One of the beauties of the city is its sheer diversity. With more than 3 million foreign-born residents and dozens of vibrant enclaves, New York City’s melting pot is golden lore.
But urban environments are inherently greater than the sum of their individually diverse elements. The advantage of the “melting pot”, arguably, comes less from the stew, and more from the cooks gathered round the brew.
The question then is, how do you rally the cooks? In a place like New York City where so many types of people and industries live, it should be easy to bump heads across-industry, ethnicity, and income, right? Mix and match, throw a dash of spice, and voila! Cross-pollination.
All possible, but easier said than done. In the span of a day, I could go from work in a government office, to lunch with a friend creating a fashion-tech startup, to a tour of Harlem Biospace (the city’s first affordable biotech incubator), to drinks with a rep at a wine distributor. Across ethnic lines, I have my pick of the pot: dining options in Chinatown, Harlem, Little Italy, or Williamsburg. And across income brackets, there’s no avoiding the homeless person asking for change on the subway.
I could do all of that, but I could also just as easily retreat into a bubble: spending all day at work, occasionally checking Twitter as my portal to the world (90% of tweets on my feed which come from NYT, FT, WSJ, BI [add other elitist news acronym]-reading journalists/techies like myself) and hanging out with my similarly educated, millennial friends after-hours. This happens about 4/5 of my working days.
I’m not saying one scenario is better or worse than the other, but I am saying that one allows for greater exchange of new possibilities. You be the judge of which.
It’s deceivingly easy to be siloed into little cubby holes. Even in a city that prides itself on diversity – by nature of our occupations, orientations, social statuses- it’s natural to find ourselves placed in certain environments, gravitated toward the same types of people, and engaged in conversations that fit neatly into what we already know. This is fine. There’s something to be said about consistency and comfort. But for those who have chosen a city life, ignoring the diversity around us is like having a bunch of fresh ingredients ready for a great meal, and never actually throwing them in the pot to cook. You’re better getting take-out and moving to the suburbs. A true urban environment is made for serendipitous interaction, fusion of opposites, and a little bit of discomfort. We must be intentional about seeking it.
I’ll end with a story that reveals how easy it is to fall victim to our own bubbles. During NYC’s September primary election, a well-known figure in the tech community, Reshma Saujani, ran for the office of Public Advocate. She had started an organization called Girls Who Code and was married to another well-known entrepreneur, Nihal Mehta. She had the backing of major figures including Jack Dorsey of Twitter, who threw a fundraiser for her. I even included her and her husband on a Business Insider list of 16 power couples. So of course, I thought an election win was a sure thing. Everyone on Twitter seemed to think so too.
Well? Apparently I trust Twitter too much. It turns out Reshma didn’t even crack 5% of the vote. Had I bothered to check the polls or venture beyond my Twittersphere/usual tech blogs, I would have seen that the winner, Letitia James, had been ahead in the polls for a while. Now that I work in government, I’m aware of how well-liked Letitia is among government and community circles, making it slightly embarrassing that I had no idea who she was 3 months ago. I also see how few people within government know Reshma, which is also a bit of a shame because her influence through Girls Who Code is significant. Either way, it shows that sometimes, beyond our better judgement, we’re stuck in our little bubbles.
I’m afraid that with the increased emergence of niche-based groups, the population is becoming further fragmented. We stick with what we know. Corporatis in cubed nation, free spirits in their coffee shops. What would our world look like if skills were vetted outside their typical context? Classrooms in restaurants. Bankers in public service. Could be a complete disaster (like the mishmash soup I once created with random leftovers), or a beautiful stew of possibility (when the recipe is meticulously designed to maximize skill sets and tastes.)
Today’s problems cannot be met by government, business, or civil society alone. Yet until we are willing to peek into other worlds, we’ll never know how to create the best mix. We’ll simply remain imagining, instead of living, the possibilities.
The more often you create and share ideas, the better you get at it.
My friend Alex and I have decided to gather a few women every other week to brainstorm business plans, passion projects, and entrepreneurial ventures together. Our 20s are a critical period for growth and at a time when commitment to ideas is especially hard to find, we believe a group like this is necessary.
The goal is to compile ideas and follow through with ones that resonate. Some will be interesting, most will be lousy, one or two may even work. The point is to simply hold ourselves accountable to doing work that really matters. Ultimately, we want to find an idea that sticks and matches our unique strengths with the needs of the world.
What this group is not: a think tank or discussion group. Ideas are a dime in a dozen; money lies in execution. We’ll craft plans to make ideas happen. Some will fail but hey, failing isn’t as bad when there’s a group of other smart, motivated girls experiencing it with you.
If your current routine isn’t cutting it, join us as we experiment with projects that lead to greater fulfillment, if for any reason because doing stuff on your own is hard. We’re looking for a group of 4-6 New York women in their 20s, curious with a desire to learn and do something more. Any industry, talent, or niche is welcome. Leave a comment or email email@example.com for details. We’ll likely be meeting on Sunday afternoon, so be willing to sacrifice Sunday brunch for this. In exchange, a supply of lady refreshments ie. wine & cheese, will be on hand.
If you’re not in New York, sorry- we’re keeping things local for now. But stay tuned!
Ideation is like a breezy joy ride along the Pacific Coast Highway. With all the smiling possibilities and wind-in-your-hair serendipity, the drive is exhilarating.
I can spend hours bouncing ideas. Things usually end on a high but eventually, like a joy ride, I have to get out of the car. Make moves. Get shit done.
Oh, how I often yearn to stay in the car. After all, who wants to stop and park on a windy road high on the cliffs when the view is just so perfect behind closed doors? But it is all just a sight – or a very good brainstorming session – if you never get out to explore what is actually possible given the surroundings.
Ideas are a dime in a dozen. A good idea that can actually happen takes discipline and a neurotic focus on the “how”.
I have yet to actually drive the Pacific Coast Highway. But I imagine that when I do, the wind will blow my hair into an effortless tussle amid the mind-blowingly beautiful backdrop. I’ll laugh endlessly with the love of my life as we beat on in a red Mustang, not a care in the world, all the while wondering what the crashing surf below is like. Maybe we’ll stop the car and actually hike down. I hear the beaches are inaccessible. Even better. Once there, we’ll build a sand castle and claim territory.
Of course, this is all imagination. I’m a dreamer. I have no idea where to park, how to get down to the beach, or who this hypothetical partner-in-crime would be. Dreams are grand, yet far too easy.
Always dream. Thereafter, execute. Marry inspiration with pragmatism. It’s the only way anything will happen.