the computer.Innovation has pretty much been on a hockey stick growth pattern, with more and more “big” innovation moments happening closer and closer together. Which means at some point it has to stop growing and die; with the thought being that innovation represents movement of life, so when it stops moving, life stops moving, too.

    1. Dan

      Interesting, what was your prediction? I’ll add it to my doomsday calendar.

      1. Brandon Burns

        The cliff was between year 2150 and 2200.But I assumed that the end of the hockey stick was the end, and didn’t account for a slowing, plateau, and gradual decline (as Geoffrey West shows) so, fret not, the earth shall probably live beyond the next 150 years. :o)

        1. ShanaC

          either way, I’m likely to not be around for the end….

        2. Dan

          If you feel so inclined, I just found out a buddy of mine had an unused domain…www.doomsdayplanner.comIn preparation for 12/21 we convinced him to throw something up but it’s seriously lacking “end of world scenarios”.

  14. Dave W Baldwin

    Sorry, I tried typing this in outline fashion… probably didn’t work.1) Biological- In a way, Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns rings during the presentation. Basically, Ray’s research into how the time period decreases per doubling is proven in Biology as well as everything man made holds. a) At the same time, the thing Ray didn’t refer to was Deceleration… if something becomes less useful, its lessening quickens also.2) The acceleration will be happening and quicker than is referred to in this presentation. Most participating in this forum only will see things in one box. Open your eyes and try to force something truly disruptive. The money will follow. a) Agriculture- We are in stage now with the training of growth, like all the soybeans planted over, let’s say, 6 week period will be ready to harvest the same week. Eventually the atomic/molecular structure changing where each replicates leading to artifcial growth (kind of like 3D printing) of food stuff changes everything. 1) IMPORTANT- this is going to happen and we need to not trash the beautiful acreage not as much needed for food production. Just as important, we need this available to ALL, not just the silver spoons. b) Energy- Our biggest problem is the communication of exactly what we’re after in the arena of clean energy sucks on all sides. The CPU related to Solar will keep decreasing and decrease at accelerated rate. Match that to how the doubling of size related to energy need will require approximately 85% increase. 1) We need to look forward and not get trapped in real time where all the money ends up in antiquity. CISCO is trying to wire the “to be built” city. Is that really sustainable over 50 years life of city? Wireless for all would be the answer with Wire being used to fill holes and work to lessen those number of holes. At same time, something on this level requires fighting against government wanting to then control internet…… 2) Back to solar, not sure if they’re still going, but a small outfit is after the panels with strength to build streets/highways/sidewalks and so on. IMAGINE(!) driving down the highway on solar panels that are producing energy- a) a transference to the vehicle will be figured out b) entirely new network of transferring communication will happen c) excess energy will be achieved that can be transferred to storage or sent to a project that is something bigger…. thing is, we can prove the same thing over and over…. or we can look at taking big ideas that are scraping the trough looking for funding from those with limited sight, knitting them together in a way that shows a much better world.

    1. JLM

      .One of the keys to effective solar is to put it as close as possible to the point of use.In the next 5 years, someone will ultimately figure out how to use the roof space of enclosed malls and industrial buildings to build solar farms.This is very precious real estate that is currently unused..

      1. Dave W Baldwin

        You are on the money and there is someone not far from you that is getting it together. 😉

  15. Richard

    Im not sure that i’m sold on population density as the true explanatory variable for higher per capita income. The “network effects” of great academic institutions (which we have discussed may be unsustainable given the academic tuition bubble)/ technology/ and productivity are the drivers.There are other factors at play including a 10Trillion of borrowing over the last decade, driving huge income increases in cities that support the Federal Government. Here is a list of the 10 richest counties in the US.1Loudoun CountyVirginia$119,134325,4052Fairfax CountyVirginia$105,7971,100,6923Arlington CountyVirginia$100,735216,0044Hunterdon CountyNew Jersey$99,099128,0385Howard CountyMaryland$98,953293,1426Somerset CountyNew Jersey$96,360324,8937Prince William CountyVirginia$95,146419,0968Fauquier CountyVirginia$93,76266,3209Douglas CountyColorado$93,573292,167

  16. Tom Labus

    How does the AVC community evolve?

    1. fredwilson

      We’ve had our growth spurt and are now growing more slowly

      1. ShanaC

        i’m pretty sure we’re still growing aggressively right now, though there has been a slowdown period recently. Still, overall we’re growing…

    2. falicon

      I think it’s spreading more than it’s evolving right now…thanks to Disqus, Engagio, and other tools I see the community moving and connecting as a growing group around various topics and throughout all corners of the internet.So AVC has become the starting point, and a somewhat of a central headquarters, for a community of entrepreneurs looking to both better understand and to help shape the world to better fit our own visions and ideas.

      1. JLM

        .I would suggest that it is a bit more than just “entrepreneurs, it is “thinkers”.I continue to be impressed with the quality of the community and its thinking.Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all AVCers..

        1. falicon

          I jotted that down quickly…As usual I like your thoughts/version better. 🙂

    3. ShanaC

      It still is. Actually it is evolving and growing quite a lot now. I kind of wonder if ads were put back on the site if the ads would do better….

  17. Avi Deitcher

    Something I don’t get. He shows how nature/biology is highly efficient, as are cities. Less energy required per unit as it scales. Yet companies are inefficient, except at bureaucracy.So why do large companies continually appear dominant? Companies always want scale, not only so they have what to invest in their growth, or because of the founders who want to change the world – hard to do at $10MM, bigger impact at $10BN – (or just want wealth), but because they have greater staying power (or appear to). Just as a single data point, I regularly hear from owners/execs that their company commands a higher (superlinear) valuation at $100MM in revenue than at $25MM, i.e. >>4x.As a related point, I am curious how much of economic activity really is the realm of these large firms?

  18. Avi Deitcher

    One other question: he says that cities create many of the good things listed (wealth, education, knowledge, etc.) and bad things (disease, crime, etc.).Most of those are straight per capita calculations: stabbings per thousand people, degrees per thousand, etc. But wealth is usually measured by absolute cash on hand per capita or annual income per capita. Yet, wealth is not really how much you have or make, but how much you can afford. If someone earns $100k in a rural area but $200k in a city, s/he is not necessarily wealthier. The after-tax income in the rural area may be $80k (80%) while in the city may be $150k (75%), but cost of living may be twice as high in the city, leaving the city resident actually less wealthy. Essentially, I am asking about after-tax purchasing power parity as a measure of wealth.I don’t know if that is true, but I would be interested to see wealth compared that way.

    1. JLM

      .Of course it is true beyond debate.I agree more with you than you do with yourself.Well played..

      1. Avi Deitcher

        I hope so, since I am not even sure I am agreeing with myself! :-)Seriously, I would look to see that data.

    2. ShanaC

      how would you run this data?

      1. Avi Deitcher

        Not sure. I can gather median and mean income for particular professions, as well as employment rates, so that would give the average income before taxes. Then we would need to calculate effective (i.e. not marginal) tax rates in those areas. Then we would need to calculate cost of living. Are there COL indices for various areas of the country that correlate with the above data? I know there are PPP indices across countries (the famous Big Mac Index, for one), but I don’t know within individual countries.

        1. ShanaC

          good question. I actually don’t know.

    3. raycote

      Then there are all the abstract non monetary aspects of wealth ?SecurityHappinessCreativityetc. . . .

      1. Avi Deitcher

        Completely. But those are non-numeric; I have no clue how to measure those. Anyone?

    4. Richard

      Thats what i was reflecting on. The data needs to be normalized.

  19. Peter Currie

    Cities are incredibly robust systems, and the the few cases of absolute failure are thought-provoking. Delos (in the Cyclades) is the best example: hugely important cultural and trading center, an honest-to-goodness metropolis with big population, amazing infrastructure, and a complete array of neighborhoods (financial center; theater district, residential section) and now utterly uninhabitted, a museum island. Or Monte Alban (outside of Oaxaca). Contrast to Dresden, completely incinerated, but regained life.

    1. fredwilson

      Are you a student of cities Peter? Fascinating stuff

    2. LE

      I’m not sure I understand the comparison between Delos/Monte Alban and Dresden German. Circumstances 1000’s of years apart and, particularly with the case of Delos, in geography that could in no way prove as vital or rebound as could being located in postwar Europe. (Not to mention post war American $$). Lastly, the accuracy of any history from BC is always suspect.

    3. Richard

      Cities that innovate have access to capital, humans capital, public capital, legacy capital, academic capital, time capital and capitalistic competition.

  20. baba12

    Mr.(Fred) Wilson and USV along with their counterparts in the VC world would not/ could not and will not invest in companies that start with a business model that challenges the current model of growth as defined by “capitalism”. They are governed by the laws of capitalism that have and shall continue to be against the rules of sustainability.Whatever this video talks about and leaves the viewer to question, unless we are willing to change the unit of measure for growth we as a species are doomed. Just as he points of in the video, companies are born, grow and then die.

    1. Richard

      What do you have in mind as the metric?

    2. LE

      “companies are born, grow and then die.”To me trying to draw conclusions by comparing companies and cities makes no sense. Cities survive because they can. They are places to live they don’t produce a product that is sold and can go out of style. Cities do die of course when they are a “company” town and the jobs go away because the factory closes. If NYC depended on 1 company it would die as well when that company no longer was relevant as young people would be forced to leave.

    3. fredwilson

      I beg to differ. Kickstarter is exactly that

  21. Robert Holtz

    My favorite takeaway from West’s talk was sparked by his assertion that CITIES are YOU due to the network effect of connections between people and their affinities. More specifically, when he showed an image to illustrate his idea and the image he chose was absolutely indistinguishable from any snapshot of a social graph.To that end, I connect the dots and say this:Given that CONNECTIONS equal CITIES, than what we are collectively birthing as we participate in the social graph phenomenon is nothing short of a next new form of CITY — a collective meta-construct reflecting our better essential nature as human beings without giving rise to our ancestral caveman tendency to also plow over and plunder the earth with our primitive steel and concrete in doing so.If you really stop and think about that, the ramifications are literally off the charts.

  22. Mark Essel

    Thanks to Kirk, this talk goes great with the take Kevin Kelly in What Technology Wants, but it extends the analogy of super organisms to cities & corporations even further.

  23. Theodore Modis

    Companies do not necessarily die. More often than not they “mutate”. Following fundamental change (firing the CEO, reorganization, mergers, acquisitions and the like) and depending on how significant the change is, a company may find itself on a new growth curve, and another one after that. This is the major difference between companies and species; the former mutate more easily and more often than the latter.

  24. AndrewsProject

    Hey Fred, do you ever graph your portfolio companies according to sigmoidal growth principles?

    1. fredwilson

      no. but maybe we should

  25. Esayas Gebremedhin

    His speech makes me proud to have come up with LALIAFLIA. Innovation is wanna be life. Looking at life to understand human creativity is always a short cut. Thanks for sharing.