Silicon Valley’s different kind of power walk
By Dan Mitchell, contributor
FORTUNE — Just over a year ago, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg were reportedly spotted taking a walk together in Palo Alto. The topic was Ping, Apple’s (AAPL) “music social networking” service and recommendation engine for iTunes. Jobs was interested in having it incorporated into Facebook, so he invited Zuckerberg to dinner at his house and then they took a stroll.
The deal never happened, but it seems highly possible that if it weren’t for Jobs’ illness and death, the pair might have eventually struck some kind of big pact (each company had something the other wanted) and the fact that both of them liked walking and talking so much would only have increased the odds of a deal.
Jobs was famous for taking meetings on foot, especially when he was meeting people for the first time. Walter Isaacson, in his biography, Steve Jobs, relates how Jobs approached him to write the book:
We talked a bit about the Aspen Institute, which I had recently joined, and I invited him to speak at our summer campus in Colorado. He’d be happy to come, he said, but not to be onstage. He wanted, instead, to take a walk so we could talk.
That seemed a bit odd. I didn’t yet know that taking a long walk was his preferred way to have a serious conversation.
Zuckerberg has become equally famous for his walks — in his case with people he wants to hire. He takes them on a trail near Facebook headquarters, and eventually to a spot that looks out over a gorgeous view of the Valley. There, he points out the headquarters of various tech giants — Apple, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) — and says that Facebook will be bigger than all of them. “The entire experience was totally surreal,” one person told The New York Times recently. “I really felt like I was on a date.”
Jack Dorsey, CEO of the mobile-payments startup Square recently told Fortune: “My favorite thing to do to relax is walking. If I’m with a friend we have our best conversations while walking. If there’s an ocean view it’s great.”
So is the pedaconference (a term made famous by the TV show The West Wing, which often depicted breathless meetings taking place along the halls of the White House) particular to Silicon Valley?
To a degree, it would seem so. New York of course is a walking town. But there, walking is a blood sport. The idea is to get from point A to point B as quickly and as free of hassle as possible. And the city is just too cacophonous for meaningful conversation. Plus, privacy is a factor: any high-end street meetings are going to be spotted and posted online within minutes. During the height of the financial crisis, various players in business and government often walked separately to meetings to avoid being seen together, as depicted countless times in Andrew Ross Sorkin’s book Too Big To Fail. Avoiding being seen together is de rigueur among top execs, crisis or not. Such considerations similarly make Washington an unlikely venue for street meetings.
And if you ask someone to take a walk in Los Angeles, they’ll think you’re a weirdo. It just isn’t done, except on camera.
In Silicon Valley, though, there are all kinds of places to take (relatively) private walks, such as the quiet, leafy streets of Palo Alto or the hiking trails behind Facebook’s headquarters. And tech companies are filled with people whose extracurricular activity includes lots of hiking, running or biking.