What is Minneapolis’ Ambition?

Paul Graham is a venture capitalist, artist, techie and writer who pens some excellent columns from time to time. His latest, on Cities and Ambition, takes a look at what makes different hubs tick.

Essentially, he seems to be saying that like-minded people tend to be drawn to each other and end up creating cities where a theme can describe their ambition:

New York tells you, above all: you should make more money. There are other messages too, of course. You should be hipper. You should be better looking. But the clearest message is that you should be richer.

What I like about Boston (or rather Cambridge) is that the message there is: you should be smarter. You really should get around to reading all those books you’ve been meaning to.

When you ask what message a city sends, you sometimes get surprising answers. As much as they respect brains in Silicon Valley, the message the Valley sends is: you should be more powerful.

The Cambridge perspective sounds right on to me. Style is meaningless. It’s all about knowledge. Basically, the opposite of South Beach in Miami where the experts in style end up. New York is a tough one to pin down due to its size, but money is certainly a big one. Although New York also excels at things like writing, like performance, and news, which aren’t primarily financial pursuits.

I think “influence” would be a better term than “power” for describing the Silicon Valley scene although they’re very similar. If you’re the head of a huge Silicon Valley start-up, are you powerful or influential? I’d say your more influential than powerful.

Graham describes Berkeley as, “you should live better” which sounds about right. People there will sacrifice a lot in order to have what they consider to be a utopian lifestyle.

Minneapolis: Where do we fall? I’ve thought about this a bit. It’s a bit tougher to nail down than some larger cities or cities with very distinct personalities like Berkeley. The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that Garrison Keillor is right: “we’re the place where everyone is above average.”

Drive around Minneapolis and you’ll see more people out running or biking than just about anywhere in the nation. We’re very interested in being above average physically – although not surgically created 10’s like South Beach in Miami.

Look at the success of health care companies here and you’ll see that people here really care about other human beings. It’s an above-average mindset to want to solve other people’s health problems for a living.

Look at the popularity of coops, farmers markets, and CSAs and you’ll see that we’re above average eaters and well above average consumers. We put quality above price. We eat better than average, locally produced foods in healthy portions.

We’re not huge risk takers, yet we strive at making incremental changes to the world. Look at how companies like Pillsbury, General Mills, Cargill and 3M have continually introduced products that provide incremental improvements to our lives. Make things 10% better for people one product at a time, year after year, and the next thing you know you’ve got some Fortune 500 companies down the block.

That’s my take. If you have a 10% better perspective on Minneapolis, let’s hear it.

Rex took at shot at this and came up with “You Deserve Better“. If someone feels that NYC, Miami, Cambridge, or Berkeley is the perfect fit for them, I could see that. However, I think “we all deserve better” is more of a Minneapolis mindset. A collective perspective.

4 thoughts on “What is Minneapolis’ Ambition?”

  1. Minneapolis doesn’t tell you that you should be anything. It’s waaaay more passive aggressive than that. Instead it asks the question, “Do you think you want to be better?” This covers the healthy aspect as well as the fortune 500 companies, the philanthropy and all of the arts organizations and non-profit foundations that call the twin cities home.

  2. Also don’t forget that Minneapolis hates high flyers. People who are too flashy, rich, smart or beautiful are not trusted here. I would say that we are the land of aspiring to the 90th percentile… You might want to be a little bit better, but not too much better, or else?

  3. I think it’s “You should be modest”
    As in you should run 5 miles a day, drive an energy efficient car, and eat heathy foods, but you can’t tell anyone about it otherwise you’re bragging.

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