For all the heat Seattle gets for – well the lack of heat – one thing that often goes overlooked is the amount of stuff to do here. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of focusing on one activity. We have tons of great venues for watching college and professional sports. Too many music venues to count. A vibrant arts and theater community. And enough trails, likes and mountains for even the most adventurous explorer. But we also have this educational environment that has a tendency to put amazingly inspirational people on stage. Sometimes these events try to sneak by you, so you have to pay attention.
In fact, the other day I tried to run through a list of people I have either had the chance to listen to or actually talk with over the last few years. I’ve been in a crowd listening to Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Colin Powell, Steve Wozniak and Carol Bartz, and actually have been able to chat with or work for Howard Schultz, Jeff Bezos, Rob Glaser, Richard Tait, Maria Cantwell, Geoffrey Moore, and a host of technology whiz kids like Rich Barton, Nick and Adrian Hanauer, and TA McCann. I don’t know if you can do that everywhere in the country.
Last Friday, I added to my list, giving up my Marines tickets to spend a few hours listening to Paul Allen, who was being interviewed at Town Hall by Geekwire’s Todd Bishop.
I’m not going to lie. Part of me was hoping that Allen would stand up and say, “You know what. David Stern is a $%#&ing a$$. I don’t care how much he fines me. I could buy the whole league in cash if I wanted.”
Now of course that didn’t happen, and I didn’t expect it to. The irony is, I don’t think I can remember a specific thing from any of those speakers, and I doubt there’s anything from Allen’s talk that I’ll take to my grave. But there were some things about his attitude and ways he tackles problems that I’ll probably walk away with. Examples…
In two seperate questions from the audience, he was subtly being criticized for not solving the world’s energy prolem or the country’s education issues. He didn’t come out and say, “Oil Dependency and Teacher’s Unions” but he made it clear that there were external issues that made it impossible to solve these problems right now. He basically said that throwing blind money at these problems was a waste – and why waste money if the problem can’t be solved without major changes.
Allen also had a subtle shot at all the people who stopped his Seattle Commons project. Years ago I used this blog as a forum to blast everyone who brought the Seattle Commons to its knees because they didn’t want public funds to go to building a giant central park that might improve the real estate value of the land around it (which was owned by Allen.) Now, since Allen owned all the land that he was going to donate for the park anyway, when the people voted down the park, he had no choice but to build on it. So now we have the super cool South Lake Union business district that houses Amazon, MSFT and more. And ironically, he made a boat load more money on it than had it just been a big greenspace. It was interesting that he brought up that he was almost forced to make money on that real estate deal since Seattle wouldn’t accept his land for free.
There is some irony in the fact that so many people who attended Town Hall to see Allen, might be characterized as “anti-business.” Some were the kind of famous Seattleites who pay their mortgage from the money they made from Microsoft stock splitting 20 times, but also sent flame emails to politicians trying to stop the building of Qwest, Safeco or a new Key Arena.
I guess the moral of this meandering blog post is that you really need to pay attention in Seattle. There are Town Hall events like Paul Allen all the time, and the UW hosts a ton of similarly impressive luminaries. They may not change your life, but we all should try to collect info from smart people that don’t always think like we do. Different perspectives can be valuable, even if they dont change your mind.