Creating a Culture of Innovation: East Bay Punk Version

She’s from Salinas, oh oh oh
And she looks like Venus, oh oh oh
She’s from Salinas, oh oh oh
And she looks like Venus

– chorus from “She’s from Salinas” by The Sweet Baby Jesus

Not the most inspired lyrics produced in the name of rock and roll, but it endures as a part of punk rock history in part because of the amazing and surprising productivity of the East Bay Punk scene in the 1980s and early 1990s. This is the environment, the east side of the San Francisco Bay, that produced bands including Operation Ivy, Rancid, and Green Day.

The song “She’s from Salinas” was included on a 1987 compilation album to raise money for the Gilman Street Project, a non-profit art venue created and ran in the twin spirits of we-are-community and do-it-yourself. (Listen to the album here. Lyrics to the album here.)

The documentary Turn it Around: The story of East Bay Punk offers, among other things, a case study of the creation of an innovative culture. While there is more to the documentary than the story of the Gilman venue, Gilman is clearly the core. As the doc’s website puts it: “Banding together around Berkeley’s all- volunteer 924 Gilman Club, this diverse collective of misfits created a do-it-yourself, no-spectators’ petri dish for art & music that changed the Bay Area punk scene… and the world at large.”

Everyone could contribute, just about anything could be tried, failure was learning, mixing things up was important, and relentless experimentation was the thing.

Permissionless innovation refers to the notion that experimentation with new technologies and business models should generally be permitted by default. Unless a compelling case can be made that a new invention will bring serious harm to society, innovation should be allowed to continue unabated and problems, if any develop, can be addressed later.

– Adam Thierer, “Does ‘Permissionless Innovation Even Mean Anything?

Not the most inspired academic prose either, but if you want to create a culture of innovation you probably want to inject a large dose of permissionlessness.

The electric power industry needs innovation. So does higher education. In fact, pretty hard to argue against promoting innovation. Even accounting, where consistency and stability of methods are important, needs constant innovation around the edges.

The East Bay Punk scene can teach you something about creating a culture of innovation. I recommend the Turn it Around documentary as one good case study captured on film.