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Yo! - Is Exercise the Secret to Silicon Valley’s Success?

I’ve just been reading about the Yo app. You know the one whose only job is to text you the word “Yo”. It doesn’t get much briefer than that. But who knows. Maybe it will get a billion dollar valuation too and make me at least look like a total fool.

There are lots of theories about Silicon Valley’s success. Crazy entrepreneurs, risk-taking VCs, immigrant CEOs, Stanford, you name it. But I’ve been thinking about another explanation. It’s not that I don’t think that those factors aren’t important. I just think they are sufficient but not necessary conditions to get an app like Yo.

So it's exercise. I’ve been checking out some of the stats on California. Its number 2 in the lowest proportion of smoker and number 6 in highest levels of inactivity (yep, that’s how the statisticians called I, not highest in physical activity, am sure there’s a good reason).

Now that’s all of California. But if take out LA and Southern CA and the Inland Empire you get left the most prosperous north, and if you just focus on Silicon Valley I think it’s pretty good bet that this is the region in the US with the lowest level of smoking and the highest level of exercise.

So, you might say, that’s good. These Californian people are healthy. So what? What does that have to do with the record levels of innovation, entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial activity and imitative there? In fact, if they are playing so many sports, doesn’t that mean they have less time to innovate and start exciting new companies?

Well, to learn more about this we have to check out some of the research that has been conducted into exercise and cognitive performance. Let’s look at some of the impacts in the short-term.

This research shows that when a person goes for a run, their IQ increases temporarily. This doesn’t happen until the person has been running for some 15-20 minutes. After that their IQ increases significantly. But this effect doesn’t last. It starts to fade after about 40-60 minutes after the end of the run.

So if you go for a run, you are actually giving yourself a free increase in IQ for a couple of hours. So while those Silicon Valley guys and gals are running, they are a bit like Superman and Superwomen, thinking up really innovative new products and services that normally would be too difficult for them to invent. If someone runs every day, they are getting this turbocharged mental performance very day.

So if hundreds or thousands of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are doing this every day, you can see that this is a very powerful competitive weapon for them. If their competitors are not doing this type of exercise, ten they are at a huge competitive disadvantage.

But there’s even more. We used to think that, as a person got older, their brain starts to shrink a little as they lose neurons due to the normal aging process. That also means that you lose some cognitive performance too.

But recent research has shown conclusively that this is not the case. If you do regular cardio exercise like running, you actually grow new neurons. We used to think this was not possible. But people who exercise vigorously regularly actually grow new neurons and their brain actually gets larger. Older, your brain will get larger and you will actually gain increased cognitive performance.

So that means that older people in Silicon Valley are actually getting more ideas and brain power as they get older. It’s not just happening to the younger people who exercise. That means that some of the older CEOs, older venture capitalists and older programmers are actually getting more brainpower as they get older.

If you evaluate the impact of this across the whole of Silicon Valley you can see that this must have an enormous positive impact on the competitive performance of the companies in Silicon Valley. You can also see that competitors whose employees and managers do not exercise regularly and vigorously are going to at a huge competitive disadvantage since there brain power and cognitive performance will not match that of the average person in Silicon Valley.

But even that is not the only impact on competitive performance. The research on exercise shows some other fascinating things. Probably the main one is that exercise also has a dramatic impact on mental health and your state of happiness.

We now know, based on extensive research that vigorous exercise also results in the creation of chemicals inside the body which lead to people who exercise feeling happier. And we also know that if you are depressed, regular exercise will have more positive impact in reducing or eliminating this depression than if you take pills or get medical or psychiatric help.

So why is this important in Silicon Valley? It’s clear that every nation has a problem with levels of mental health. Mental health seems to get worse as a society gets more developed. This can result in depression, substance abuse and drug addiction. These problems exist in every human society in every country of the world. This includes the US, California and, of course, Silicon Valley.

Mental health problems, depression, low levels of happiness all result in less purpose in life, sometimes aimlessness and at the very least, lower levels of productivity. On the other hand, if a high proportion of people are exercising regularly, these problems will be less prevalent and levels of purpose, commitment, ambition and productivity will be higher. This will also lead to higher levels of social functioning.

So the higher levels of physical activity and exercise in Silicon Valley will also translate into a stronger sense e of purpose, higher levels of happiness and higher productivity than in most other locations, countries and companies. It will also lead to higher level of social functioning. So not only does exercise lead to higher cognitive performance in Silicon Valley, it also leads to higher levels of personal happiness and sense of purpose together with higher levels of social happiness and function. This truly is an unbeatable combination.

Back to Yo. A normal entrepreneur would probably never deign to create such an app, beneath his dignity probably. But Or Arbel (creator, founder, crazy) had probably just come from a run and had a runner’s high. Likely he was very happy too, great mental health as well as physical. With a strong sense of purpose and a very supportive network.

Just a theory? Yes. But worth mulling over.



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