Buenos Aires, Sydney and curiosity

I was talking over a coffee meeting today how during my stay in Argentina I was impressed by the curiosity I observed in Portenos (Buenos Aires locals). I’ve met so many people from very different walks of life there – from architects to tango teachers to entrepreneurs – and the common thread was the desire to learn new things. Not for any specific purpose, but just to learn; how often (outside of academia) do you meet many people like that?..

An example is my conversation exchange partner. An accountant, she loved trance music, and she was also a ballerina (!) – what a combination – and to top it off, she wanted to learn the Russian language. Not because she planned to go to Russia, but because she found the language interesting and wanted a challenge. I applauded that.

And while there might be reasons for trying new things – living in the moment because the country’s history shows that tomorrow might change so drastically – I admire that ability to stay curious, and to find time in life for new things, whether you are 20 or 50 years old.

I also felt the entrepreneurial energy in BA. People try to do their thing, run their businesses even if small, starting something they are passionate about (like a takeaway coffee delivered by bikes), on the side while holding a day job. Because life can be hard, but your good eductaion makes you want to have things, and be able to see the world, you have to hustle and you have to take risks in Argentina (as in the rest of Latin America; Brazil is much more bursting on this entrepreneurial scale).

And coming back to Australia, I felt such a gap. Our beautiful cities are made for enjoying life and living comfortably. It’s easy to have a good life in Sydney – and it sucks you in. You float along, and you become too comfortable and stop hustling (or never had to do that in the first place), you don’t take risks, because you don’t have to.

Undoubtedly, there are some great ideas that started here. I’m told Google Maps were created in Australia. But many, many more Australian curious minds go somewhere else when they want to break through. At one point I knew of several UNSW graduates working in the same Google NYC office…

Sydney is trying to create a “Silicon Beach” – an alternative to the Valley in creating new businesses and business models. I frankly don’t think it will ever work. Because you need ambition to foster ambition, you need other people changing the world around you. And where the desire to change things comes from? From seeing things that should work better, and having the market for that. And for all the faults it has, Australia  has got it pretty good. It doesn’t need to take many risks. And so it doesn’t value ambition as much as security and the quality of life.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing; it just means that many bright and curious don’t stay here.

There is an excellent article about cities and ambition by Paul Graham along similar lines; reading it has sparked my writing right now.


And yet, and yet, I leave the window of possibility open. My taxi driver the other day was also a singer with his own little CD, performing at community events on the side; he also trains kids in kung-fu, and just closed down his coffee shop as something had to give. The curiousity and ambition are well alive in Sydney?

He was a migrant however; an Iranian. Many people I know who hustle, are from foreign backgrounds. Back to having to take risks…

I think if the innovation is to drive the future of Australia, it certainly won’t come from North Shore private schools.

So it’s that thing again; Stay Curious.