I've spent the past few days in Los Alamos, New Mexico (population 12k) and before that Lubbock, Texas (pop. 234k, 83rd in the country for cities). I'm spending the weekend in Moab, Utah (pop. 5k) before driving to sunny Phoenix, Arizona.
Suprisingly, the most common reaction with regards to smaller cities is "why the hell are you going there"? I found that reaction surprising enough that I wanted to write my thoughts on the topic.
Yes, I know I've sold this entire trip as meeting with software developers, startups, and entrepreneurs across the United States, and then writing about what's going on. But there's a couple of really good reasons to look up from my computer screen every once in awhile (I know that statement may come as a surprise to some of my colleagues. See, I am learning).
What is normal in life is driven by the people and environment you surround yourself with. We're all social creatures influenced by social norms. In some cultures you are successful if you get a job at a big company, sign your life away, and work 80+ hours a week (hello Japan and much of corporate America). In that type of culture you're going to have a very difficult path ahead of you before you even launch your business.
Why does that matter? Well, it would be damn easy for me to do the opposite. I could surround myself only with entrepreneurs for five months and fool myself into thinking this is the only way people think in our country. In reality, the entrepreneurial population is still a minority compared to the majority of people who work an hourly or salaried job.
Besides, as Steve Blank says, you need to get out of the building. We can't all be entrepreneurs just solving each others entrepreneurship-related problems. Seeing different snapshots from a range of cities clearly shows that what's normal is context dependent.
There are also some amazing things to see in America.
It's a road trip. I don't want to miss awesome views like this one.
Stopping in a few out of the way places helps me reflect, try to catch up on my writing (yes, I know, I'm way way behind), take in the sights, and program ideas that are bouncing around in my head.