Over the last two years, we’ve seen a massive shift towards remote work. Employees were forced to work from home. Just as executives, lawyers, and civil servants. Many enjoyed and learned to love working remotely from where they want to work – not from where they have to work.
This shift towards working remotely also affected young entrepreneurs and researchers. Suddenly, they could work from where they liked – not from where their peers, co-founders, customers, investors, or employees were located.
This shift towards remote has been so significant that it will never return to normal – meaning pre-2020.
People enjoy working remotely for a variety of reasons. You can summarize all of them under one term: “freedom”.
However, making use of this newly gained freedom comes with a cost.
The location and thus the city where one lives has an enormous impact on one’s ambition.
Where you live has an impact on how ambitious you pursue your goals and thus whether we – as a human society – advance.
Back in 2015, I spent just over a month in Silicon Valley. The entire neighborhood screamed at me: do more, risk more, innovate more! I lived in a shared housing with a couple of other entrepreneurs and everyone was hustling hard on their startup idea. Every night I could attend meet-ups on a variety of bold topics with people at least 10x smarter than me.
The first time I ever set foot in Palo Alto, I stepped into a small café. After I grabbed my coffee, I sat down at a table outside, just next to the door. On the opposite side of the door, was sitting an energetic bold man. Somehow we got into a nice small talk until he was joined by a nerdy guy in his late 20s. While I leaned back to enjoy my coffee, they started to converse about a potential multi-million dollar investment into the startup of the nerd who just arrived. It turned out I was by chance talking to a big investor. As you can imagine, this encounter fueled me with a desire to achieve more. It fueled my ambition.
Palo Alto is also home to one of the most prestigious universities in the world – Stanford University. Which is why the chance of running into one of the smartest engineers in the world or the next Mark Zuckerberg so high.
The Silicon Valley used to be a magnet for ambitious people. People who wanted to grab power and change the world by creating technology.
London and New York City are for finance – what the Silicon Valley and San Francisco were for technology. These two cities are the strongest magnets in the world which attract people who want to become super rich.
When I visited London for the first time, the entire city was screaming at me: Earn more! Get rich! And dress better!
The key point is the following: certain cities attract certain people.
The Silicon Valley is a magnet for ambitious entrepreneurs who aim to change the world through technology.
London and New York are magnets for people who want to get rich by any means.
Shenzhen is attracting entrepreneurs who wish to build the great hardware of the future.
Los Angeles is attracting all the people who want to become famous at all cost.
Cambridge is attracting the world’s most intelligent people.
Tenerife, where I currently live, is attracting people who seek quality of life above everything else.
Cities are not great because of their macro factors, but because of the people they are attracting.
The most ambitious researchers will do everything to get to Cambridge where he can be surrounded by the smartest people of the world.
The most ambitious technology entrepreneurs will do everything they can to move to Silicon Valley or Austin – only losers will stay in Berlin or Lisbon.
Just like strong magnets, the best of the best are all attracted to the major city of their field – principally because of the ambitious people they encounter there.
Magnetic Fields of Cities
After two years of remote work, many people have realized that almost everything is better remote.
You choose where you live: a sunny town with affordable housing prices. Or in your hometown, very close to your loved family.
Instead of a tiny city apartment, you now have a large house with a garden in which you can see your children joyously playing.
You’re growing your fruits and vegetables in your garden and the food is more delicious than ever.
Finally, you can work without any distraction and with it your productivity is skyrocketing.
Everything seems perfect, but your ambition is declining. The magnetic field of the big cities is still palpable. It is whispering at you: You can be more. You can be richer. You can be smarter. Etcetera.
Even though your quality of life is now a 10 out of 10, you deep inside feel the magnetic field of the big city. Whatever it is you want to accomplish – might it be intellectual, creative, or financial – you know that there is a place on earth where the smartest, most creative, or richest people live. And you know exactly:
- Being in one of these cities is energizing your inner ambition.
- Being outside these cities is soothing your inner ambition.
From Libraries to the Internet
We’ve finally arrived at a point where the location matters less and less. You finally can work from anywhere – if you wish to.
I decided to do so in April 2022, when my wife and I moved to the island of Tenerife. An absolutely stunning island in the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of Africa and the Sahara desert. Delicious fruits, tasty vegetables, a lot of sunshine, great people.
The quality of life is a 10 out of 10 here. I couldn’t imagine a better place to life.
But as soon as I moved to Tenerife – I still sensed this magnetic field of the world’s most ambitious cities. I feel and know that there is a city out there, where I should rather be, in order to be all I can be.
But it is not the city. It is the people in the city which are luring me. The melting pot of like-minded ambitious individuals working towards similar goals.
I have the feeling that if I never go there, I might never meet the people I should meet, which may prevent me from fulfilling my full potential. And this feeling can kill you inly.
On the other hand, I know with absolute certainty that cities are not the solution.
Cities evolved over hundreds and thousands of years. Cities were – so far – humanities greatest invention. They allowed people to come together to work on science, arts, politics, philosophy, and religion. Our ancestors created universities, libraries, and town halls. Cities became melting pots of people. And over time, certain cities got to be known for certain specializations: knowledge, art, fashion, philosophy, business, etcetera.
Moving to a city was the only way to meet people and gather knowledge.
There were no computers and there was no internet then. Which means: no PDFs, no email, no Google, no e-books, no blogs, no chat rooms, no social media, etcetera.
Today – on top of all of that – we also have the technology for free global calls. We have high definition video calls. We have virtual reality headsets. Not only that, but we have hundreds of collaboration tools. And most importantly, we have the entire knowledge of humankind accessible within seconds– not only on our computers but on our smartphones we carry around all day long.
But despite all the technological solutions we have accessible today, the magnetic field of ambition is still centered around cities.
If you are serious, a city is still this melting pot of people where you can blossom.
Digital Ambition Magnets
In cities, the infrastructure is only a small part of what makes people want to move there. The primary reason people move to cities is because of the people living there. Which is launching an endless loop.
In cities, where smart and ambitious people come together:
- Science happens
- Ideas form
- Inventions are made
- Businesses are started
- Jobs are created
- Wealth is accumulating
The more smart and ambitious people move to a certain city, the better the city is doing.
Meeting and being with ambitious people has an exponential ripple effect. This exponential ripple effect – which I call the ambition magnet – is always happening when people with ambition and intellect convene. In the past, it just made sense that cities evolved into ambition magnets because these were the places where smart people met.
Today, we are experiencing a turning point in human evolution. For the first time, we see smart and ambitious people move out of big cities. While the magnets of ambitious cities still pull in ambitious people, the internet reduced the force of these magnets. Not only that, but thanks to the internet, smart and ambitious people can now collaborate regardless of their physical location.
Just as in the 1940s the smartest physicists and mathematics gathered in Los Alamos in New Mexico to create godlike weapons, today the smartest physicists and mathematics can come together regardless of their physical location. With the internet, the boundaries of physical location are of little importance.
Imagine how our human species can evolve if we don’t limit science and innovation to physical locations – i.e., cities and countries.
Imagine what can happen when many brilliant and ambitious people not only from the United States, Germany, or the United Kingdom, but also from India, Cameroon, Nicaragua, The Philippines, Russia, and China come together to work on our world’s biggest problems and our world’s unresolved mysteries.
I am certain that if we create digital spaces, where ambition and intellect is not separated by location, we – as a human species – can evolve towards the next step.
To achieve this, these digital spaces cannot simply be a combination of email, collaboration tools, online forums, chat and video calls.
Instead, these digital spaces must be designed from first principles basically from scratch.
First, digital spaces for intellect and ambition must have a magnetic field at least as strong as the world’s most ambitious cities. Currently, the magnetic field of Cambridge with Harvard and MIT is attracting the world’s smartest people to move there. A digital space must have an ambition magnet just as strong as cities like Cambridge, the Silicon Valley, Shenzhen, Shanghai, London, New York City, or Austin.
To do so, the smartest of the smartest must be committed to this digital space.
Digital ambition magnets must allow random accidental meetings. Just as I walked into a café in Palo Alto and all of a sudden, found myself talking to a VC investor. Or just as you randomly meet fellow students in a lecture, the cafeteria, on the campus or an event.
It must also have some kind of entry barrier. For Cambridge, this bullshit filter consists of a ridiculously high tuition fee, a tough selection process, high housing prices, pitiful weather, and a U.S. visa if you’re from abroad.
For digital ambition magnets, there shouldn’t be an entry barrier based on the economic situation or nationality but rather based on input. The more smart and useful contributions you make, the higher your status in this digital space becomes. The higher your status, the more exclusive and small the communities you can interact and work with.
When creating a global digital space, it must also be clear, that the intellectual property and spin-offs are based on a rock-solid legal basis. This might be established with smart contracts secured on a blockchain.
By creating a legal system for these digital spaces, we also turn on the magnetic field for investors. They can now join digital ambition magnets and fund these communities, digital research endeavors and digital businesses.
Most importantly, digital ambition magnets must be created as digital spaces which are fun and exciting to use.
No one wants to join video calls, write emails or post in forums. Digital spaces must be built upon existing technologies but by doing so, re-invent what it feels to use them.
Imagine it as a blend of chats, forums, video-calls, voice messages, videos, photos, and VR games.
As soon a digital ambition magnet is created, it will attract the world’s most ambitious people of a certain field. Whether it is science, entrepreneurship, or philosophy.
This digital ambition magnet becomes a real mastermind which can attack the world’s biggest problems and mysteries.
By making it digital first, we remove the biggest barrier of entry: location.
Some people cannot move to a certain city because of their nationality or financial situation. Others would rather not move to a certain city because of family values and traditions. Others don’t want to move to big cities because they hate the city life.
Nevertheless, the intelligence and creativity of these individuals who – for whatever reason – cannot or want not move to a certain city may, in fact, be the key to scientific and technological breakthroughs.
Today, by being at the wrong location, the potential of these people is wasted. Tomorrow, with digital ambition magnets, their talent, intellect, and creativity is used productively and will be crucial to solve the world’s most important problems.
It is not a question of IF, but a question of HOW and HOW FAST we can design and create digital ambition magnets, as they are the key to advance human evolution and consciousness.