I read this article by Virginia Postrel before moving here, nearly 6 years ago now; it seems appropriate today.
Silicon Valley's perfect weather means you don't need backup plans, just in case it rains. It means you don't resent spending a beautiful day inside at work, because tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow will be just as gorgeous. It means you have more energy, sapped neither by sleep-inducing clouds nor enervating heat and humidity. It means fewer days dragging into the office with a brain dulled by allergies and winter colds. It means you have more life.
BUT AGAINST THE BEAUTIFUL blue skies of the valley sprawl its tawny hills, their curves clearly visible beneath a bare wisp of foliage. In the dry landscape of the West, the earth is not camouflaged by trees and vines and underbrush. In the valley, the ground itself is omnipresent.
And, as everyone knows, it is also unstable.
Good weather plus earthquakes creates an utterly different environment. On a day-to-day basis, you can concentrate on your goals, with no need for contingency plans. Your softball game, your picnic, your wedding won't be rained out. But everything could change in an instant. You can't anticipate earthquakes, can't plan for them, can't even predict when and where they'll strike. Instead of providing the certainty of seasons, nature promises a future of random shocks. All you can do is develop general coping skills and resources. There is nothing familiar about the aftermath of an earthquake, and no one survives it alone.
Once they hit the light, no one can anticipate just where innovations will lead--or whether they will in fact succeed. It is by trusting the search, permitting experiments whose results no one can know, that we allow advances to occur. In a 1979 paper, Wildavsky prefigured his discussion of anticipation and resilience with a meditation on the sources of progress. It depends, he suggested, on spontaneity and serendipity, on discoveries no one can predict or foresee: "Incessant search by many minds...produces more (and more valuable) knowledge than the attempt to program the paths to discovery by a single one....Not only markets rely on spontaneity; science and democracy do as well....Looking back over past performance, adherents of free science, politics, and markets argue that on average their results are better than alternatives, but they cannot say what these will be....The strength of spontaneity, its ability to seek out serendipity, is also its shortcoming--exactly what it will do, as well as precisely how it will do it, cannot be specified in advance."
Nowadays it seems that every place wants to be like Silicon Valley--to discover its secrets and copy them. Here, then, is a secret that can be copied, even in places with lousy weather and stable ground: Don't ask for answers in advance. Don't try to create a life without surprises. Trust serendipity.