Editor’s Note: As Nicholas Vardy writes today, understanding the history of various golden ages helps you identify when and where the next ones are likely to occur.
And you certainly don’t want to miss out on the current golden age in Silicon Valley.
According to Alexander Green, the opportunities to invest in the cutting-edge companies behind Silicon Valley’s golden age of innovation are endless.
Recently, he uncovered the biggest development in medical technology in half a century. Longtime Oxford Club Member Bill O’Reilly is even calling it “humanity’s next great leap.”
Trading for well under $10, this stock has all the hallmarks of an ideal investment.
– Nicole Labra, Senior Managing Editor
“When we set out to create a community of technical scholars in Silicon Valley, there wasn’t much here and the rest of the world looked awfully big. Now a lot of the rest of the world is here.”
– Frederick Terman, “The Father of Silicon Valley”
There are periods in history when certain parts of the world emerged as global centers of thought and innovation.
Historians call these “golden ages” – times when not just one but many world-changing geniuses work at the same time in the same place.
Ancient Athens and 21st-century Silicon Valley are thousands of years and thousands of miles apart.
Yet according to Eric Weiner’s book The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World’s Most Creative Places, from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley, these two places have far more in common than their temperate weather.
Both Athens and Silicon Valley bear legacies of innovation, creativity and genius that have impacted the world far beyond their narrow borders.
So what made these places such fertile soil for innovation?
It’s easy to attribute their lasting success to the individual genius of Plato in the case of ancient Greece or Steve Jobs in the case of Silicon Valley.
But Weiner argues that it’s not individual genius that matters…
After all, individual geniuses live and die in obscurity every day.
Instead, the kind of human genius that leads to a golden age is the product of a unique relationship between people and places.
The Golden Age of Athens
During a single remarkable century between 480 and 404 B.C., Athens became the source of much of the Western world’s philosophy, geometry, science and culture.
Athens was the birthplace of great philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. The playwrights Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides all lived and worked in fifth-century Athens. So did the historians Herodotus and Thucydides as well as the physician Hippocrates.
So what explains the success of Athens during its golden age… and how did it come to embody the foundations of Western culture?
Athenians loved their city. They spent their lives debating public affairs, meeting in places like the ancient marketplace called the Agora.
The Greeks adopted Babylonian mathematics, derived their alphabet from the Phoenicians and imitated the architecture of Egypt.
In short, they were open to new ideas and change.
And the same can be said for other golden ages throughout history. Here are three others…
No. 1: Hangzhou, China
Hangzhou was the Song Dynasty’s most important city, flourishing between A.D. 969 and 1276.
Even as Europe was stuck in the Dark Ages, Marco Polo famously marveled at Hangzhou’s level of development in his diaries.
The Chinese produced the most exquisite textiles and porcelain in the world. They were the first to introduce paper money.
The secret of their success?
Hangzhou was the meeting point for Buddhist and Confucian cultures – a unique blend of innovative ideas and traditional values.
Buddhist monasteries perfected woodblock printing. Originally designed to replicate ancient texts, this same technology led to the production of the first nautical astronomical maps.
Again, progress was made by blending the old with the new.
No. 2: Florence, Italy
Renaissance Florence in the 15th century symbolized the rebirth of human achievement after Europe’s Dark Ages.
Florence was neither the largest nor the best-defended city in Italy. So what explains this remarkable flourishing of the human spirit at this particular time and place?
Florence’s creativity was fostered by entrepreneurs like the Medicis, who financed the arts, and the powerful and wealthy Catholic Church. This helped produce geniuses like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Donatello and Botticelli. The Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences financed Florence’s most famous cathedral, the Duomo.
Florentine merchants were also exposed to diverse ideas as they traveled all over the world.
A Tuscan named Leonardo Fibonacci introduced Arabic numerals in Florence. He is the reason we use Arabic numerals – and not cumbersome Roman numerals – today.
No. 3: Edinburgh, Scotland
At the turn of the 18th century, Edinburgh was the source of a series of remarkable developments in economics, politics, science and engineering.
Historians dubbed the period the “Scottish Enlightenment.”
Like the Athenians, the Scots assembled in public places to debate contemporary issues and promote new ideas. This culture of debate and exchange of ideas became essential to Scottish universities.
The Scottish Enlightenment also produced the single most influential text on economics, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations.
The ideas expressed in Smith’s book were the result of his debates with his fellow philosopher, economist and friend David Hume.
Today’s Golden Age
Today, Weiner argues, Silicon Valley stands at the forefront of global innovation.
A mere hundred years ago, the area south of San Francisco was little more than a fruit orchard. Its transformation started with Stanford Dean of Engineering Frederick Terman in the 1940s.
Terman helped launch Silicon Valley by encouraging Bill Hewlett and David Packard – his former students – to launch their computer company.
Today, Silicon Valley-based companies like Alphabet (Nasdaq: GOOGL), Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), Meta Platforms (Nasdaq: META) and Twitter (NYSE: TWTR) all exert unprecedented global influence on cultural and political values.
As with other golden ages, the key to Silicon Valley’s success is its culture.
Failure in Silicon Valley means failing until something works. Instead of giving up, you learn from your mistakes and try another way.
No wonder every decade the ranking of the top 10 firms in Silicon Valley changes drastically.
The Lesson for Investors
History’s golden ages are not the consequence of the individual genius of a Plato in Athens or a Leonardo da Vinci in Florence.
Instead, they are the product of particular times and places. Invariably, debates are held in these places that combine new, disparate ideas to generate progress.
Understanding the history of various golden ages helps you identify when and where the next ones are likely to occur.
Today, Silicon Valley is in its golden age.
Tomorrow, it may be China (though I have my doubts).
But here’s the critical insight for investors: Understand that it is during these golden ages that generational fortunes are made.
Make sure that you go along for the ride.