78. Spatial Thinking: 'Silicon Valley' Style

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Geospatialists are a unique bunch of professionals. Their geographic DNA is what leads them to question the patterns of activity across the modern world and to highlight some of the pertinent ethical issues which society faces. For the geospatialist the colour green is often as much about digitising natural regions as it is about making money.

With this in mind, it’s still always interesting to see how non-geospatialists use spatial thinking in order to succeed in their own industry. One particular episode of a popular TV show demonstrates how an investor did just that.

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Silicon Valley and Peter Gregory

Silicon Valley is a TV show which follows the misadventures of a young team while they aim to make a success of their IT startup company. The show charts their journey through the local tech scene and along the way we are introduced to numerous industry characters - including a somewhat eccentric investor and mentor named Peter Gregory - a man who demonstrates incredible spatial thinking capabilities.

Debt Repayments and Hamburgers

In one of the first episodes in which Peter features, he is meeting with two co-owners of a business in his investment portfolio who are seeking some debt financing for their company.

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Instead of engaging with the younger men, Peter is distracted by the random matter of Burger King burgers. Despite all pleas to focus on the more urgent issue at hand, Peter asks his assistants to purchase everything on the menu at a local Burger King restaurant. A number of hours later, Peter is, still much to the frustration of the co-founders, now obsessing over the sesame seeds on the burger buns.

Sesame Seeds and Cicadas

That’s when Peter reveals the value of joined up spatial thinking.

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It turns out that Peter had previously been researching how sesame seeds could be used to help finance the co-owners debts. He reveals that the sesame stocks of the two major supplier countries, Brazil and Myanmar, are both expected to be wiped out by the Cicada insect species. Due to the extremely rare simultaneous hatching of the insects in both regions, and its inevitable effect on the supply of sesame seeds, his firm’s prior investment in some undervalued, unthreatened Indonesian sesame stocks are expected to yield his firm a massive profit.

Problem solved.

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'Everything is connected to everything else'

While investing in commodities is primarily focused on making profit as opposed to making a real difference, Peter Gregory’s shrewd investment says a lot about the potential which can be derived from spatial 'outside-the-box' thinking. Spatial thinking is about discovering how ‘everything is connected to everything else’ and in particular about how the supply of everyday products and produce can be affected by environmental, social or economic factors in distant parts of the world.

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Spatial Thinking goes Mass Market

In the information age, there is now a growing recognition of the benefits which can been derived from the effective use of geospatial systems and information. Spatially enabled Big Data, increasing volumes of regularly updated earth observation imagery, massive processing power, and a wider availability of geospatial tools are allowing people to make better informed strategic decisions - either for pure profit-making purposes or for more noble purposes like ensuring resource and food security.

In this Silicon Valley episode, Peter Gregory, demonstrates how spatial thinking is often misunderstood. A spatial thinker's tendency to explore abstract connections can, especially among more conventional thinkers, lead to misplaced resistance instead of required encouragement. One thing that is for certain though is that in today's unpredictable world spatial thinking is, in the long run, more profitable for everyone.